Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Exotic Packaging: Huntley & Palmers Chocolate Oliver's Tin

Once upon a time there was a plain, rather thick biscuit called a Bath Oliver. Now known as Fortt's Original Bath Olivers, they were invented by physician William Oliver of Bath (says Wikipedia) in 1750 as a diet biscuit. He can't have had any family because it seems he left the recipe to his coachman who set up a bakery business. Bath Olivers were eaten with cheese, with a glass of sherry or port and frequently put in a tin in the spare bedroom in case guests felt peckish in the middle of the night. And you can still buy them today.
In the 1930s someone had the brilliant idea of covering (technical term: enrobing) the Bath Oliver with chocolate. Seriously brilliant. These are top quality biscuits and you can read all about them at It's written by some people who are obviously huge fans of Chocolate Olivers; and also fans of snow globes! Take a look.

So Huntley & Palmers used to make these biscuits, but they went out of business and then came back again, selling smaller biscuits covered in thicker chocolate. And the biscuits come in this tin. A luxury product and one much sort after by chocolate biscuit fans. Delicious. And a very handsome tin.
Oh yes, and the big fact about these biscuits is that once upon a time John Lennon is said to have asked to be paid in Chocolate Olivers rather than pounds.

A word of warning. If you are anxious about biting into an apple, take lots of care when biting into either a Bath Oliver or a Chocolate Oliver.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Exotic Packaging: Just William Chocolate Box

This little cardboard box came from Just William, a great sweetie shop in the Sydney Suburb of Paddington. I had forgotten the name of the shop, but not the name of the road: William Street, so I was able to track it down online. There are scraps of the Just William label on the side of the box and I matched the typeface to the one on the website, just as Miss Marple would have if she had owned a computer.
The pattern is vintage French and Italian postcards, and butterflies. Inside and out.
I will recycle it as a Christmas present box.And no pictures of the contents because of course they ever eaten years ago.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Exotic Packaging: House of Bruar Biscuit Tin

House of Bruar is a shop in darkest Perthshire. They sell a large range of clothes, lots of outdoor clothing, boots and shoes, very nice cord trousers.... They also have a food hall, a range of presents, some artwork. A whole lot of stuff. And a nice restaurant too because for many people going to the House of Bruar is a day trip.

The last time I was there I bought lemon curd biscuits. In this handsome tin. I find that a tin of biscuits makes a great present for pretty much anyone. All you have to do is match the biscuit to the recipient. I expect I bought this tin as a present for the Chef; he loves lemon. You can probably find a present to suit almost anyone at a shop that sells tasty biscuits in fancy tins: your grandmother, the Pope, the Queen, your best friend. Delete as applicable. Do you suppose the Pope likes lemon curd biscuits?
Sadly I don't know if House of Bruar still sell these biscuits. Or these tins. I haven't been to Scotland for a while. They have a great website which does include meat and cheese, but not biscuits.

So if you are anywhere near Blair Athol perhaps you should check for yourself.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Exotic Packaging: Blue Bird Luxury Assortment Tin

Blue Bird, a brand owned by Harry Vincent Ltd of Hunnington near Birmingham (England, not Alabama), used to make toffee. The company no longer exists and no-one now makes Blue Bird toffee but I remember it from my childhood.
You used to be able to buy a small block of rock hard toffee with a little hammer. The toffee was so hard you had to hit it quite hard to get a shard small enough to pop in your mouth.

This tin is massive. I happen to have a 250g bag of small Swiss chocolates and imagine that 250g of toffee would be about the same size. So, using this highly unscientific method I deduce that you could fit at least a kilo of toffees in this tin, possibly 1.5k.

Actually, it looks far more like a biscuit tin. But aside from someone selling a similar looking tin on ebay described as a "biscuit tin" I can't find any evidence that Harry Vincent made biscuits. And in fact I can't find any images online that look exactly like.
As long as I can remember this tin has been used by various family members to store photographs. I think it came from my grandmother.  Almost all my photographs are on the computer now of course. There are only 17 left so I had better scan them soon. And the tin is not in good condition so it has to go. I'm not going to be sentimental about it.

The image on the lid is called Halting at an Inn by J L E Meissonier and it's owned by the Wallace Collection in London. The Wallace Collection is one of London's lesser known museums but I highly recommend it if you have the chance to visit. It's free to get in, and there's a great restaurant.

But back to the tin. I don't think the picture on the lid would encourage me to buy either biscuits or toffee. And oddly, I don't think I ever looked at it properly before today. It's always been there so I never looked. Well, it has gone to a better life in recycling land.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Exotic Packaging: Aēsop

Aēsop is an Australian company that makes wonderful creams for face and body. As I write my face is (I hope) drinking in their fabulous Damascene Rose Facial Treatment. I have been taking a load of prescription drugs recently and my skin has really suffered. I itch all over the place. Especially my ankles (itch itch itch) and my forearms (scratch scratch scratch) and the doctor has no solution.

So when I spotted the very smart Aēsop shop in Hampstead I had to go in. I bought Geranium Leaf Body Balm which smells divine and doesn't make my skin itch (hurrah!) and I was given a handful of freebies.
And the exotic packaging? You don't get a plastic bag; of course not it's far too ethical a company. You don't get a paper bag. You get a small cotton drawstring bag with a quote from Victor Hugo printed on it. It's a very nicely made bag (made with love in India) with a gusset. Very smart.
Buying an Aēsop product reminds me of Sydney. I bought my first Aēsop creams from the wonderful David Jones, and then some from Grace Bros., and once my lovely Australian friends sent me a very lavish care package. I'm not sure I thanked them nearly enough. It was very generous of them.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Exotic Packaging: Fortnum & Mason Lemon Curd Piccadilly Biscuits Tin

Here's another pretty tin, this time from Fortnum & Mason.
Don't know Fortnums? It's a wonderful shop on Piccadilly in London. It's near Piccadilly Circus, and the Royal Academy and The Ritz Hotel. It's the swanky part of London. Fortnum's does sell clothes and dinnerware and wrapping paper and stuff, and I would like to recommend the ladies' loos on the first floor (at the back), but it is principally known for the food.

Oh, the food! Really fabulous chocolates, a wide selection of teas and a variety of biscuits in exciting tins. That's what you get on the ground floor together with numerous tourists buying fancy souvenirs of London. And why not? That's what I do. A tin of fancy biscuits from Fortnum's always makes a great present; especially if your present is to be posted abroad.

And in fact this tin was probably a Christmas present for the Chef. As I've said before, he does like lemon. And, oh look, no biscuits left so he must have eaten them. The raised design on the front of the tin is based on the clock on Fortnum's facade.You can just see the design is raised, but it's not that obvious even in real life.

Downstairs there's a grocer, some fruit and vegetables, a butcher and wine. And there a several restaurants too.

Fortnum's has a great website but do beware. The service is great but if you order anything you may find they email you forever. I haven't managed to stop them yet.

Friday, 11 August 2017

A Little Bit of Chocolate Does You Good: Mathez Fine French Cocoa Dusted Truffles

These truffles were completely delicious! Soft dark chocolate - soft but not gooey soft - covered in cocoa powder that I had to lick off my fingers.  Extremely moreish.
And came in a fine tin too but it isn't a classic design so go it must.

I wish I could remember who gave me this very large tin of chocolate truffles. I mean, a whole kilo of chocolates! That's a lot. More than a lot. A very generous present. I do recall that the present giver was someone unexpected, someone I didn't know very well. And I was very surprised. But..... Who was it?
I remember where I was living, I remember thinking these were the best chocolates ever, I remember the tin contained two separate baggies of truffles. And I think I'm remembering much of it wrong because the sell by date is August 2003. How wrong can my memory be?

Why can I remember what I did in the summer of 1965 (went to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for the first time and fell in love with their amazing dolls houses) but not who gave me this handsome present.

Made by Mathez in France: chocolatier depuis 1934. I don't have a photograph of these sensational chocolates because I scoffed the lot years ago. I wish I had more.

I have written up several different tins over the last couple of days and completely failed to take a good photograph of any of them. I have wander the house closed the curtains, opened the curtains again, tried near the wind, tried away from the window. And none of my photos is without huge reflections. I guess I'll just have to put up with that.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Family Heirlooms: Antique Ivory

A lot of people have a problem with ivory. After all, ivory is made of elephant. Or more accurately I suppose I should say elephants make ivory. They grow amazing ivory tusks. And now that elephants are considered endangered, ethical manufacturers don't make ivory brushes or ivory backed mirrors any more. Or ivory anything else. And because ivory poachers kill elephants to steal their tusks you really don't want modern ivory; hauls of illegal ivory are often destroyed which to me seems a terrible shame as the elephants have already been killed for their tusks. But I do understand that if there is no market for new ivory the authorities hope it will put the poachers off,

So what do you do if you inherit ivory? It's hard to sell because people won't buy it; even owning antique ivory is rather frowned upon. Even if you can find a purchaser it seems from online research that they won't pay much. Again if you search online there are a few antique dealers selling a few brushes but many of the items advertised on eBay, for example, aren't ivory at all but celluloid or something.
My great grandmother Henrietta Maude Goff was quite well off. At any rate she had a lot more money than me. She had five children and when her husband died she went to live in South West France because she didn't like England. There was no-one to stop her spending her money so she bought a lot of stuff. My mother used to say that all the money went on linen sheets, and hats. Even when I was in my teens we came across some of the sheets she bought; still in the original packaging and tied with green ribbons. At some stage, possibly on her marriage, Maude acquired some very nice ivory toilette articles, quite likely in a in a lavish dressing case, long since lost.
I am lucky enough to have inherited a hairbrush, and clothes brush, with her monogram MG although the design of the monogram is slightly different. And then there's a hand mirror and a combined shoe horn with the initials GM and T. It is these latter I think might have been a wedding present as they feature her husband Trevor's initial along with her own.
I confess I don't use the hairbrush. My hair is too thick and I need a proper Mason Pearson to avoid looking like a bird's nest, but my granny (Maude's daughter-in-law) had very fine hair and used the brush every day for over 40 years.
Oddly enough I don't use the button hook on a daily basis either. I wonder if anyone has shoes with buttons these days? When I was very little I had red Mary Janes done up with a button. It does seem odd to design a shoe for a wriggling toddler that must be more difficult to fasten than a buckled shoe but I expect it was traditional. These days no doubt small children have shoes fastened with Velcro which doesn't have the same chic. Unless perhaps Princess Charlotte still has buttoned shoes.
I definitely want to keep these items. It's lovely having such pretty things with my initials on. And in any case I use the mirror and the clothes brush. But I'd like to give these other brushes away as presents. Unfortunately the Chef's daughter is a vegetarian so probably wouldn't be best pleased, and his niece was very disapproving when I gave her dad some mounted antlers (which after all fall off naturally each year) I inherited from my brother but he asked for them.
Also inherited from my brother three more ivory backed clothes brushes. It seems he made a grab for most of the clothes brushes. A bit weird considering he never took care of his clothes and probably never used them.
There's a lovely clothes brush with a beautiful squirrel on the back: my family crest. This brush has a particularly nicely shaped back. Then there's one with the initials AG for my great aunt Aileen. The ivory on this one isn't in such good condition but the initials are very nice. And a plain brush with no carving on the back.
So luckily I have some friends who I think are prepared to receive a gift of ivory. Hurrah. Because at the beginning of the year I initiated project I Must a Get Rid of Some Stuff. Sounds like a sensible plan doesn't it? Sadly because I've been ill I have failed to get rid of as much as I would like and this is my first step to getting back on track.

I'm not suggesting we should all have ivory handled brushes but it is a beautiful material. If you keep it clean - just with soap and water, and make sure to dry it properly, it feels as soft as silk. A lovely thing to hold in your hand. Oh, and the bristles are all natural of course. You need to keep them clean with a solution of washing soda but make sure that doesn't touch the ivory.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Gardens to Visit: Hatfield House East Garden

Hatfield House has huge grounds; there's a park with tree walks, one over 5 km long, a daffodil ride, several distinct woods, and two different gardens. The West Garden is open every day but the East Garden is more private and only open on a Wednesday. It was laid out by the 5th Marquess of Salisbury
You have to pay a little extra to get into the East Garden but it's rather nice to visit a beautiful place with hardly anyone else around. And I think perhaps not everyone realises the garden is there, or maybe they don't want to pay an extra £4 but that's their loss. I think there were 5 other people in the garden the whole time we were there.
The garden is in two distinct parts. There's a highly structured part with pleached trees, lots of brick and stonework, and flower beds defined by closely clipped hedges, and then there's a more natural area with a large lake. It was my first outing after my illness and to tell you the truth, I think I was a bit ambitious. I had to have a lot of sit downs. And had I waked around the lake, I think I would have had to call for help.
This slightly random gateway leads to steps as you can see., and the steps lead to a little landing stage. This lake is called the New Pond and dates from the seventeenth century.
There are lots of beautiful trees around the New Pond. I really must get round the other side one day.
Just enough wildflowers to make the manicured part of the garden look extra fabulous.
The garden is divided into separate rooms by beautifully clipped yew hedging. This little room is an orchard. Well, I say little, of course this room is bigger than my whole garden.

The formal part of the garden is beautifully maintained. It looks as though they mow the grass every day and cut the hedges every other day. Check out the sharp cut of this maze. Sadly it isn't open to the public. Such a shame. I'd love to get close to that sphinx.  But hedges are more fragile than they look so even a few visitors a week would probably be too many.

I don't know if this view can be seen from the part of the house that's open to the public but here's a link to the East Garden web page which gives a much better idea of the flower beds than my photographs.

It's a lovely garden and I'd really like to go back if there's ever a Wednesday when I'm not at work and it isn't freezing cold and pouring with rain. It's not very far from home so I may get lucky.