The gigantic memorial at Thiepval
Just in case you didn’t see it, here’s a Comment that Val left to blogposting 523, in which I was pondering a visit to the World War One cemeteries in northern France and Belgium.  It has provided more motivation for me to make the journey.

'Ian you really must go to visit some of the WW1 war graves.

We went over 30 years ago when on a camping holiday in Northern France.  In those days we'd never seen any pictures of those massive, well-kept cemeteries so it had a huge impact on us - specifically the Tyne Cot cemetery near Ypres.  There are so many cemeteries and memorials over there, including the Menin Gate in Ypres.

The Flanders Field museum in Ypres is also a must.  30 years ago it was a traditional museum with display cases and exhibits like shells and bayonets.  I had nightmares after seeing them that night.  I remember being moved to tears reading soldiers’ letters home alongside their packets of Woodbines.

We took our kids there in 2000 when they were in their teens.  Our teenage daughter pretended she wasn't interested in the cemetery at first but couldn't help be affected too. We showed them other monuments and trenches.

By then the museum in Ypres was a multi-media experience which really brought home the horrors of war.  Yet the display of the soldiers’ letters and Woodbines was still there and still as poignant as the first time I saw them.

We've no near relatives who died in WW1 but we've a cassette of my great uncle [whom I knew] talking about some of his experiences.  He overstayed his leave by a day with one of his pals as they weren't bothered about any punishment - they knew it couldn't be as bad as what they were going back to...'

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Time, I think, for another list of the Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know variety, to which I am hopelessly addicted.

Here’s a list of once-common fruit and veg which have almost entirely disappeared from the gardens and kitchens of England…
Formby asparagus...
...was originally grown by locals on the sand-dunes around Formby (in Lancashire).  Its sweetly delicate flavour made it immensely popular in the late 19th century - it was even served up on the Titanic.  Which may have been an omen…
Brighstone beans
Legend has it that the Brighstone bean was cast into the sea in an 18th-century shipwreck and washed up onto the shores of the Isle of Wight (which is where Brighstone is).  There, the seeds were carefully cultivated by generations of gardeners due to the bean’s history, rarity and distinctive taste.  Not any more, though…
...resemble a kind of cross between a small apple and a rosehip.  They are - or were - harvested when they’re hard and green.  But they're not edible until they’ve become half-rotten - or ‘bletted’ - when they turn brown and soft.  Their flavour is described as ‘apple with cinnamon’, which gets them my vote.

But, for me, the most regrettable inclusion on the list are…
I can just about remember picking bilberries with my Aunty Mill on Waldridge Fell when I was very, very young; and they’ve been up there amongst my favourite tastes ever since, along with blackberries.  Once a common fruit pie ingredient, they have been almost completely usurped by their brasher American cousins - blueberries - or forgotten altogether.

Fortunately for gastronomic civilisation, they are still highly regarded in France, where bilberry jam is still common and where they are also used to flavour everything from vinegar and oil to sausages, which sounds weirder than it tastes.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, though, they’ve become strangers to the English diet.

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1 comment:

Val said...

Thanks Ian for repeating my WW1 cemetery post, glad you've decided to go.

I remember my grandma making bilberry pies. Hadn't thought about them for years. Read on internet you might get them in jars or cans in Polish supermarkets. But they won't be the same as fresh.