In 1944, my friends and I went camping at Rye House in Hertfordshire. There were four of us: Billy Abbott, the brothers Dick and Ron St. John and myself. We had a couple of small tents and all the paraphernalia that goes with cooking at a camp.
Nearby was the river Stort and lock gates. In the lock, we had great fun swimming and diving off the lock into the water below.
Rye House was not our original destination, that was supposed to be Bedford. On our way there, our trailer, drawn behind one of our bicycles, lost a wheel causing the trailer to keel over in a violent manner. Later we found that butter had melted in the heat of the day and had become mixed up with the sugar. What a mess. This all caused delay and we failed to make a rendezvous with some more of our friends in Bedford. As a result, we decided to go to Rye House which was much more familiar to us.
At Rye House, we were able to make sandwiches with fresh watercress which was available from the beds only a hundred yards away. The water for the watercress beds came from the River Lea. It was diverted from the river and then flowed back, giving a constant supply of fresh water. I hope you can still get fresh watercress at Rye House. .
We started to prepare our first main meal. Potatoes were peeled and put into the saucepan with water and salt. We had a basic camping stove which ran on paraffin. Above the flame area was a cylinder which had two glass windows, to enable one to see the size of the flame. On top was a plate to support the utensil.
We could not get the water to boil, let alone cook the potatoes. After a while, we realised that one of the two windows had been broken and was missing. This must have happened on our journey to Bedford. It was amazing that this missing window should make such a difference to the amount of heat that passed upwards to the pot on top. After an hour or so, we abandoned cooking the potatoes and went off to buy some chips.
We used to roam away from the camp site into the surrounding fields. On the edge of one, we found a number of crab apple trees and we decided to pick a lot of them to take home. There was no question of trying to eat them.
When we got home, Dick and Ron’s mum, a countrywoman, made lots of crab apple jelly and I was given my share of the produce. What a wonderful taste. The clear jelly was golden and solid. I have never seen any since.
Here is a recipe that is over one hundred years old. In fact spiced crab apples were popular in the eighteenth century.
Ingredients: 6lb crab apples, 3 pints water.
For every pint of juice allow 1 lb of preserving sugar and the juice of half a lemon.
Wash the apples and cut them into small pieces without peeling or coring them. Stew them with the water for about an hour, with the lid on the pan.
Strain through a fine teacloth or jelly bag. Do not squeeze the bag, the juice will go cloudy. Boil the strained juice with the sugar for about three quarters of an hour, skimming well, add the lemon juice just before it is done, boil up well again and pour into very dry heated jars. When cold, tie down as for jam.
Next chapter: Chapter 21: Looking for somewhere to eat 1945