How to make barley water

When I was searching for entries in the book which I could recreate myself this one immediately jumped out at me. I have lovely memories of drinking lemon barley water on hot sunny days as a child and it was something I was keen to recreate (shame about the lack of hot sunny days in March, damn you British weather!).barleyingredientsx600

The ingredients are nice and simple so I thought this would be an easy task, however I did not bank on the international barley crisis*. I tried my usual supermarket, no barley (not even in the health foods section with its shelves heaving with dried beans, pulses and obscure grains). I tried my closest supermarket, feeling more confident I would find the elusive barley as this is a ‘posh’ supermarket, but no, still no barley.

Supermarkets failing me I trekked into Cambridge where I sought out a health food shop and there at last was some barley. Ingredients secured, let the task begin <blows whistle>.

* There isn’t really an actual international barley crisis.

The instructions

The recipe comes from Cassell’s Home Encyclopedia (1934) a fascinating book full of amazing advice and instruction (there is a really lovely entry in the How to Skin a Lion on how to set a sundial that I also got from this book). The instructions are as follows:

barleycookingx600Wash 2 tablespoonfuls of pearl barley in cold water, put it into a saucepan with two pints of cold water, bring to the boil and boil gently till the liquid is reduced to 1 pint.’

It is at this point I realise my barley quest wasn’t quite as successful as I first thought, I had bought ‘pot’ barley not ‘pearl’ barley. A quick google suggests the difference is not disastrous and in fact the pot version may be a little healthier.

I left the concoction to boil and reduce for at least half an hour and it turned a lovely caramel brown colour. The instructions gives various options at this point, either adding salt, sugar or milk to enhance the drink, but I opted for lemon:

For large quantities of barley water as a wholesome drink make as above, adding to every pint, while hot, the  juice of half a lemon and one tablespoon of sugar.’

I squeezed in one whole lemon (not worrying about the pips as it was going to get strained anyway) and two tablespoons of caster sugar, which quickly dissolved.

I then strained the liquid into a jug to cool. Unfortunately I didn’t leave it long enough so when I served some up for the kids to try over dinner they were a little put off that it was still warm!barleydrinkx600

My 7-year-old was most impressed declaring ‘You made this drink all on your own – wow!’ He was fairly keen and said it was ‘warm and zesty’. The 3-year-old was less keen and said ‘I don’t like it’, while the 4-year-old was in such a bad mood he wouldn’t even try it!

It was nice warm, but was even better the next day when it had properly cooled down. It tasted really nice and lemony and almost exactly like the lemon barley drink from my childhood. I will certainly be making this recipe again as it was so easy and I can see it being a lovely refreshing drink to have on a summers day.

How to bandage an arm

Bandaging an arm is a properly useful skill to have and frankly, as a mother of three, I am slightly ashamed to say my first aid skills thus far have only stretched to retrieving a pea from a nostril (twice!). So I think knowing how to correctly bandage an arm will be a good addition to my armoury.

Thankfully none of the family currently has an injured arm, but then I think it best to practice such a skill on an uninjured person first so the technique is consigned to the memory banks and can be swiftly put into action should an emergency arise.

I managed to persuade my long-suffering husband Andy to be my guinea pig in exchange for the promise of some wine.bandagesx600

I sourced a couple of rolls of bandages from a chemist as on reading the instructions it seemed quite a length of bandage was required to effectively mummify a whole arm.

I’ll admit I had to read the instructions (taken from Cassell’s Home Encyclopedia, 1934) a few times before I could begin and ended up getting Andy to read it aloud to me as I started, but once I actually began wrapping the bandage around the hand it made good sense:

With the arm and hand palm downwards, the bandage is laid across the back of the wrist, the free end towards the patient’s body, and kept in position by the operator’s free hand. The roll is then carried across the back of the hand from thumb side to little finger side, around the outer side, across under the palm, up through the angle between the thumb and first finger, over the back of the hand, around the wrist and again over the back of the hand from the thumb side towards the little finger side.’

This first step created a pretty good and secure hand bandage, covering the palm and wrist and by pulling the bandage quite tight it did not need any pins, I just needed to make sure the end was tucked in.bandage3

Once this initial hand bandage had been applied all that was left was to spiral the bandage up the arm:

Two or three of these figure of eight loops will cover the hand. A spiral bandage is then continued up the arm, the spiral being reversed when necessary. At the elbow a return may be made to the figure of eight turns, similar to those described above.’

I ran out of bandage at about elbow level so tucked in the ends and started a new roll, which naturally created a bit of a gap for the bent elbow to poke out.

I was quite proud of my bandaging skills and Andy said it was most comfortable. Seeing as he was being so obliging I made him keep the bandage on for the rest of the evening and he successfully managed to eat dinner, drink a number of glasses of wine and operate the remote control for the television.

winebandagesx600The bandage was still mostly intact by the end of the evening, requiring just a bit of re-tucking where the elbow joined.

I now feel confident that I could apply a hand, wrist or full arm bandage in the event of an actual accident, so I am rather pleased with this new skill!

How to use the English method of fortune-telling by cards:

It was with some trepidation that I decided to dabble in a bit of fortune-telling for my next task. Not because I am wary of the occult, nor because I have anything to hide, but more because the instructions were so complicated!

‘In many cases, the position of the cards entirely changes their signification, their individual and relative meaning being often widely different. Thus, for example, the King of Hearts, the Nine of Hearts, and the Nine of Clubs respectively signify a liberal man, joy, and success in love; but change their position by placing the King between the two nines, and you would read that a man, then rich and happy, would ere long be consigned to prison.’playingcards1x600

The advice comes from A Handbook of Cartomancy: Fortune-telling and Occult Divination by the fabulously named Grand Orient (1889).

I decided to add my own sprinkling of mysticism by choosing a pack of cards that I had owned since childhood (note: they are French so the King is (R)oi, the Queen is (D)ame and the Jack is (V)alet). This set of Asterix playing cards had travelled the world with my then boyfriend, now husband and I, and have given many hours of card-playing enjoyment. These cards, I felt, must have absorbed some of our very essence.

The technique

The first instructions were:

After having well shuffled, cut them three times, and lay them out in rows of nine cards each.’

This was easily done and I filled the table with neat rows of nine cards, all face up. I then asked my victim husband (who I shall from now on refer to as Andy, for that is his name) to select which King he thought should represent him, as advised by the Grand Orient himself:

layoutcardsx600Select any King or Queen you please to represent yourself, and wherever you find that card placed, count nine cards every way, reckoning it as one; and every ninth card will prove the prophetic one.’

Andy chose the King of Clubs, which I quickly looked up and found this uncanny description:

King of Clubs – A dark man, upright, faithful, and affectionate in disposition.’

From here we counted every ninth card and noted down what we found in order to make our predictions. These are the cards and their meanings:

‘Three of Hearts – Sorrow caused by a person’s own imprudence.

Four of Diamonds – Trouble arising from unfaithful friends; also a betrayed secret.

Five of Hearts – Troubles caused by unfounded jealousy.

Eight of Hearts – Pleasure, company.

Five of Spades – Shews that a bad temper requires correcting.’

This sounds to me like a party going wrong. We have quite a few social engagements coming up so I will be on my guard for any unfounded jealousy or imprudence.Andycards

The next step was to identify the Knave of Clubs and count every nine cards from thence as described here:

As the Knaves of the various suits represent the thoughts of the person represented by the picture cards of a corresponding colour, they should also be counted from.’

This should reveal Andy’s inner thoughts. This is what we found:

Knave of Clubs – A sincere but hasty friend. Also a dark man’s thoughts.

Two of Clubs – A disappointment.

Ace of Hearts – The house. If attended by clubs, feasting and merry-making.

Seven of Diamonds – Satire, evil speaking.

King of Hearts – A fair man, of good-natured disposition, but hasty and rash.

Nine of Clubs – Disobedience to friends’ wishes.’

This seems to fit in fairly well with my interpretation of a future social gathering marred by gossip or disagreement with friends. I really hope this doesn’t come true but I shall be vigilant and report back if our next party goes horribly awry.

Andy was fairly nonplussed by the predictions, nothing jumped out as especially insightful, but as this is fortune-telling who knows what may yet occur.

Then it was my turn. After this faintly depressing reading for Andy I was hoping for some wonderful cards full of good fortune, success and great wealth. How wrong could I be?

The second attempt

We reshuffled, cut and laid out the cards in rows of nine as before. Because Andy had chosen the King of Clubs to represent himself, I followed Grand Orient’s advice and made myself the Queen of Clubs, who is described thus:

Queen of Clubs – A dark woman, gentle and pleasing.’

Anyone who really knows me would not describe me thus (I am ginger for a start!) but I shall glide past that small issue and plough on. The ‘significant’ cards (every ninth counted each way from the Queen of Clubs) were:

‘King of Diamonds – A fair man, hot tempered, obstinate and revengeful.

Six of Diamonds – Early marriage and widowhood.

Five of Hearts – Troubles caused by unfounded jealousy.

Four of Hearts – A person not easily won.

Ace of Spades – Great misfortune, spite.’

Oh. Pretty bleak. My dreams of fame and fortune dashed. That song ‘The Ace of Spades’ is now whirling round in my head. Not helped by the fact that Andy guffawed loudly when this, the most grim of all cards, came up for my future.

Not sure how to interpret this really as I have no idea who this revengeful fair-headed man is (not Andy, he is dark) and the reference to early marriage is puzzling as I didn’t wed until 27 so by modern standards not especially early.

It is interesting that both Andy and I got the five of hearts, however neither of us are the jealous type so maybe this refers to someone close to us? Whatever way you look at these cards they are not giving me a message of joy. But wait, it gets worse …

On to my thoughts, counting every ninth card from the Knave of Clubs:

Ten of Spades – Grief, imprisonment

Two of Clubs – A disappointment.

King of Clubs – A dark man, upright, faithful, and affectionate in disposition.

Queen of Diamonds – A fair woman, fond of company and a coquette.

Five of Clubs – A prudent marriage.’

The first two don’t sound great but the last three could represent Andy and I. Let’s hope the first two are not what awaits me, I don’t think I am made for prison life.

The conclusion

This dabble in the waters of mysticism didn’t quite turn up the glowing future I had hoped, however it was quite a diverting way to spend an evening and I imagine it could be a quite useful starting points for some self-analysis, were you that way inclined.

At this point I am hoping my inexpert reading does not come true and that somehow the actual alignment of the cards inverts their meaning. But if my next blog post is about ‘my life in the slammer’ you’ll know otherwise.

Can you interpret these cards any better than I? Have you tried fortune-telling? If so please leave a comment.

How to make mushroom ketchup

When compiling How to Skin a Lion I was so fascinated by the many lost and outmoded skills I resolved to try some of the more achievable instructions.

I would have loved to have trained a hawk, panned for gold or got myself presented at court but unfortunately I did not have the time, resources or good breeding.mushroomsx600

Instead I focused on some of the skills I could easily recreate in the hope that it might inspire others to have a go too.

When reading through Georgian and Victorian texts for How to Skin a Lion, I came across a number of references to mushroom ketchup.

My interest was piqued as I had never heard of this forgotten condiment and wondered what it tasted like and how it was used.

I selected the recipe published in A Shilling’s Worth of Practical Receipts (1856) for the book because it contained ingredients that are readily available today and I vowed to have a go at making it myself.

The recipe begins

Gather the broad flapped and red gilded mushroom before the sun has discoloured them.

My gathering involved selecting a 250g box of chestnut mushrooms from Sainsbury’s online and awaiting delivery. They did, however, appear unharmed by the sun.

Wipe, and break them into an earthern pan. To every three handfuls throw in one handful of salt, stir them two or three times a day till the salt is dissolved, and the mushrooms are liquid.’

mushroomssaltx600First problem was a lack of earthern pan. In my version this delightfully rustic sounding receptacle was replaced by the more modern china bowl.

The second problem was that I misread the instructions. In a fit of gay abandon I confused the ratio of mushroom to salt and ended up adding a handful of salt for every handful of mushrooms.

Luckily I soon noted my error, cursed my inattention, chucked the resulting salty sludge, returned to my computer and re-ordered a box of mushrooms from Mr Sainsbury.

New mushrooms arrived I carefully broke them into pieces. From my 250g I ended up with six handfuls of mushrooms and this time I correctly added two handfuls of salt and gave them a good stir.

The recipe does not disclose exactly how long the mushrooms should be left for, so I covered them with a tea towel and parked them in a dark cupboard. Every day I gave them a little stir and soon they were indeed turning to liquid.

However after about five days they didn’t seem to be breaking down further (to be honest I think I should have broken the mushrooms into smaller pieces to start with). So I left them for a further two days for good measure before moving onto the next step.

Bruise what bits remain, set the whole over a gentle fire till the goodness is extracted; strain the hot liquor through a fine hair sieve, boil it gently with allspice, whole black pepper, ginger, horse-radish, and an onion or shallots, with two or three laurel leaves.onhobx600

I tried mushing the remaining mushrooms with a wooden spoon but they seemed resolutely spongy and resistant to breaking up further so I popped them in a saucepan and gently warmed them to see if this would break them down further.

At this point the mushrooms began to smell delicious, radiating a wonderful earthy smell throughout the kitchen. Encouraged by this development I dipped my spoon in the pot to taste. Big mistake! The saltiness was overpowering and I had to spit it out, but the aftertaste was promising.

I left the mushrooms to gently cook for about 20 minutes while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.


The recipe did not include any amounts so I estimated and compromised on a few of the stipulations. I used the following to flavour my ketchup:ingredientsx600

½ onion, thinly sliced.

2 bay leaves (I assumed this was what they meant when they said laurel leaves)

16 black peppercorns

A thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, grated

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp allspice powder

1 tsp horseradish sauce (no fresh unfortunately)

After 20 minutes I strained the mushrooms through a sieve. There were still some large chunks of mushroom so I used a wooden spoon to pass them through the sieve and despite putting in some serious effort I was still left with about two handfuls of mushrooms that refused to relent, so I gave up on these unruly fungi and chucked them on the compost heap.

The resulting dark brown liquid looked pretty decent so I added the other ingredients, brought it to the boil then left it to simmer.

After about 45 minutes of simmering it had gone really dry and congealed so I added some more water to get it back to the correct consistency.

I simmered it for an hour in total before sieving it once again to remove the whole spices. Again I pushed it through the sieve to make sure I got all the goodness out, I say goodness but by this time it smelt pretty bad and looked even worse.finishedketchupx600

I ended up with about 200ml of very dark brown ketchup which I put it in my lovely Orla Kiely pot to try and make it look more appealing.

Fortunately I was spared trying it straight away as the advice is to leave it to settle for 24 hours before using.

The result

The days ticked by and I kidded myself I was putting off trying it due to a lack of decent accompaniment (mushroom ketchup is apparently traditionally eaten with poultry or steak) but really I was just scared it was going to be grim.

steak&ketchupx600I grasped the nettle and cooked up some lovely steak, roast potatoes and green beans. I spooned a reasonable amount of ketchup onto each plate and served the resulting meal up to my delighted husband. Let’s just say he didn’t stay delighted for long …

Unfortunately the ketchup was just way too salty to be edible. The background flavour of the earthy mushroom and spices was good but the overwhelming flavour was bitter salt.

On looking up some modern recipes I think the key missing ingredient here is some vinegar and possibly some sugar. Were I to attempt this again I would certainly cut right back on the salt as it seems my modern tastes are not quite in line with my Victorian forebears.

I think I will attempt a non-food related task for my next How to …

How to Skin a Lion: the challenge

I spent much of 2014 in book heaven – that is immersed in the British Library rare books room. I enjoyed many days poring through Georgian, Victorian and early twentieth century books researching How to Skin a Lion: A TreasuryHTSALx600 of Outmoded Advice.

I selected snippets of fascinating information on a wealth of lost arts such as how to address a Maharajah, how to shoe a horse, how to train a falcon and how to read the future with snails.

As I compiled the book I realised that although many of the skills described were lost or forgotten, some of them were still relevant today. I resolved to collect some of the more doable skills (I would love to train a falcon but lack the necessary time, space and bird) and try them out myself.

I have just started this journey and will be blogging here about how I get on. The first task is to make mushroom ketchup (it sounds delicious) and I will report back shortly on how it went.