The Broad Bean

Most lunch breaks I take a walk down through our field. The grasses are measurably taller against my legs and the newly born hoppers are now big and bouncy enough to spring board into my wellies. There’s Clover, Birdsfoot Trefoil and Stitchwort,  large shifting islands of Yellow Rattle have appeared, and I’m easily distracted by the swelling patches of Mallow leaf that promise plump cushions of pink, later in the year. Since planting out the young and vulnerable seedlings, I’ve been making regular trips to my veg patch. I’m jangly with the anticipation of the new, the taller, the flowering and the almost fruiting. There’s also a palpable edge of dread. Often I find signs of visitors… the odd pheasant feather amongst the broadbeans, a silvered and neatly scalloped edge of a courgette leaf. But more recently I’ve been finding the occasional, oversized ‘blackberry’ of deer crap. We’ve done as much as is possible to at least guarantee some harvest, but it seems that over the last decade, each new generation of veg plot reveller has been gifted the genetic imprint of a map of this ‘free and full’ larder, and so my planting and protecting has had to become more strategic. Corn is bedded in beneath the cloak of a nut tree and the broad beans will be netted. Onions and garlic will always be the crops nearest the field side fencing as deer (and pretty much every other prospective diner) don’t seem to like aliums.

Regardless of this, each visit is a routine and a rhythm that gives great comfort… a little check on my fledgling broad beans, the resecuring of a wayward pea tendril, a hoe between the sturdy shoulders of the onions to disturb the roots of any weedy interlopers, and a quick chat with the newly planted out purple sprouting broccoli, so small and vulnerable in their earthy corral. The potatoes need little encouragement, and besides they can’t hear me at this point, with their heads buried deep below. (Tell me I’m not the only one who talks to their vegetables.)

I’m writing this in the month of June, and am now fully engaged in the annual Battle of The Broad Beans. My stealthy opponents have observed my daily routine and so strike when I’m working or sleeping. Already the earth is becoming littered with disemboweled pods. It’s too late to sow more, but now I’ve netted what remains and hope that the small crowd of beleaguered plants will manage to grow some more pods…

Broad beans make me smile.  They’re such a generous vegetable, giving pleasure throughout the whole process from the twist n pick of the plump and bumpy body, to the slip of the thumb and the slow reveal of the soft velveteen nursery within; a row of smooth skinned cherubs, tiny umbilical cords slowly plumping up these happy beans. The choice of whether to peel once cooked: I love them both ways… that kidney-bitter skin is such a rewarding contrast to the butter rich green of the bean within… I love them in a risotto, and adore them with a crumble of cheese and some wild rocket (perhaps some fried off pancetta stirred through).

Over the years, I’ve illustrated many podded vegetables, but have never felt entirely able to capture that freshness on paper. So having learnt to work with egg tempera, I decided that this might be the way to go, to mirror their depth of plush colour and form, and that undeniable sense of treasure revealed.

Of all the powdered pigments that nestle in the dark recesses of my studio drawers, Oxide of Chromium and Genuine Naples Yellow are the very essence of Summer. Dipping into egg, then into powder, stirring on porcelain to blend, then stroking onto cartridge. There’s a deep and rich melody that plays out in my heart as I work the layers of tempera to create the shape and shadow of the split pod.

The studio window is open most of the time now, any loose papers are anchored with a ball of flint or a slab of slate. The parenting blackbirds are too busy, too tired no doubt, to argue over curtilage rights, so for once there’s just the sound of a breeze cuffing at the sea of bracken outside.

 

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And then, inevitably, came the pea pod…

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If you’d like to know about my work, then do get in touch. I’m always happy to have a chat.

And for those of you who’d like to have a go at painting in egg tempera, then I’m delighted to say that I’m running a couple of courses in September! One is due to be held at the gorgeous Otter Farm, and the other is to be held at the very beautiful Thyme. If you’re interested, then do get in touch with them to find out more. They’re truly inspiring places and it would be very lovely to see you there! Meanwhile, for more egg tempera illustrations in amongst other work, head over to instagram.

Anna x

 

 

 

 


How Terence Happened

This isn’t really a how-to paint-in-egg-tempera story, because for that I think we’d be better off sitting side by side, drinking tea (or wine) and playing with ground pigments, brushes and egg. I’d show you a few tricks, we’d crack an egg, sip some tea (or wine) and have a go. It’s very much a doing kind of thing.

But suffice to say, it’s been a very forgiving medium to learn, with results that have left me stroking paper and marvelling at the depth of colours you can build up, and just how much paint I’ve managed to ladle on without the paper buckling under the weight!

For illustrating food it’s the most inspiring medium I’ve ever played with. It allows me to build up gossamer thin layers and subtle details that lend the painting a living and visceral quality that photographers managed to capture in a click, and yet has truly evaded me up until now.

So I thought I’d simply post a few photos of how one particular painting progressed, from the first tentative and rather ill proportioned comedy sketch (where I pretend to know what I’m doing), to finding Terence, the perfect model (with huge thanks to Dan, my local fishmongers, for his boundless enthusiasm), to at last standing up straight (phew!) and feeling properly happy with the result.

This study took 7 eggs, some 18 layers of colour and detail, and many mugs of tea and kitkat breaks, and it’s been a complete joy.

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Oh by the way, if you’d like to have a go, I’ve been asked by the wonderful Otter Farm and Thyme to hold workshops in September. It would be lovely to see you there; we could sip tea (or wine) and I’d be delighted to help you produce something beautiful!


Strange fruit

Listening to the Jackson Five, pinning down a skiddy, dry skinned cricket ball of a shell whilst jabbing at it with a teaspoon, is my first memory of a pomegranate.

And to be honest, I thought it was messy and all rather pointless (not exactly as easy as ‘a b c‘.). So I put down the teaspoon and the stubborn fruit, wiped my hands on the front of my favourite nylon dress, and lifting the Dansette’s needle back to the beginning of the ’45  I trotted off miming the words “as simple as do re mi…” I wasn’t exactly charmed. In my mind I likened it to the same disappointment that the Two Bad Mice in Beatrix Potter must’ve felt, on discovering that all of the luscious and promising food in the dolls’ house was made of plaster: utterly duped.

It was the age when ‘exotic’ fruits were beginning to appear at the local greengrocer, and mum perhaps felt more obliged rather than inspired to buy these strange fruit.

Visually I was utterly beguiled… the treasure trove appeal was not lost on a 5 year old’s magpie-like penchant for shiny brightly coloured jewels. But the seeds were dry, bitter even. Give me tinned peaches any day… so little effort for a sweet and easy kick. And at the time we had rather a lot of tinned peaches as a result of Dad ‘finding’ a large quantity of industrial sized tins from a lorry that had slipped its load on a narrow bridge at night. We worked our way through the tins of the syrupy sweet slugs for weeks, and rather sadly I now can’t even look at them in the aisle at the supermarket.

As a grown up their visual appeal never left me, but it seemed that no matter how many times I tried to find a liking for their flavour and texture, they would disappoint. I really couldn’t understand why you would want to eat them, let alone ruin a perfectly good salad with them!

Yet the bizarre thing is that regardless of my lack of taste for them, I found myself constantly drawn to paint them. It was perhaps my way of compensating for that elusive element.

 

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But then it happened, when I least expected it…

Last year I visited a market in Barcelona, nothing spectularly life changing there you might think. But it was here that someone casually thrust into my hand a plastic cup brimming with pomegranate seeds, and so I tried them, one more time.  The mouth explosion that occurred must be one that’s familiar to all those in ‘the know’. But for me it was a multi layered sensorial shock of the most undeniably sensuous kind. I was encouraged to spoon them into my mouth. But I somehow misplaced the spoon in my wanton, slightly untethered state of nirvana, and with eyes closed I ended up just simply pouring them into my mouth, red juice trickling as I bit and burst seemingly hundreds of these exquisite little ruby red grenades of flavour.

There are many theories on the best technique to cut, peel, and empty the contents of a pomegranate, and I think that I’ve tried every which way possible, but by far the most satisfying way is this one… no spoon required either!

I shall never see a pomegranate the same way again.

And I suspect I shall never paint them quite the same way either.


After some surprisingly early nudges and a few cups of tea...

Hello to you all!

It’s been a while since I wrote anything, and I should say that this is not going to be an essay, but simply a quick note to say that, yes, I’ll be offering prints for anyone who may be thinking of what to buy their nearest and dearest for (sorry about this) Christmas.

Here are my particular favourites… and some of them are also available as originals (of which of course, there’s only one!). These won’t be going up on my website as regulars prints at this stage, so do get in touch by email if you’d like to know prices and availability.

And of course, if there’s a particular image you’ve seen on my website that you had in mind, then do drop me a line.

Wishing you all the best of  luck with the almighty skid and slide towards the big day…. I confess that I’ve only bought one present so far, but then I’m pretty rubbish at forward planning.

Anna X

 

 

 

 

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The plum

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I can’t remember the first plum I ate… though I suspect it was perhaps more of a tinned, rehydrated prune, the kind you’re offered in a pudding bowl with others, forming little shrivelled islands in a thick yellow sea of Bird’s Eye custard (which I love). I do recall the heated debates that would ensue, if either my brother or I got the ‘right’ number of prunes that would henceforth have the undisputable POWER to predict a future. In fairness, it was blatantly geared towards girls, and the assumption that they would aspire to marry, and marry a ‘rich man’ at that. The list of potential suitors could perhaps do with an update, to include, among others, ‘Angelina Jolie lookeelikee, yoga guru, ecowarrior, Tom Hollander, bearded person, heaven forbid:Donald Trump’…

Come Summertime, plums would appear in a bowl on the kitchen table, nestled amongst Cox’s Pippin apples and Conference pears. But I rarely reached for them, preferring the convenience of an apple that didn’t leak and make hands awkwardly sticky.

If only I’d known…

Now a ‘grownup’, with a family and a bit of land, we’ve planted apple, pear and plum. They hunker down in a little orchard that we’ve fenced off from the deer, who would strip the young trees within minutes, given the chance. In July it is one of the greatest pleasures, to slip down, alone, to the orchard, and pick a sun ripened plum.  Standing beneath the little tree, with the sun on my back, a warm and voluptuous plum in my hand… the wave of delicate perfume radiating from the blush and bloom of this Rubenesque jewel; a flavour bomb waiting to happen: utterly beguiling.

And then there’s that first bite… the lick-of-the-lips smooth skin as tongue guides teeth to the plump ‘give’ point… the give to the gave, as teeth pierce to flesh; it’s messy. Juice will always roll down from palm to wrist, and if unchecked, will trickle to the bony tip of an elbow as, throwing all caution to the wind, you go in for a second bite. It’s perhaps one of the most sensuous fruits, second only to a ripened fig. Summer love, in all it’s fresh and sweet abandon. And no one wants it to end… so you reach for another plum.

As I write this, I’m working my way through the left over ‘models’ from the egg tempera illustration above… “tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor…” I feel as if I’ve cheated a little, enwrapped as I am in this deliciously sweet moment before time… it is only May.

But it was worth it.


The Mussel

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I found these on Grenaway Beach, in Cornwall. They’re two halves of the same mussel. Worn, battle scarred, but lovingly built by a brave beastie that lived to quite an age, judging by its size and thickness.

The life that attaches itself to a mollusc is spattered and colourful, valiantly worn like some Pollock fashion statement. The algae bloom of different hues and textures, the grid of teeny eggs, laid by a limpet that thought this particular shell was a safe ride. There are holes bored into these shells… driven through by opportunistic whelks, hellbent on a free snack.

And then there’s the inside… the smooth, pearlescent cocoon, perfectly cupped to hold and protect the soft delicate body of the mussel. A little armoured haven.

They are quite beautiful.

I always gather at least one mussel shell, absent mindedly slipping it into a pocket of my coat, perfect for an idle hand to trace the slow graceful butter-knife-sharp curve, rough grey ribbing to smooth petrol blues. The thumb, on it’s blind journey, unfailingly catches on a tiny outcrop of micro barnacles and I find it circling and returning to this little world. Then I inevitably flip it to prone side up, presenting a sensuous thumb slide, from the palatial line and up to the hook of the umbo. I think I could draw these shells with my eyes closed. At least in my head and my heart.

On reaching home these treasures are usually washed, and dried on a tray in the bottom of the Aga. Then they’re stored in kilner jars to be admired and dipped into, when needed. When I flick the lever on these jars, I can just about sense the scent of the beach and sea spray.

I miss the sea, a lot.

But a bowl of these, cooked, and a decent tear of bread to soak up the juices would definitely go some way to salve this ache.

 

p.s. In case you’re interested….

Once finished, these mussels will be for sale on Friday 29th April 1 pm. Do shout if interested. There will be one other, and then no more, until there’s an R in the month…

 


An oink around the corner...

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“You’ve got pigs? Really? How brilliant is that?!”
We walk around the corner of the house…

“Oh wow… they’re adorable. Look how they roll in the straw. Oh they’re looking at me! Those ears… their noses! Oh my goodness! They’re beyond cute!”

Then…

“Can I feed them? They like apples? Haha, oh they LOVE apples. Look it’s gone! Oh they’re gorgeous.”

Then, finally…

“No! You can’t eat them. How can you? They’re so lovely. They’re as intelligent as dogs you know. Did you know that? Surely you’ll not be able to do ‘it’?”

It’s undeniable: they’re very endearing. And now, after two weeks of settling in to their new home, getting to know the rhythm of their day, their meals times, our comings and goings, they have definitely nosed their way into at least a corner of our hearts. For our middle child I suspect that they have taken up residence at the very centre.

But the truth is this: We like bacon… and ham, sausages, shoulder, neck… For me, and many I suspect, say the word ‘bacon’ and my taste buds get lost in a state of reverie! (Though there have been occasions when we haven’t sourced sensibly, perhaps the pig hasn’t lived the best of lives, and there’s no doubt the meat will always be a mirror for this.)

But over the years a deep seated nagging has taken hold of my sensibilities. If we’re happy to eat pork, then we should be prepared to take some responsibility for it’s provenance. The idea was simple. We’ve got a bit of land: we should ‘grow’ our own. In doing so we’ll have a more realistic understanding of the process… from field to fork… and all the bits in between.

The aim is to give them the most contented lives possible as they grow. And when the time comes, I’ll go with them to slaughter. I’ll learn how to butcher them. We’ll make our own sausages, ham, and bacon if possible. And if, during this journey, we become too attached, too squeamish, and indeed don’t fancy eating pork ever again, then this will be an educated response. Not an automatic ‘make mine a full English’ reaction. We’ve all ‘signed up’ for this in our family, and I’m pretty certain it’s going to be an unforgettable education.

I’ll keep you posted.

In fact it’s likely the next essay will be entitled: Running (wild and unplanned) With Pigs