Temporary Closure

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

The 2020 season hasn’t even got under way yet, and already it is clear that I shall be forced to close. For how long, I don’t know. My last guest leaves on Monday and there will be no more guests until the country returns to normal. It looks as though my third season will be totally wiped out. Last night the British Government announced the closure of all restaurants, pubs and bars as from today, in addition to the existing requirement for social distancing and cessation of all non-essential travel. I cannot easily distance myself from my guests when I am opening the front door to let them in, showing them their room and facilities and serving them breakfast — at least, not without a lot of hassle and constant donning and doffing of at best rudimentary protective gear, which is hardly the most welcoming of gestures. And then when these potentially asymptomatic virus-carriers have gone, I would have to go around disinfecting every hard surface they might have touched — room keys and door handles, taps and light switches, jam-pot lids and butter dishes. Amongst others. This means that I reluctantly have to cease B&B activities until further notice.

 

Special Measures

Saturday March 14th, 2020

The Corona virus is expected to start spreading quite rapidly in the UK during the coming days and weeks. Among the special measures that I am adopting at Bressenden are (1) less frequent trips to the supermarket and (2) a lower occupancy rate. The virus has already taken care of the second measure, sadly, and my bookings are much lower than they should be at this time of year. But until the viral epidemic has died down, I shall not accommodate more than two sets of guests at any time to reduce the risk of transmission to other guests and to me. Mostly, there will be just one set of guests.

The first measure is designed to limit my contact with potential carriers of the virus and/or contaminated surfaces. Normally, I go out to buy fresh fruit and mushrooms almost every day when I have guests, but from now on I shall only venture to the shops once a week. Meat products are not a problem because they freeze. I make my own yoghurt once a week and bread flour keeps for several weeks. Milk, eggs and tomatoes do not freeze, but they all keep for a week or so. Soft fruit and mushrooms cannot be frozen or kept for more than two or three days. So it will be pot luck whether or not I have these available on any particular day. I hope guests will not be too upset if mushrooms do not feature on the menu, or if the choice of fruit on offer is limited.

Testing Times

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Anyone who may have contemplated a romantic Valentine’s Day weekend here but then chose another venue certainly did the right thing. Not only has Storm Dennis arrived, wetter than, and almost as windy as, last weekend’s Storm Ciara, but we’ve had two burst water mains up the road in the last two days and have been without water since the early hours of this morning. No baths or showers then. And my guests are having to fill buckets with hot water from the storage tank to flush the loos. There was also a brief power cut this morning, fortunately just after I finished cooking breakfast, and for some weeks now, this country has been on alert for the Corona virus. Let us hope we get back to normal soon.

Advent Sunday

Sunday, December 1st, 2019


The Christmas tree came down from the attic today. This year, Advent Sunday (the first day of Advent) coincides with the first day of December, which is truly a winter month, unlike November which still passes for autumn. The days now are short and dark, and the red and gold tree decorations bring extra light and warmth to a house that needs all the help it can get in its isolated rural location during the cold and bleak midwinter months. If you are looking for somewhere to stay over the Christmas period, there are still a few slots available, though not on Christmas Day itself, which is now booked up, and not on New Year’s Eve, which is reserved for family and for ringing the church bells at midnight. By the way, if you are a bellringer, you will be especially welcome at my B&B at any time of year and you may well be dragged along to a local practice!

Damson Jam

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

The wild damson tree down the lane had a good crop of black fruit this year. I’ve never been sure whether the round, tart fruit, the size of large cherries, are bullaces or damsons, or a hybrid. All I know is that the tree is as old as its enclosing hedges, which contain everything from hawthorn and blackthorn to hops and cobs (the Kent cob is our local variety of hazel). The fruit of this wild plum tree makes a rich, deep crimson jam with a distinctive taste. Guests often ask me if I make my own jams. By and large, I don’t, having more than enough work in producing the daily loaves of bread and the yoghurt in addition to all the bed making, laundry and breakfast preparation, but I make an exception for the annual raspberry and damson jam-making sessions. The raspberries in the garden are too plentiful even to freeze, and the wild damson jam is something you wouldn’t often see in any shop.

Damsons take time to prepare because you have to remove the stones with a cherry pitter. It is much better to remove the stones beforehand, as this keeps the fruit whole and the boiling time to a minimum. If you are tempted to throw the fruit in whole and then to skim off the stones during the cooking, you will regret it because the fruit must be boiled vigorously for a long time before the stones are freed of their flesh. Over-cooked fruit loses its structure as it turns to pulp, the skin breaks down and the jam loses it jewel-like translucency. Not least, fishing out the stones from a boiling cauldron is a messy job that takes a lot longer than you might think. I’ve tried both methods, and there is no doubt that cooking up the stoneless fruit for as short a time as possible gives a better looking and fresher tasting jam. Once I’ve removed the stones I boil them up in a separate pan and strain off the pectin-rich juice from the stony pulp. The juice goes into the cauldron instead of water. The pulp goes in the compost bin. I try to use as little water as I can get away with during the cooking. The yield is smaller in terms of the number of pots, but the jam is fruitier and more intense.

Six of the jars from this year’s crop are large, 700 gram pots. They should see us through until next October.

 

French Invasion

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Last weekend I was surprised to find a French colonel from Napoleon’s army at the front door. He stayed here for three nights, being on daytime duty at a re-enactment event at nearby Hole Park. His next destination is somewhere near Waterloo in Belgium.

Peak Season

Sunday, August 11th, 2019

As we approach mid-August and the middle of the summer season, I reflect on the practicalities of accepting too many guests at once. I love a good party, and the table laid for eight in this picture is very pretty, but cooking Full English for eight people who all want to eat together is, to put it bluntly, an absolute nightmare! This was for a private breakfast party of guests attending a local wedding, but normally, six paying guests is the maximum I am legally allowed to accommodate overnight. Breakfast for two is a doddle. For four, it’s something to keep me on my toes. For six, it’s a challenge. For eight, it takes me a day to recover. To do this regularly, I would need additional, or different, cooking equipment. The very nature of an English breakfast, with all its disparate elements requiring different cooking treatments and times, does not lend itself easily to mass catering. From now on, eight people to breakfast will have to settle for Continental-style breakfasts only, unless they are prepared to stagger their eating times. By chance, last week I hosted a couple of Australian guests who had run a five-room B&B for seven years before the days of online booking. They welcomed about 8,000 guests during their tenure, working flat out and doing everything themselves including the cleaning, catering and laundry. They had full occupancy for most of the year, and I simply can’t imagine the amount of work involved. We exchanged many stories and I take my hat off to them. Fortunately, I have no more large parties booked this season, so can go back to enjoying the more leisurely approach of hosting two or four guests at a time, which I now have down to a fine art.

Swinging Through the Trees

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

This latest garden accessory provided me with a few moments of rest and recuperation after a busy week, which featured, among other things, the rudest, most unpleasant and most difficult guests I have ever had the privilege of welcoming into my home. I feel ashamed to say they were English. They put up my worst ever review on Booking.com and said they “would probably not stay here again”. To which I can only reply, “Good”. There is no pleasing this sort of hoity-toity person, even though you do your best to be obliging, to accommodate an extra family member at very short notice and to offer them a generous discount in compensation for the fact that the extra person will require them to share their bathroom. In addition, you let them check in during the middle of the day instead of the normal late afternoon, even though this will disrupt your cleaning and shopping routine. Such people will always still find something to complain about. But to complain in a review about the lack of an ensuite bathroom — when this website, the info on Booking.com, and I personally on the phone have all made it absolutely clear what the bathroom arrangements are — is not just unfair, it’s downright stupid. It’s also misleading, as there is an ensuite bathroom in the house — but it was already booked by other guests.

But never mind that. This weekend brings a jolly group of wedding guests, and once the rain has passed, I hope that they or future guests will take advantage of the lovely feeling of swinging through the pine trees in the new hammocks.

Living Food

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

 

Food carefully nurtured from live cultures takes time and patience to prepare, but it does taste a whole lot better. Guests often ask how I make the yoghurt. It couldn’t be easier, but if you don’t start it early enough in the day, you might have to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning (as I did today) to transfer the yoghurt from the incubator to the fridge! I started making my own yoghurt after tasting homemade yoghurt in a lovely B&B in France a couple of years before starting my own B&B. The hostess kindly invited me into her kitchen to show me her yoghurt-making equipment. This consisted of seven little glass jars which sat in an insulated pot at a constant temperature of 42 degrees C for a minimum of eight hours. I determined there and then that I too would make my own yoghurt when the time came, because I find the yoghurts sold in shops in printed plastic pots very unappealing aesthetically — they do not look good at the breakfast table. I also dislike the starch and other additives that are often used, and low-fat yoghurts are bland and unpleasantly sour. My yoghurt contains milk, cream, lactobacillus culture and nothing else. To make a reasonably thick yoghurt, you have to keep the milk at boiling point for a good 15 minutes. If you skip this step, you end up with runny yoghurt that is loose and unformed, and it seems to require a longer incubation period too. During high season I have to make yoghurt about twice a week. I have tried various types of culture, some with more success than others. At present I am using a so-called heirloom culture, which in theory can keep yoghurt perpetuating itself for a very long time, though perhaps not as long as my sourdough culture, which I started back in 2009.

My bread-making is a two-day process. I alternate between baking a white loaf and a wholemeal loaf from stoneground whole wheat flour so that I always have some of each, as guests tend to have strong preferences for one or the other. During high season I am baking every day to keep up with demand. My bread contains flour, water, a pinch of salt and nothing else. There is no oil or fat, no sugar (except sometimes a spoonful of honey in the wholemeal loaf) and no yeast, other than wild yeasts floating about in the air. But, you ask, doesn’t bread need commercial baker’s yeast for it to rise properly? The photo of one of my white loaves above shows that it doesn’t. Adding commercial yeast is a cheat’s way of making bread — a way of speeding up the process. For a more natural and flavoursome product, you need time, and lots of it — hence the various stages of preparation that are spread over two days, or one and half, to be precise. During that time, the flavour has more time to develop while the slowly fermenting dough gradually puffs up with air bubbles. My version of the sourdough bread looks and tastes quite different from some of the mass-produced sourdoughs you find in shops, which (when you read the small print) often contain additives including yeast. The real challenge is keeping the bread fresh. Unlike shop-bought bread, my bread would be inedible after two days. I have tried various approaches, the most successful and least wasteful of which entails slicing the loaves as soon as possible, wrapping the slices in cloth and freezing them. I take out what I need the night before, allowing the slices to defrost naturally overnight so that they are ready for breakfast.

First Anniversary

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

 

Today is the first anniversary of Bressenden’s opening as a B&B, and Georgie the ginger cat has greeted more than 300 visitors since our first guests arrived from Holland on May 2nd last year. He loves meeting people and instantly wants to make friends, which can take visitors by surprise at times! Guests have come here from all over the globe, including Australia and New Zealand, Russia, China, the USA and many European countries. The experience has been overwhelmingly positive and there were very few guests for whom this place was not a good fit. May is the best month for the garden, with the rhododendrons just now starting to open their flower buds in a rich palette of vibrant pinks, reds and purples.