Showing posts with label Mousehole. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mousehole. Show all posts

December 23: Tom Bawcock’s Eve

‘A merry plaas you may believe
Woz Mowsel ‘pon Tom Bawcock’s Eve.
To be theer then oo wudn wesh
To sup o sibm soorts o fesh!’

From ‘Tom Bawcock’s Eve ‘ by Robert Morton Nance (1873-1959)

The village of Mousehole (pronounced Mowzull by the locals) is about three miles along the coast from where I’m sitting. It is a stunning collection of tiny cottages clustered on a steep cliff overlooking a picturesque harbour. Most visitors - and there are many, see it during the long blue and tranquil Cornish summer days. But in winter when there’s a storm on it can be a frightening, bleak and desperate place. For any fishing community, life is perilous and Mousehole has had more than its share of drama and loss.

The village was raided and sacked by the Spaniards in 1595 when Squire Jenkyn Keigwin was slaughtered outside his home. A plaque on the building, which still stands, commemorates his death. On 19 December 1981 the Penlee lifeboat ‘Solomon Browne’ with eight men from the village on board, was lost with all hands. The former lifeboat station and the memorial in Paul Church are moving testimonies to their bravery and sacrifice. Even more moving to me is that within twenty four hours of the loss of the lifeboat, many more men from the village volunteered to be on the new crew.

Sometime - so long ago the date is lost, the people of Mousehole were starving because the local fishermen had not been able to put to sea during a long period of stormy weather. Tom Bawcock persuaded his crew to sail during a brief lull in the storm and they came home with a boatful of fish – the village was saved. To commemorate the occasion, on Tom Bawcock’s Eve a huge star-gazey pie is made in the pub and everyone comes in for a drink and a slice of pie.

The Mousehole Christmas lights are famous too - I especially love the Loch Ness Monster picked out in lights and floating in the harbour...

You must have seen pictures of star gazey pie which contains potatoes and fish in a creamy sauce. Peeping through the pastry and gazing at the stars are the heads of ‘Fair Maids’ - Cornish pilchards. As Morton Nance says it’s a dish containing seven sorts of fish and meant for a large number of people but I’m going to try and make a domestic sized version.

Star Gazey Pie

You need seven sorts of fish, which is easier than you think. I bought a pack of mixed seafood and small pieces of smoked haddock, whiting and smoked cod. Because in my mini version I didn’t want want the pilchards to dominate I decided that my star gazers would be some delicious little sprats. They also have the advantage of being edible - bones and all.

Then you need pastry – I made short crust, but a sheet of bought puff pastry would be perfectly good. I peeled two medium potatoes and par boiled them until nearly soft. Then, using a fish stock cube I made a pint of buttery fish veloute, seasoned it well and added parsley.

You need a deepish dish that will take a pie crust. Lay your chosen fish in the dish with the cubed potatoes but hang onto the sprats/pilchards for the moment, add the sauce. I put a pie funnel in at this point.

Take the pastry and with your rolling pin put it on the pie, secure it on the edges and make a little slit for each sprat. Now snuggle the sprats vertically down into the pie leaving their heads about an inch above the surface of the pastry. Egg the pastry and cook the pie at 180c for about 30-40 minutes. Cover with foil if it starts to brown too much. If you can insinuate a good dollop of clotted cream under the pastry of the hot pie - so much the better!

The Ship Inn says that Guinness is the thing with this, I think a glass of good cider is better.

To-day a rude brief recitative,

Of ships sailing the seas, each with its special flag or ship-signal,

Of unnamed heroes in the ships—of waves spreading and spreading

far as the eye can reach,

Of dashing spray, and the winds piping and blowing,

And out of these a chant for the sailors of all nations,

Fitful, like a surge.

From ‘Leaves of Grass’ Book XIX by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

20 July 1588: The Spanish Are Coming!!

'Of fayre Eliza, be your silver song,

That blessed wight:

The flowere of Virgins, may shee florish long,

In princely plight.'

From 'The Lay to Eliza' by Edmund Spenser (c1552-1599)

On the 20 July 1588 the Spanish Armada was sighted off the coast of Cornwall by Cornish fishermen - a huge crescent shaped formation of tall ships heading for England.

The Spanish Armada had set off with the aim of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth the First. King Philip of Spain believed that if Mary Queen of Scots had still been alive to succeed Elizabeth, he would have succeeded Mary and during his reign he could have ensured Britain reverted to Catholicism. Mary unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, had been executed the year before. Philip was not happy. Nor was he very taken with the fact Elizabeth was supporting Dutch Protestants, given that at the time Holland belonged to Spain.

It had taken Spain months to prepare a huge naval force – about 130 ships including 22 fighting galleons. Secrecy was impossible and in any case Philip believed that there would be panic once the news of his ‘Great Enterprise’ was known in the population. The plan was to sail up to the Netherlands and then take on board a huge army of fighting men and convey them across the channel to invade England.

The English with their genius for organisation had a system of beacons to warn of the coming invasion. I don’t know where the first one was lit but eventually a row of warning fires had been lit all the way to London. On the 21 July Francis Drake fired on the Armada as they sailed up the Channel but initially with little effect - maybe he shouldn’t have finished his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe.

The English however continued to harry the Spanish over the next couple of weeks, their ships were more manoeuvrable and they had better fire power – the Spanish had more priests on board than gunners. On August the 8th the Queen went down to Tilbury.

‘…..I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king — and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms — I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness, you have deserved rewards and crowns, and, we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you.’

By September the main invasion threat was over and the Spanish were facing the extreme danger of being driven by heavy westerly gales onto rocks off the Scottish and Irish coasts. Many were wrecked.

But this was not the end. The war with Spain continued, and in July 1595 Spanish troops landed in Cornwall. The soldiers and sailors seized supplies, raided and burned Penzance and and several surrounding villages, killed Squire Keigwin outside his house in Mousehole, held a mass – where? and sailed away before they could be confronted.

Then in 1597 England was spared a Spanish invasion via the port of Falmouth by the intervention of the weather. This time a huge Armada had been assembled, with over 140 ships carrying 9,000 men. The English fleet was absent and the approach of the Armada was unforeseen. Fortunately, a gale caught the Spanish Fleet thirty miles off the Lizard, scattering it and sinking 28 of the ships. The first inkling the English had of their near escape was when one of the Spanish ships was forced into St Ives for repair – I wonder what sort of reception they got?

So July is the month of invasion in Cornwall, and it’s still the case, but these days it’s the more benevolent and welcome sight of German tourists in coaches and visitors from all over the UK and Europe in their cars and camper vans.

So - something summery I think...

Raspberry Orange Shortcakes

These are really delicious. First make some orange flavoured shortbread biscuits

6oz plain flour

2oz caster sugar

4oz butter - if you can get it I prefer the sort of butter specifically sold for baking, it gives a 'shorter' and crisper result, alternatively use a dense low moisture butter like Lurpak or President

pinch salt

graded zest of one orange.

Oven 150c

Soften the butter until it's very soft but not liquid. Mix into the flour and salt add the sugar and orange rind and mix with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth dough. Chill. Now roll out thinly to about 1/8th inch thick and cut into rounds, bake at 150c for 25 minutes. You don't want them too brown. Cool.

Whip some double cream and layer the biscuits with cream and fruit, I used raspberries and some wonderfully juicy black cherries. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Eat soon, before the biscuit goes soft.


I saw Eternity the other night

Like a great Ring of pure and endless light,

All calm as it was bright;

And round beneath it, Time, in hours, days, years,

Driven by the spheres,

Like a vast shadow moved...

From 'The World' by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

Just in case you're wondering - and I'm sure you are, I took the photos on Penzance Promenade at the World Record Attempt for the most pirates in one place (8,734) on June 26th 2011. The lovely picture of a tall ship near The Mount was taken earlier this summer.