Less gush – more lush!

Translating from one language to another is always tricky and there are many bear pits into which the unwary can fall. “Fanny” and “Pants” should be used with extreme caution if you’re an American visiting the UK. “Lush” and especially “gert lush” are very dangerous anywhere near Bristol because although both gert and lush are popular dialect words, in my experience they are never conjoined except by outsiders. As for the Bristol accent; don’t even think about it. Back in the day there were around seventeen distinct local, even parish, dialects and so coming as I do from Staple Hill, I could immediately distinguish Kingswood, Easton and Lawrence Hill. Outsiders often confuse all this diversity and substitute a form of central casting oooh aaar.

When we lived in Stoke on Trent, everyone assumed we were Cornish and a couple of years ago in Birmingham a waiter asked me if I was a farmer. I’ve never seen the need to ditch my native dialect, although I seem to lapse deeper into it in the few places (a local sawmill for instance) where it survives intact. The downside is that some people assume I must be a bit thick because I drop my aitches – it’s a mistake they only make once!

Anyway, back to gush and lush – and I will attempt to explain what the link is between these two words and homemade calendula cream. Over the years I’ve accumulated a lot of books on herbal medicine and so looking for a recipe can be a bit of a trial. Today was calendula day for no better reason than making the salve is both celebratory and extremely simple and we had half a litre of calendula flowers steeped in almond oil for several months and wanting something doing with it – like making small Christmas gifts. Eventually I found the recipe I’d used before in “The Herbal Medicine Makers’ Handbook” by James Green. It’s a lovely book, but not being a Californian I find I have to engage a kind of inner translation mode to tone down the gush into a more familiar (and uptight) lush. This is by no means a criticism. James Green would take my self conscious and muttered thanks to the plants I harvest and turn them into a polyphonic liturgy. I’m envious, embarrassed and scared at the same time – and yet, why not? Surely a life marked by thanksgiving and celebration is an improvement on ‘work, buy, consume, die‘ which I saw spray painted on the wall of Bristol Central Library many years ago.

So back in the kitchen I did manage to give profound thanks for an impulse buy in the Williams Sonoma store near Columbus Circle in New York a few years ago. It’s an awesome shop for a greedy cook, and my eye settled on a small, easily transportable memento that’s done me proud ever since – a set of American liquid measures – from one cup to a quarter cup – that’s made me a into bilingual cook.

The recipe is so simple. Take off the flower heads – we grow hundreds all around the allotment – steep them in almond oil for a couple of months, giving you the most intensely golden extraction; strain them into a bain-marie and add about an (English) ounce of beeswax to each (American) cup of oil, warm them through slowly until the wax dissolves and then do a quick test with a very cold spoon to make sure it sets to the consistency you want and then, fill your jars. It’s ridiculously easy and calendula cream/salve in its many forms is crazily expensive. We buy amber glass pots from a herbal supplier and use them over and over, because the recipients are only too willing to return the empty jars, knowing they’ll get another full one back again.

While all this was going on I was proving a loaf of our new style everyday sourdough bread. Its surprising how just changing the way we prove the bread has demanded a number of changes in the recipe and even in the way the loaves are slashed. This was a lazy Sunday for us. We lingered in bed until half past ten, reading, drinking coffee and talking about food. Our oldest son rang and chided me gently for lurking in bed when he’d been out for a run at five thirty am. We’re a family of chronic overachievers, but I think I’m well over it now.

I see the UK Government have fallen on each others throats, brawling and shouting at one another as if it was already Christmas. These parties can get completely out of hand in a moment – especially when there isn’t an adult in the room. Meanwhile if anyone’s got any thoughts on managing the Omicron variant there’s a vacancy coming up soon.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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