It is never a hardship for me, as I love baking (indeed all cooking) and it is always nice to do be doing it when you know how appreciative the eater/s tend to be. When we first started Tom’s Barn I made a cake because I simply thought that is what one did – we always have something in our tins in the house, to be produced when anyone drops in! We hadn’t realised that it would become something a bit special. Non-bakers particularly are amazed and experienced bakers usually ask for the recipe…
I have been asked for this Black Treacle & Stem Ginger Cake recipe several times recently. In fact, I fondly but wrongly thought it was already in the blog recipe section, but now it really is. It is a very favourite recipe of us all, and all credit must go to Mary Berry for the original recipe, adapted slightly by me over the years.
Tom’s and Douglas’s Barn Black Treacle & Ginger Cake
(Adapted from a Mary Berry recipe)
225g soft butter or margarine
175g caster sugar
225g black treacle or sometimes I use molasses
275g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
4 tbsp milk
3 bulbs stem ginger chopped finely
Generous handful chopped/broken pecans or walnuts
Measure all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix for about 2 minutes, either by hand or in an electric mixer. Pour into a non-stick (or lined with greased foil) deep baking dish approx 9”x12”. I use the small Aga baking tin
Bake at 180’C/Gas 4 or in the top oven of an Aga with the cold plain sheet hanging on the second set of runners until it looks cooked i.e. firm and golden brown. I start looking after about 30 minutes.
125g icing sugar (more probably!)
About 4 tbsp stem ginger syrup from the jar (use more if you have taken more icing sugar)
Handful chopped nuts and ideally more finely chopped than I have in this photo!
Mix all together to get a good spreading consistency and spread over the baked cake.
Sprinkle with chopped nuts
We get many beautiful dogs visiting Tom’s Barn with their owners: many rescue dogs, many mongrels and many very aristocratic pedigrees. We don’t as far as we know have many literate ones, so were very pleased to see that Rocky, an English Springer Spaniel who stayed recently, wrote in our Tom’s Barn Visitors’ book last week. You hear of Guide Dogs, Deaf Dogs but Rocky may be the only Scribe Dog we will come across.
He writes: Take me home – I need a rest! I’m on the go all day. I’ve been to Ashbourne, Matlock and Bakewell; my favourite was the water at Carsington. But best of all was lying in front of the log fire, me and my owners all asleep. They struggle to keep up with me – they’re middle-aged, not like me!! But they haven’t done too badly…A pint at the local, then food at the George and the Devonshire Arms at Beeley. It sounded like they enjoyed it.
The weather has been great for us four-legged friends Thank you for my lovely weekend – I can hardy keep my eyes open!
Now, exactly a week later and with a new boiler installed, serenity has been restored after what has been a fraught week affecting many more than the hapless owners. These words may sound glib but the reality was several troubled nights and continuing anxiety until everything was sorted out.
Our first worry and indeed our first priority in all such drama is our guests, who have paid good money and come in good faith, needing and expecting nothing but the best. Our immediate concern was for the lovely couple who had just driven up from London with a young baby, for their first holiday away together since their baby was born. They hadn’t been here more than two or three hours when black smoke started issuing forth from the boiler…
Quick choices had to be made. We offered to pay for our guests to be ‘rehoused’ in a choice of cottages belonging to friends and colleagues who rallied around with offers of help but our couple very gamely opted to stay on in a central heating-less cottage with no hot water. We borrowed two portable electric heaters and gave them the sole use of our spare bathroom, and of course other than bathing and showering every other facility in Douglas’s Barn was still available to them. When they came to say goodbye on Monday morning we were very touched when they generously thanked us very warmly for a really lovely holiday!
Their situation was one any holiday cottage owner dreads; another dread is having to put guests off as we had to do to another very understanding and generous-mided couple who had been looking forward to a midweek break here in Douglas’s Barn. We were most fortunate that Steve Ogan of Blakelow Farm, a nearby friend and fellow-Premier Cottages member, was able to offer them his two-person cottages which happened to be empty and which most fortuitously happened to be the same price as our guests had paid us. We were very happy that our would-be guests popped in to see us on their way home and were not surprised to hear that Steve had looked after them very well and they had been most comfortable. They’d had personal reasons for choosing Douglas’s Barn, but like our firt couple, big-hearted enough to accept the change of plan forced on them in very good part.
It is the machinery which let us down; it is the people who come up trumps all round. We were blessed with two sets of guests who understood the predicament we were in, could have made it awkward but absolutely went out of their way to cooperate. We are also extremely lucky to have a most excellent self-employed boiler engineer, Phi Jennings, for whom nothing is too much trouble (unlike the local Worcester Bosch engineers who seemed to need three working days to respond to an urgent call-out).
Phil came out at 8.30 pm on the Friday night that the boiler died, hoping – as we all thought – simply to fix it (again). Like vets, I imagine boiler engineers often find themselves dealing with far more than simply practical mechanical problems. Phil managed to reassure everyone that there was no danger in spite of the lingering smell of hot oil, that he’d move heaven and earth to order and install a new boiler within the week. And he, and Andy his no 2, did what they promised.
So now, a week later, a new boiler is installed. Phil and Andy assure us it will be more powerful and more economical than its disgraced predecessor. What we fervently hope is that it is also going to be more reliable! We heard a worrying instance on Facebook of faulty Chinese circuit boards causing combi boiler problems: that is all we need! At least we know that if there are any teething problems Phil will be out in a flash to sort them. How lucky we are, living in a rural area like this and able to count on really loyal ‘human’ tradesmen.
Dan Lepard, whose recipe from the Guardian this is, unashamedly calls it ‘The best date cake in the world ever’, and equally unashamedly, as someone who bakes and eats it quite frequently, I would agree wholeheartedly. It is extremely delicious and very easy to make.
I can see imaginary obstacles to trying the recipe popping up all over the place. Cardomom icing? It’s lovely but I don’t usually bother although i have tried cardomom in the cake with very pleasing results. What on earth is tamarind? Well I didn’t know, still don’t really, but one can buy little bottles of the slightly salty lemony paste from Waitrose although not our local Sainsbury’s (bigger branches might). BBC Food describes it as ‘A tart fruit from the tamarind tree, used as a spice and souring agent’. Funnily enough I soaked the dates and tamarind paste and water overnight so that it would be all ready for this morning’s bake. John, not knowing what it was, reported to me that there was a really delicious warm spicy smell in the kitchen when he got up in the morning. He reckoned one could sell the scent, maybe for food shops to waft around on the hour like bakeries and coffee shops are meant to do with appropriately scented packaged food and coffee ‘odours’!
I looked up tamarind in Wikipedia and discovered all sorts of interesting facts; I began to feel that perhaps we ought all start eating it quite seriously. Tamarind is high in acid, sugar, B vitamins and, oddly for a fruit, calcium; it is used in Ayurvedic medicine for gastric and/or digestion problems, and in cardioprotective activity… Anyway, it tastes nice and today’s cake is all but finished already. Our two ‘boiler men’ who today removed the offending boiler from Douglas’s Barn found numerous hunks of cake helped them enormously, and the rest of us have done pretty well too. I had quietly removed our guests’ portion – seen in the photo -just to ensue I didn’t suddenly find I had to get baking again. Next Friday is soon enough…although having said that, I suddenly realised that our hungry boiler-saviour men will be here again at 8 in the morning. We are so grateful to them for rallying around so quickly when disaster struck on Friday and if it means making more cake tonight, I’ll happily do it.
I turned to John as we thankfully sat down yesterday evening after a typically busy Friday, ‘I do love that moment when one can at last sit down and relax, knowing that both lots of guests have arrived and are happily settled in…’ when there was an apologetic knock at the door.
‘I am so sorry for disturbing you, but there seems to be black smoke coming out of the boiler in Douglas’s Barn!’
And that was the end of the evening and the end of all relaxing. Phil Jennings our truly amazing ‘boiler man’ drove out at 8.30pm to fix, as he and we thought, the boiler, only to pronounce that the damage was fatal: the only solution a complete new system. Have you noticed how this sort of pronouncement only arises on a Friday evening? The only surprise being this isn’t a Bank Holiday weekend…
May we be forgiven for being so pleased about our QiT Inspection report! We are happy enough to share the good news, so we can’t be coy about sharing the bad although as some kind soul has just reminded us, it wasn’t anybody’s fault, it wasn’t anything anyone’s done wrong (except perhaps the makers of the not-old boiler – obviously a ‘Friday afternoon’ model which has given a lot of expensive trouble over its shortish life). Be that as it may, we do feel bad about it all. It is embarrassing and upsetting to let people down and one can’t help feeling that in the ideal cottage world with ideal owners this would never happen.
The guests in Douglas’s Barn, who had only just settled in after driving up from London for the weekend, have been brilliant and are now happily ‘camping’ in their central-heatlingless holiday-cottage-in-midwinter which, thanks to the electric ‘burning pebbles and two borrowed heaters (and its own super-efficient insulation), is we gather keeping plenty warm enough; apart from no hot water everything else is still working. We have lent them the use of our spare bathroom in the house which is literally next door so it’s not ideal for them but they’re accepting the situation apparently cheerfully.
These guests were all part of the unfolding drama so we were spared breaking any unexpected news to them. Breaking the news quite out of the blue to guests eagerly waiting to arrive on Monday was very difficult, although again they were very understanding about the rather unwelcome and unexpected turn of events. To cut a long story – and one pretty well sleepless night – short, everything is now beginning to fall into place, more or less… Phil the joiner man has managed to order a replacement boiler (on a Saturday!) which will arrive on Tuesday. Meanwhile, he will take out the offending boiler on Monday, replace it with the new model on Tuesday and he faithfully assures us that everything will be up and running and ready for the new guests on Friday, even allowing us plenty of time to get everything back in sparkling order before 3pm …
So we may live to tell the tale after all. We’ve had dramas before, many related to this same boiler; we’ve also had several minor floods, and more than one very prolonged power cut – one lasting two days. We have had so much snow that our guests couldn’t leave and we had to re-schedule the incoming guests offering them a free alternative date instead.
At the time they have all seemed a drama of sorts, even if only a minor one; some like the power cuts have ended up being really rather fun – our joint dinner party by candlelight during one recent power cut was rated the highlight of their holiday by both couples! We have not had anything on the scale of the current situation, which apart from the human element is going to be financially significant too. But at least there wasn’t a flood or a fire, no one has been hurt and no real damage has been done to body or soul other than to what my nuns at school would call our ‘false pride’.
Our inspection report has arrived, and yes, we did not dream the Five Stars nor the Gold Award (one does begin to wonder…) We are informed that we may, at our discretion, make our inspection report available publicly; we are happy to share it with you, warts and all although I must admit we are very pleased with it. Have a look for yourself if you’d like to, click here to see the report.There are certain things we are stuck with, which we have to accept will bring marks down such as the size and shape(s) of the building and the truss in Tom’s Barn bedroom which therefore makes the bedroom appear quite cramped and yet at the same time extremely spacious as one looks out over the gallery towards our veg patch.
The inspector shuddered visibly when she looked at Tom’s Barn bath. She said that although to her it would be a nightmare she appreciated that to most of our guests it is rather special; she agreed that as long as it is clear to potential guests that they have to mountaineer – or at least climb up steps and down – to have a bath then if that is not to their taste they can try Douglas’s Barn’s more conventional approach!
Our walls are mostly rough plastered (‘It’s more than my job’s worth,’ muttered the plasterer when we told him we wanted to recreate the texture – as far as possible – of the original walls of the cow barns that they once were). Despite the rather illogical Farrow and Ball paint the texture of the walls does mean that the decoration is never going to be classed as ‘excellent’ and because neither bathroom has floor to ceiling tiling neither will ever get an excellent for that.
Our ‘cottages’ are converted barns. Having opted for a certain relaxed style and atmosphere, we are never going to be up there with the super elegant boutique cottages with their glossy magazine kitchens, wet rooms, swags and drapes and underfloor heating but that’s a choice we make. It may well be one we regret, as expectations and standards rise increasingly higher but we’ll just have to keep hoping that there are still lots of you out there who want great comfort but are happy with the odd ‘cosy’ – in estate agent speak- space or only half-tiled bathroom!
There are two scores in the report that we are unreservedly proud of. The first is the 100% for cleanliness (we’ve had that every year and my goodness Janet and Carol and indeed we all work hard at that). Our hope is that you will never be reminded that you are not the first person to stay in your barn. We’ve all stayed in enough well-respected/secretly grotty hotel and other rooms to know how horrid it is – no matter how elegant the public reception areas are – to feel you daren’t walk barefoot on the bedroom carpet because it looks greasy and stained and there are hairs in the plughole of the bath, and the pillows smell rather used. Sorry…
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Two local pubs hit the headlines today. The Sycamore, our Parwich pub, has been declared winner of the rural pub of the year category by The Ashbourne sub-branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). While the Sycamore does not pretend to major on food it is praised highly for ‘an excellently well-kept range of Robinson’s ales.
The George at Alstonefield is featured nationally today in the first of a new series on ‘country trails with a pint en route’ in the Sunday Times Travel section, page 19 (10th February 2013). The author, Vincent Crump, speaks admiringly of the two pints of Jennings Cockle Warmer he drinks there (this is obviously a double dose ‘pint en route’ walk). He does not mention any other names, but the George is widely admired for its ‘well kept real ales, carefully selected wine list and real pub food’. Horses for course: this is more expensive, ‘finessed food’, not by any description the more affordable standard pub grub such as people enjoy at the Sycamore.
But I am not meant to be writing about food, or beer, but about the circular walk from Hartington that is described in this piece. Because we don’t have a Times subscription we couldn’t access the link to it, which would have been by far the best option. Instead, I shall massacre Vincent Crump’s charmingly written article to extract the bare bones of the walk he describes so evocatively, in order that friends and guests can try it for themselves. (We shall put a photocopy of the article in the walk file in each barn as well so if you’re actually staying here you can use that.)
Definitely have an Ordnance Survey map with you so you can plot the route for yourself. Crump’s description is more poetic than scientific and after lunch it becomes even more disquietingly vague. My translation may do nothing to help but I truly am doing my best to extract the facts.
1.Start at Hartington.
2. Walk up Hall Bank towards Hartington Hall, now the Youth Hostel.
3. Opposite the hall gates turn right onto the ‘Leisure Lane to Dovedale’.
4. After a ‘swift mile the path collapses abruptly into Biggin Dale’.
5. Cross the Dove on a ‘dinky footbridge’ at Wolfscote Dale then ‘walk all the way to Alstonefield’. (Forgive me if this doesn’t sound very helpful but it’s what he says. I’d say, at this stage definitely look at your map!)
George stop for a pint or two… and lunch…then set off back to Hartington again
6. The hike back ‘arrows north on a field path, cleaving the small green bosoms of Narrowdale’.
7.Rejoin the Dove ‘as it squidges between cliffs through Beresford Dale’.
8. Then, he concludes, ‘before I know it I’m in Hartington again’.
Let’s hope you are too!
Here is the evidence! A little piece of card, written in biro, which gives us the opportunity for a little bit of relieved trumpet blowing, or sharing of good news. We had our annual Visit England Quality in Tourism (QiT) Inspection yesterday. One never likes to be too confident but quietly we were reasonably sure we were in no risk of losing our Five Star grading. What we were much less sure about was the coveted Gold Award, having been warned at the Premier Cottages AGM last October that too many people were receiving a Gold Award. It is meant to signify ‘exceptional quality’ ‘la creme de la creme’… Their answer is to raise the qualifying score levels, quite considerably, to ensure that the award remains exclusive.
Quality is about exceeding expectations. That’s delicate! People have got to be tempted to stay somewhere so will already have high expectations but not so high that they are bound to feel let down. We’re always pleased when a first-time guest walks in, gasps with delight (had to put that in!) and says ‘It looks better than the website!” Often they then explain that in the past when visiting somewhere for the first time they have felt disappointed because reality had not lived up to what they felt they had been led to expect. They had expected the bedroom to be more spacious, or the views to be more attractive, or indeed for the champagne on ice to be awaiting them.
One thing we feel strongly about is not raising impossible expectations. Wide-angled lenses and clever photo-shopping can create an illusion of space, or elegance. Props such as a bowl of colourful fruit or a tray laid with cut glass champagne flutes and an expensive bottle of champagne…that’s fine if that is why your guests can expect but I am afraid that our guests can’t (sorry!). You can expect a plate of homemade cake though, so we’ll show you a photo of that in the hopes it won’t actually put you off!
So what our inspector found yesterday when she went round Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns was exactly what you, or any of our guests would find upon arrival.The only difference was that because neither barn was booked we seized the precious opportunity, as we always do when we can, to wash and iron the cushion covers, take Tom’s Barn sofa cover to the dry cleaners and extra things like that. Nothing in fact that you or the inspector would notice, but it feels good to us because we know that everything is as spotless as it possibly can be. Carol and Janet worked even harder than usual, which is saying something, absolutely determined that their first class reputation as very special cleaners was not going to be ruined in their own eyes by anything less than 100% for cleanliness!
When we get the final report we will let you know all the scores and any particular recommendations.
There is still time to book a last minute Christmas get away in Douglas’s Barn. The weather may be cold but the barn is very warm and cosy. Why not treat yourselves to a get away from it all break. You can order all your supplies from one of the supermarkets, get it delivered and […]
Time to get a bit of relaxation before the Christmas mayhem. There are still short breaks available in Douglas’s Barn. Plenty going on in the Peak District. Lots of Christmas markets selling lovely gifts that you don’t see elsewhere. Chatsworth House is also a must at this time of year. There are plenty of stories […]
Lots of events to go to in and around Parwich today but managed to get to the Horticultural Show in Parwich and the Hartington Show. Missed out on the Antiques in Ashbourne though which is always worth going to. Izzy did better than me by getting 1st prize as the Prettiest Bitch at Hartington Show […]