Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

July 2011

This months News



Nature Notes

The month of haymaking.  Traditionally during haymaking rabbits were killed either by the mowers or by villagers with all manner of cudgels, sticks, spades or guns:

“Fit your rabbit for boiling and seeth it with a little Mutton broth, white wine and a piece of whole Mace; then take Lettuce, Spynach, Parsley, Winter Savory and Sweet Marjoram, bruise them with the back of your ladle (for the bruising of the herbs will make the broth look very pleasantly green).  When all is well boiled together, thicken it with a crust of bread and a little sweet butter therein.  Season is with verjuice and pepper and serve it to the table upon sippits or toasts”

The New Book of Cookerie, 1615 

What you may ask, is verjuice?  It literally means ‘green juice’ and it fell out of favour with the arrival of lemons.  Some of the foodies amongst you may have noticed that many new recipes call for verjuice.  It is currently made from tiny unripe grapes, but in Medieval Europe and through to the mid 19th century it was made from fallen crab apples which were crushed, strained, and stored in earthenware jugs along with Damask rose leave, so no more wasting all those fallen crab apples!

Nature notes comes from Herefordshire this month.  Recently we spent a week near the Black Mountains in a house set in woodland, and nesting in ivy outside our bedroom window was a pair of Redstarts.  In Herefordshire they used to be known at Brantails or Kitty Brantails and in Warwickshire as Fire Tail, although it is now fairly rare in this county.  It is a bird of open woodland or parkland areas, and is on the decline in Britain.  The male is quite dramatically coloured with a red/orange breast, jet black throat and white forehead; the female is basically brown, but both have the most striking red/orange tail.  The colour begins at the rump and projects fierily behind them.  The ‘start’ comes from the old English for tail.  This is a very active little bird, bobbing and flitting from branch to branch and shooting up into the air to catch flies and other winged insects on which it feeds.

We were aware that buzzards and ravens were nesting in the surrounding woodlands and one morning we were watching a low-flying buzzard about 50 metres away, wheeling and mewing above our heads.  Suddenly we heard that familiar “pruk pruk” and a raven appeared and started attacking the buzzard.  A quite aggressive fight was taking place with some amazing aerobatics.  But then a surprise, a peregrine falcon appeared and joined in the aerial tussle.  The two larger birds seemed to ignore the falcon so he rose up to a height and stooped, hitting the raven with a thwack.  At this point all three birds flew off in different directions.  Was the peregrine breaking up the fight?  If so, it worked.

Gervase Markham in the 17th century advised gentlemen in the month of July “and lastly for health, abstain from all physick, bleed not, but upon violent occasions, and neither meddle with Wine, Women, nor no other wantonness”.  Perhaps the Earl of Oxford should have taken care of his physick and diet, for on 27th July “Making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart. At which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to travel, for seven years.  On his return the Queen welcomed him home and said ‘My Lord, I had forgot the Fart’”.

John Aubrey, 1680

A fly past: as we were about to start our OWLS meeting, standing chatting in Carol Taylor’s garden, a pair of curlew flew low over her house.  These were probably Oxhill’s regular breeding pair.  They would, by now, have reared their young and I would guess this was their farewell as they returned to the coast.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: July 06, 2011