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  • Martin Castle

The seasons turn

Updated: May 3, 2020

April finally lived up to its reputation for showers but a lovely walk to collect cones from the Scots Pines nearby was completed before the sky blackened and the rain came. An exciting find on the way - an elm tree full of maturing seeds.

Once growing to lofty heights but ravaged by Dutch elm disease since the 1960s now it is only found occasionally in hedgerows or woodland. Elms were dedicated to Morpheus, the god of sleep and used to be associated with melancholy and death, probably because the trees can drop dead branches without warning and elm wood was also the preferred choice for coffins. Its wood is strong and durable with a tight-twisted grain, and is resistant to water and has been used to make boats and boat parts, furniture, wheel hubs, wooden water pipes and floorboards as well as coffins.

Suddenly, our own little bit of woodland has a heavy leaf cover and the light that flooded to the floor only a couple of days ago is now deeply dappled, although the green is the vibrant green of spring.

When we lived in Southsea I would walk with cadets from St John Ambulance on their DofE expeditions around Hampshire. On one such trip we walked alongside a watercress farm. Hampshire is famed for the water in its chalk streams - an unusual feature that also appears in NN. Click on the picture to learn more about this unique habitat.


Today's recipe brings the brightness of full spring, the water of the chalk streams and the tang of citrus. I found this recipe in Country Smallholding magazine for May 2020 –

Country Watercress Pie

Serves 2 (or 4 for a light lunch)


75g/2½oz mature Cheddar cheese, grated

1 medium egg, beaten

Couple of handfuls of watercress

30g/1oz dry breadcrumbs

30g/1oz extra grated cheese

Freshly ground black, a generous amount

A shake of white pepper to taste

A shake of Cayenne pepper to taste


1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C/360°F/gasmark 4 fan oven and butter an 18cm/7” pie dish.

2. Pour the milk into a pan with room to stir and scatter in the ground rice gradually, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.

3. Bring to the boil stirring constantly at first then change to a whisk.

4. Once the mixture is almost at boiling point, lower the heat and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens (about 4 minutes).

5. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard, then the cheese.

6. Season to taste with the peppers.

7. Cool slightly and fold in the egg followed by the watercress.

8. Pour the mixture into the pie dish.

9. Combine the breadcrumbs and extra cheese and scatter over the top.

10. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden.

NOTE: It is not wise to harvest watercress from the wild as there is a danger it may be a host to liver fluke.

Watercress Salad with Orange & Rhubarb Sprinkles

Combine watercress with segments of orange (grapefruit for those allergic to orange).

Rhubarb sprinkles

1 or two thick-stemmed rhubarb sliced wafer thin. Toss these in 1-2 tsp of cater sugar (or sweetener). Space out on a greaseproof paper on a wire rack on top of a baking tray. Bake for 40 minutes to an hour at 100°C, checking frequently. Once they start to shrink and curl turn of the heat and cool with the oven door open.

Orange dressing

In a screw-top jar, shake together 4 tbsp of rapeseed oil, 2tbsp cider vinegar, 2 tsp of Dijon mustard, the juice and zest of an orange (½ a grapefruit) and a generous squeeze of runny honey.

Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...

"cloud –an everyday word with a surprising origin; from Old English "clúd", meaning an outcrop of rock, a hill. Cumuli as mountains, weather as geology, storms building gorges, ridges, massifs of thunder; vast sky-ranges in which the mind wanders."


“Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud.” - Maya Angelou
"For all those people finding it difficult at the moment, the sun will shine again and the clouds will go away." - Capt Tom Moore.
"When everything seems to be against you, remember the aeroplane takes off against the wind, not with it" - Henry Ford
and I rose up, and knew that I was tired, and continued my journey” - Edward Thomas.
"Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." - St. Francis of Assisi
“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. - Julian of Norwich

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