Saturday, 7 July 2012

Hatches and Thatches-A Final Look At Colyton In Devon With It’s Thatched Cottages Plus An Announcement Of the Birth Of Burmese Kittens...

I am so glad people have enjoyed reading my posts about the delightful place of Colyton in Devon. 

For my final post in this series, I thought I would mention a little more about the thatched roofs that adorn quite a few of the cottages in Colyton and across Devon in general.

There is something so very quintessentially English about the sight of thatched cottages and pubs.

The UK has the most thatched buildings in Europe. There are, of course, some wonderful thatched buildings in other countries- some of which I saw in my visit to Russia and the Ukraine featured on a previous post,

Such as this delightful old Ukrainian cottage that I saw there...

But, back to Colyton...

In Colyton there are some lovely old thatched cottages it seems around almost every corner...

Some are in better repair than others...

Even the smallest out building may be a proud processor of a thatched roof...

It is good to see that the once proud tradition of thatching is now having an upsurge. Many old thatched buildings can have traces of the original thatch dating back over 500 years. 

Unfortunately the majority of old houses had their thatched roof replaced by Welsh slate in the Victorian times as thatch was seen as a symbol of poverty and the new slate roofs a symbol of richness!

 Nowadays we have almost come full circle as to maintain a thatched roof is a sign of affluence, as it can be around £20,000 to re-thatch a roof every 25 year or so...

There is a very detailed document on the state of thatching in Devon in this very interesting enclosed article...

On a more uplifting and amusing front, can I show you this short video clip of a Thatcher with his dog at work up on top of a thatched pub roof...

Thatching is a very proud ancient tradition.

 I remember as a child being taken around any local cottages that were being re-thatched. As my family chatted to the thatchers, I would explore the bales of aromatic straw and reeds waiting to go onto the roofs. None of the modern day scaffolding was used-it was then just a simple ladder up to the roof carrying the straw over a shoulder. Each Thatcher had his own particular style- be it in how he laid the roof ridge or around the corners and windows.

I’m afraid that thatched roofs did attract rodents as they liked to nibble on any remaining grain from the straw. This was one of the reasons my grandmother did away with the straw roof on our cottage and I clearly remember the sound of scuttling rats or mice when I used to stay in the bedrooms underneath the thatched roofs of friend’s homes...One of my friends had her bedroom in the attic of her thatched home and we used to have to climb a ladder to reach it which we thought was so exciting. Less exciting was being that close up to the wildlife!

Good thatching also depends on the pitch of the roof. In order to get a good run off from the rain, the pitch needs to be at a sharp angel and to overhang the building and, in this way, no guttering is required.

Fire is a very real concern...

 The biggest problem can be from chimneys and therefore they need to be checked very regularly. The stacks must not get too hot and light, inflammables such paper must not be placed in the fireplace so that sparks do not rise up and light up on the straw roof. The local fire officer needs to perform a (free) fire assessment and local fire stations informed. Dealing with a fire from a thatched roof is very different from a normal roof as, instead of normally dousing a house fire with water, they need to pull the actual thatch off. 

Consequently house, and household insurance, is considerably greater than normal...

Ecologically, thatching is an ‘in thing’...using natural ingredients is great. Unfortunately much of which used nowadays is imported from abroad as using heritage seed of wheat from longer growing stalks required for thatching is not allowed to be sold and used under EU regulations here in Briton... 

Thatching is also an art that needs to be fully mastered. There is no national qualification for setting yourself up as a Thatcher in Britain and therefore people employing a Master Thatcher need to be aware of how good their work is and will be in the future...

One such company which I’ve heard recommended which gives all this information (and I’m sure there are others) is

Thatched buildings are undoubtedly beautiful but the upkeep is great and so I am truly thankful that the tradition continues in the lovely picturesque corner of Devon, that is Colyton......

Now on to food...

My grandmother was a crafty cook, though she would have been the first to have dismissed such a title...

As a child, we had an abundance of vegetables from both the home grown garden and those from our neighbours, relatives and friends.

In those days, most of the home revolved around the kitchen and as such we were usually put to work helping to prepare the meals. 

One very prolific herb was mint which grew in abundance. I seem to have memories of picking it when it was actually taller than myself! 

Another was parsley which was used in many, many dishes.

Once cut and brought into the kitchen, both Mint and Parley were chopped and as a child I was allowed to use the chopper which consisted of several wheels which I ran up and down the parley until it was finely grated. I’ve never seen such a device again-mores’ the pity as it did a grand job and was thoroughly entertaining to a small child who was concentrating on mashing up with gusto, some green stuff! 

The smell of freshly chopped parsley or mint is also, I have to admit, even now, is rather intoxicating! 

For a parsley sauce...

The macerated parsley was then added to a basic roux sauce and a sublime parsley sauce then resulted...

As I got older, I was allowed to participate in the measuring of the flour and butter and to tip the jug full of milk ever so slowly into the saucepan and then gently stir it.

This rather wonderfully vibrantly green and aromatic parsley sauce was then draped generously over any vegetables on our plate from Spring Greens, Spinach, and Cabbage to Cauliflower.

 Seen below is some of my home-grown Green Chard.

And then the true crafty nature of my grandmother emerged...

Because which child would refuse a generous helping of a vegetable that was smothered with an unctuous and truly delicious green sauce that they had helped to create?

Parsley Sauce

25g plain flour
45g butter
1 pint milk
1 bay leaf (or 4 Myrtle leaves)-slightly crushed
One small onion or a handful of chives finely chopped
Four very generous handfuls of parsley finely chopped
Sea salt-Maldon for preference and freshly ground pepper to taste

This sauce uses the basic roux method for cooking. If you are unfamiliar with it then you may get some lumps. I use a silicon whisk when making it and whisk frequently and don’t have any problems...

In a large pan melt the butter and fry off the flour for a couple of minutes. Very gradually add the milk, stirring all the time until all the milk is added. Bring to the boil then reduce to a slow gentle simmer and add the chopped onion/chives and parsley. Cook gently for 20 minutes or so and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove Bay/Myrtle leaves before whisking or serving. NB if you do get lumps then whisk briskly with a heat proof whisk until smooth.

Add to your chosen vegetables and serve immediately. This can also be frozen to portions to use at a later date.


And finally, going back to the ‘hatching’ part of the title of this post, may I announce the arrival of my latest litter of Burmese kittens...

My lovely Brown Burmese girl, Wilma, gave birth at the weekend to her first Burmese litter of kittens...

Mum and offspring are doing very well...

And so this finishes off my short series on Colyton in Devon. 

I do, though, have more photos and stories and possibly some dishes involving the wonderful Devonshire Clotted Cream if anybody is interested...


  1. Your blog is so fascinating to me. Your village is beautiful! Thatched roofs don't exist here in the USA. The picture of the house in the Ukraine looks like it's wearing a big hat. :o) Plus, I love your recipes.

    1. Many thanks for your very kind comment-much appreciated indeed! I thought exactly the same as you about the thatched Ukrainian cottage-it does look like it is wearing an old hat!

  2. Well, this post certainly has a little something for everyone! I knew very little of thatched roofing and I find it fascinating! Cost concerns aside, I doubt I would ever get used to the fire threat. I must say, though, nothing looks more cozy than a thatched roof cottage.
    Your Grandmother's sauce sounds delicious; she understood the role "ownership" plays in getting you guys to eat your veggies. :)
    Congrats on the birth of the Burmese kittens. That picture is too cute for words/.

    1. Hi John,

      Thank for stopping by! Glad you like the info on thatching. Despite the expense it is good to see the tradition alive and flourishing.

      You are so right also on the importance of ownership in cooking-how could we a children ‘dis’ something we had helped to make!

  3. Well, you certainly cover a lot of ground in that post...! The parsley sauce looks really nice - the colour is truly "vibrant". I can never manage to grow enough parsley to be able to afford to make it into sauce, which is ashame since I love it. Parsley sauce is something I associate with baked gammon and new potatoes (and peas?).
    I hope you will publish some more photos of the new kittens. That one in your post was presumably taken very shortly after birth?
    And as for Devonshire Clotted Cream: never heard of it. I HAVE heard of CORNISH Clotted cream though (a much superior product, you understand)!

    1. Hi Mark,

      Glad you liked the parsley sauce. I would have it on new potatoes and peas too-you could have the gammon though!!

      I grow the curly leafed variety and with all the rain have been getting long, very juicy stalks and when picked and then very speedily chopped seems to result in a bright green sauce-and the smell-yum!

      Yes the photo of the kitten was taken at a few days of age. I’ll take some more photos in a little while as their eyes are just opening at present so can’t use the flash or have them out in bright natural light for the moment.

      And finally, yes-the superior Devon Clotted Cream-though I may make mention of ‘that other one’...

  4. Congratulations on the birth of the kittens. So cute! You used one of my favourite words, unctuous - that could sell any sauce to me. It may be time for my morning porridge, but what I really want to eat is greens - your photographs and words are wonderful, both on food and on thatch!

    1. Hi Elaine,

      Thank you for the congratulation on the birth. I did nothing really beyond holding a paw! Wilma had no problems and shelled them out like peas-if I can use that analogy!!

  5. I love the sight of thatched houses too. I didn't know we had the most in Europe though! Your parsley sauce sounds great, I bet it's lovely with gammon!

    1. It is lovely to look at them and I so admire the skill of the thatchers!

  6. Gorgeous pictures - very English looking. I always associate parsley sauce with fish and as I grow tons of parsley we seem to eat it a lot. It was my Grans favourite too.

    1. Hi Elaine,

      Yes, thatched cottages are very English-don’t have many thatched cottages around me here in Wales-too much rain!

      Glad you like parsley too. Fish, especially cod and parsley sauce is classic-it’s funny but many of my younger acquaintances have since told me they have never eaten parsley sauce and wouldn’t even recognise parsley growing...probably needs ‘Saint’ Jamie to big it up and make it ‘cool’!!

  7. When I was little I had problems digesting foods and the doctor suggested to my mother she try giving me tripe. For quite some time the only thing I would eat was tripe with parsley sauce, made exactly to your sauce recipe. I still love the parsley sauce but the tripe habit didn't really stick.

    1. Hi Liz,

      Yikes! Just the sound of tripe makes my stomach feel queasy...

  8. Awwwwww kittens!! :D

    I miss seeing thatched roofs to be honest. There's a few here and there in France, but they're not common. There's nothing more satisfying than seeing a freshly thatched roof either, and seeing it being laid... all straggly and odd-ended when placed down and then slowly it all gets hacked into a perfect, "smooth" covering.

    Thanks for sharing the photos and the lovely recipe GD - I'd love to see anything to do with my beloved clotted cream so please do post some!!

    1. Hi Charles,

      Yes I used to love watching it be done-the lovely smell of the straw and then the emergence of the neat thatch.

      Will get working on something to go with the Clotted Cream!

  9. More beautiful photos, thanks for sharing. The photo of the out building is my favorite. Oh yes, please, I would love to learn about Devonshire Clotted Cream .

    1. Hi Norma,

      Great- another one for Devonshire Clotted Cream! Will do...

  10. I very much enjoyed seeing and learning more about the beautiful thatched roofs. I have never had parsley sauce but it sounds wonderful.

    1. Hi Karen,

      It does seem really strange to me to hear that people have never had Parsley Sauce when I grew up with it and had it all the time but that is one of the wonder of blogging where we get to meet and talk with people and find out these things-I am learning so much about other places too which I love!

  11. That parsley sauce looks delightful, it would go so well with a number of things, maybe even a pasta with some shrimp! The thatch cottages are indeed beautiful, we stayed at a gorgeous little cottage in Burton on the Water a few years back. Congrats on the birth of the kittens.

    1. Hi Eva,

      Many thanks for the congrats on the kittens. Mum and babies are doing very well...

      Bourton-on-the-Water is a lovely place and I’ve visited many times-it’s about an hour and a half from me and the Cotswolds too have some wonderful thatched cottages plus some excellent antique shops which a well worth a browse...

      Glad you liked the idea of the Parsley Sauce though I’ve never had it on pasta or shrimp for that matter but of course it is-or was- very traditional in Britain to have with white fish especially cod.

  12. Thanks for explaining thatching to me. We don't have thatched roofs here in Australia so I've always been fascinated by homes with thatched roofs. They are so pretty to look at and so unusual that I think it's great they are making a comeback. And no need for gutters! That's a bonus - gutters are ugly and they're always getting blocked. I love the look of your parsley sauce. That would be wonderful poured over roasted meats and vegetables. And it's such a pretty vibrant green too. xx

    1. Hi Charlie,

      Good to hear from you! You always sound so busy with all your families’ adventures!!

      I know what you mean about blocked gutters. Living next to a wood as I do, my gutters have to be cleared very regularly...

  13. Yes, please on Devonshire cream. And more on the kittens, too. Amazing, I've never had the chance to see them that young!

    1. Oh great-another excuse to have some clotted cream-fantastic...

      I’ll keep taking some more photos of the kittens when I can so you can see them growing up!

  14. Very informative post on the thatch roofs... it is a tradition that should be kept... congrats for your kittens...

    1. Hi Lrong,

      Thank you so much for your kind comments. I absolutely agree that traditions such as this should be treasured and supported!

  15. thanks I enjoyed your post we will be down your way again In September at Lyme Regis with another visit to Forde Abbey at Chard which we so much enjoyed in May, kind regards, David

    1. Hi David,

      So glad you enjoyed my post. It is truly a lovely part of the country...


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