Here’s a poem  written by Shakespeare, one winter 400 years ago.


When icicles hang by the wall,

And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,

And Tom bears logs into the hall,

And milk comes frozen home in pail;

When blood is nipped and ways be foul,

Then nightly sings the staring owl,

Tu-whit, tu-who! a merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keep the pot.


When all aloud the wind doth blow

And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,

And birds sit brooding in the snow,

And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,

When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,

Then nightly signs the staring owl,

Tu-whit, tu-who! a merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keep the pot.



Rooks sail on black rags; ragged, flapping, soaring

With broad, black-backed awkward grace.

Flakes of black ash strike the wind on edge.

Sooty tatters slice grey Boreas’ whistling rattle.

Rollicking swoop down the torn arc,

Scooping shovelfuls of grey sky.

Greasy corsairs of the air,

Death’s tarry plunderers bucaneering earthwards.



Woodruff, or Galium odoratum to give it its botanical name, is a pretty little plant which can be found growing in beech woodland.  It forms dense mats, and so is a good ground cover for gardens, looking very fresh and lovely when it flowers in the middle of May.


Fresh, the plant has a mildly pleasant smell.

BUT… when you dry it for a few days, it gives off a powerful aroma of almonds and maraschino cherries, and as such it is the key ingredient for Maibowle, or Bowl of May, a traditional German punch to celebrate the coming of the summer.

To dry the woodruff: pick a small bunch of about 9 stems, tie some string around them and hang up in an airy place for a few days.



  • Woodruff, a small bunch
  • Strawberries, sliced
  • A bottle of sweet German wine
  • A bottle of sparkling white wine, ideally Sekt

You will also need a large glass bowl.

  1. Pour the sweet white wine into the bowl, add the strawberries and the woodruff, and steep for about an hour.
  2. Add the sparkling wine and stir gently.
  3. Ladle into glasses, say Prost! and welcome in the summer.
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A word of caution: two glasses is delightful, but don’t overdo it.


There will be one book in your kitchen, different from all the rest.  You can recognise it by the grease splatters on the pages, the pencilled comments you have made in the margins  and the binding coming apart. These are the signs that you have a great cook book on your shelf.  Mine is Claudia Roden’s ‘The Book of Jewish Food’. It’s a celebration of tastes and places and people and jokes and feasts and families and friends and vanished worlds. It was a revelation to me and made me realise that food is about so much more than just eating.

Inspirational cookery writer, Claudia Roden.

Claudia Roden’s recipe for Pishkado kon Salsa de Tomat, or Fish with tomato sauce, is one I make often because it is quick, simple, classy and delicious.  She says that fish cooked with tomatoes is characteristic of every Judeo-Spanish community. It is done with whole fish such as red mullet, fresh sardines, mackerel, or with fish steaks or fillets.  I make it with cod pieces, a thriftier alternative, which works very well.

The language, by the way, is Ladino, spoken by Sephardic Jews of mediterranean background. It is based on medieval Spanish, with some Hebrew, Greek, and Turkish words. If you are a Spanish speaker, you will see how close it is to Pescado con salsa de tomato.  


Serves 4


  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 1 small, mild or semi-hot pointed green pepper, sliced thinly (optional)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt & pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 kg (2lb) fish pieces, or 4 individual fish
  • 4 TB finely chopped dill, or flat leafed parsley

To make

  1. In a large frying pan, fry the garlic in oil till it begins to change colour.
  2.  Add the tomaotes and green pepper, season with sugar and a little salt and pepper, and cook 10 minutes with the lid off, until the sauce is thick.
  3. Then add the lemon juice and the fish.  Cook 10 minutes, or until the fish is opaque and flaky.
  4. Add the dill or flat leafed parsley a few minutes before the end.


  • In Salonika, Nicholas Stavroulakis adds a little white wine and a pinch of cinnamon, but no lemon, to the sauce.
  • In Derby, I make it with a green jalapeno chilli and a 400g tin of tomatoes and serve it with rice.


Since we first moved to Derby, I must have driven by this water-meadow on my way Morrisons to do the family shop, every Saturday for the best part of twenty years.  And no matter what time of year, I’d always noticed the horses but had never been able to stop. This morning I was determined to find them, and so I cycled.  Sure enough, there they were, knee deep in the buttercups and lush grass.  20160529_084042 There was a kindly gentleman by the footpath, upending a bag of hay and breaking up some carrots. I asked him if they were his horses.  “No,” he replied.  “They’re gypsy horses”.  One of the male horses came over to investigate my bicycle, and I could see he’d been fighting, and had bite marks on his rump and tail.


He emptied the bag and we watched as a group of them came up to eat. There was a shaggy foal with them. He’d felt sorry for them in the winter when the water meadow was like a lake and they’d been marooned with nothing to eat, so he’d started feeding them.  “But this’ll be the last time till next winter, now that the grass is up,” he said.

“Think the gyspies work them?” I asked.  “No,” he replied.  “But they do rotate them.  Sometimes you see different ones in the field.”

The sunlight reflected on the water and lapwings flew high in the sky.  On the far side of the water meadow, the Sheffield train went by and the horses galloped across into the next field.  I said goodbye and walked along the green way, thinking about the Romany, where they had gone and when they were coming back for their horses.