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Here you can find a collection of our thoughts, reports and ramblings together with some fun things we find along the way. We try to update the blog at least once a week and more often during busy periods so make sure you check back regularly..

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 8 2017 11:00AM

Conkers are the seeds of the horse chestnut tree. The trees, which can reach 35m tall, produce beautiful white candle shaped flowers in May followed by their famous spiky seed cases (each with two conkers inside) which fall in September and October.

Horse chestnuts aren't native to Britain but were imported from the Balkans in the sixteenth century and widely planted in parks and public spaces during Victorian times.

The game

The game of conkers has been played in Britain since the 1800s. The following rules have developed over the centuries and are fairly universally accepted. First, a grown-up needs to prepare each conker by drilling a hole through the centre. Now thread the conker onto a string or shoe lace and tie a big knot to stop it sliding off. Your string should be more than 30cm long so that, when you have wrapped it round your hand, there is at least 20cm between your knuckles and the dangling conker. Next, prepare for battle!

1. Toss a coin to decide who strikes first.

2. Each player must have a minimum length of 20cm of string between his string hand and the conker.

3. The striker draws back his conker in his other hand and then swings it down onto the receiving player's conker.

3. The striker has three goes to hit the receiver's conker.

4. The receiver must hold his or her conker still.

5. Once the striker has hit the receiver's conker (or if he misses three times) play passes and the receiver becomes the striker.

6. If any player drops his conker, his opponent is entitled to shout "stamps!" and stamp on it, unless the other player shouts "no stamps!" first.

7. Absolutely no deliberate hitting of the other player's knuckles!

8. If your conker comes off its string but is not smashed then you are allowed to re-string it and play continues.

9. The game ends when one player's conker is smashed from its string (having a small bit of shell left doesn't count).

10. If both conkers smash at the same time, the match is a tie.


Every fresh conker starts as a "one-er". A conquering conker assumes the score of its victim. So, if your one-er beats another one-er then it becomes a "two-er". But if your one-er beats a two-er, it becomes a "three-er", and so on.

How to cheat

Although banned in most official competitions, the following methods can all be used to toughen up your prized conker:

- Store it in a dry place for a year.*

- Bake it in the oven.

- Soak it in vinegar.

- Paint it with clear nail varnish.

The best (legitimate) way to ensure a strong conker is to make sure the hole you drill is neat and doesn't split the shell. The hole should be no wider than you need for your chosen string. Also, before you drill the hole, check that your conker sinks in a glass of water. If it is damaged or rotten on the inside it will float.

*Roald Dahl recommends this method in his diary, My Year.

According to custom, when you find your first conker of the season you should say "Oddly, oddly onker, my first conker" for good luck during the season.

Did you know...? The origins of the word 'conker' aren't completely clear. Some say it derives from the word "conch", a type of shell that was originally used to play the game but others believe it is a shortened version of "conqueror".

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 8 2017 11:00AM

Britain's arboretums (technically it's arboreta) are some of the finest and best managed tree collections in the world and October is a great month to visit one. You'll be treated to a dramatic display of colour as autumn really takes hold.

Here's our top 10 arboretums to visit but there are plenty more out there and there’s bound to be one near you.

The National Arboretum, Westonbirt – the country’s best known collection and simply stunning throughout the autumn.

Bodenham Arboretum, Worcestershire – more than 150 acres in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey – a National Trust property, deliberately planted to produce a dramatic autumn display.

Harcourt Arboretum, Oxfordshire – a historic collection, now part of Oxford University.

Kilmun Arboretum, Argyll and Bute –part of the Argyll forest and recently named as the best arboretum for autumnal photography.

Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden, Yorkshire – not strictly an arboretum but a stunning garden and medieval deer park that form part of a World Heritage landscape.

Derby Arboretum, Derby - the first publicly owned urban, recreational park in England and now Grade II listed by English Heritage.

RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey – the Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden in glorious Surrey countryside.

Cardinham Wood, Cornwall – a Forestry Commission property criss-crossed with walking and cycling trails, perfect for enjoying the Cornish scenery.

Rowallane Garden, Northern Ireland – one of the most beautiful gardens in Northern Ireland.

Why do leaves change colour in autumn?

During the summer trees produce two chemicals that they need for photosynthesis (the process by which they “breath”, converting water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen). The first chemical, chlorophyll, is green and the second, carotene, is yellow. To produce chlorophyll, trees need both warmth and light so when the cooler days and longer nights of autumn come, chlorophyll production stops. As the green chlorophyll fades away, the carotene remains - this is the yellow that you see. Anthocyanin, a third chemical, is produced when sugars in the leaf become concentrated and trapped in the leaves as the tree prepares for winter. This is the red colour that you see - it’s the same chemical that makes some apples and grapes red.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 24 2017 08:00AM

As we edge further into the autumn season we really start to focus on preserving some of the gluts to last us over the less fruitful months.

Apples, pears, nuts, marrows, pumpkins, squashes and a host of other great fruit and veg arrive in huge quantities this month and we need to start thinking about how we're going to deal with them. Chutneys are one of the best ways of preserving the bounties of autumn and with that in mind, here are our top tips for making good ones.

Golden Rules for Champion Chutney:

1. Give yourself plenty of time. One thing you can't do is rush a good chutney. Allow at least a couple of hours to prepare and cook a batch.

2. Cut your vegetables and fruits to roughly the same size. It will allow the ingredients to cook at the same rate and make the end result better to eat.

3. Don't burn it! Cooking chutney is a long and laborious process but the worst thing you can do it take your eye off the pan for too long. Keep stirring the mixture, especially as you get towards the end. Burning it will not only make it taste terrible, it will leave a layer of black sugar welded to the base of your pan.

4. The simple test for when your chutney is ready is what we call 'the parting of the Red Sea'. Draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of your pan. The chutney should be thick enough that you see the bottom of the pan for a second or two before receding to fill the channel. When you get to this point, your chutney is ready for jarring.

5. Use jars with screw top, plastic coated lids. The vinegar will corrode uncoated metal lids.

6. Make sure you sterilise your jars. If you don't, bacteria in them may ruin the chutney and the whole point is that they should last through the winter. Give the jars a good wash in hot, soapy water and then place upside down in an oven at low heat until dry. Alternatively, put them in a dishwasher on its hottest cycle and use them as soon as it finishes.

7. Always allow your chutney time to mellow. That means at least two months in a dark, cool cupboard. Eat it too soon and it will taste harsh and vinegary. And don't worry about it going off - the high vinegar and sugar content means it should keep for at least a year (provided you sterilised the jars properly).

8. The final and most important rule is that, when it comes to ingredients...there are no rules. Pretty much anything goes and one of the best things about autumn is being able to experiment with an almost limitless number of flavour combinations. We've had some of our finest results (and admittedly some of our worst) simply throwing whatever we had at the time into a pan and seeing how it turned out.

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