Ten years as a food writer and chef and I have to admit, figure and fitness suffer. This summer I did a kilometre a day swimming while on holiday. Back home, I am trying to continue at the Hampstead Ladies Pond.
The ladies pond is an essentially British experience, starting with the bosky walk through the shaded lane to the entrance: ‘Ladies only past this point”.
The lake is green and leafy, surrounded by trees, oaks and willows, while the water itself is jade. Acorns bob about on the surface. You are within a stroke’s length of ducks and herons, with their mottled grey, tree bark and viridian feathers. One length is 100 metres, the circuit is a quarter of a kilometre. A placard with the day’s water temperature is propped at the edge of the wooden diving platform, although most lever theirselves gingerly down the steps.
Strangely when the weather outside is cold, the water feels warmer. The oldest swimming stroke, the stone-age breaststroke, is the paddle of choice as you can keep your head out of the water. In a swimming pool, I’ll duck my head under, but my mother would always swim, swan-like, hair pinned up, head poised above the wet. Here I admire the steely-haired ophelias gracefully arming their way through the water, often smiling at one another, a silent acknowledgement of a certain kind of bravery.
As a menopausal woman, I’ve gained superpowers, becoming virtually impervious to cold. I could never have swum here in my younger days. Some hard-core ladies swim all year, even at Christmas.
“You need to swim at least three times a week to be able to go through the winter” I was told by one lady in the changing room.
There is a small queue for the two hot showers, the rest are cold.
“Wearing wet suits is frowned upon” smiled another “although gloves and swimming shoes are acceptable”.
“It’s a different experience in winter – more of a dip” explained a lady changing outside. “They have to break the ice so you can get in”.
Sometimes the regulars leave baskets of windfall, apples and pears, for swimmers to take.
“I must bring my quinces” mentioned a French lady, towelling away the goosebumps.
Ooh please, I respond, I’ll make membrillo!
Quince membrillo recipe
- 11 quince
- 350 g granulated sugar depending on weight of quince, preferably non caster as a bigger grain is less likely to burn
- 1 stick vanilla
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- Put entire quince and the lemon zest into a pan filled with boiling water and simmer for an hour and a half or until a dark pink colour. Remove the quince from the water, process or blend. Keep the quince water, add the same volume of sugar and turn it into quince syrup for champagne cocktails.
- Then push it through a sieve with a wooden spoon. This takes ages but keep going! You could, on the other hand, peel, quarter and core the quinces beforehand. Make sure however that you get out all the really hard grainy bits around the core. In this case tie all the leavings into a cheesecloth/gauze as the pips increase the pectin content.
- Weigh the sieved pulp and weigh out exactly the same amount of sugar. Put the pulp, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla into a pan and simmer for an hour, stirring regularly. Take care not to let the volcanic bubbling splatter your hand as you stir. Wear a thick long oven glove.
- Pour into dishwasher-clean glass jars or glass jelly moulds.
- However you need to ‘dry’ the membrillo. So once the quince membrillo has set, lay out to dry.
If properly dried it should keep for a year in the fridge.
Apple cheese recipe
- 1 kilo of apples, cored
- 450 g sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon, ground
- 1 tsp nutmeg, ground
- A pinch of clove, ground
- Chop up the apples and cook them on a low heat until soft. Process the apples in a blender or Vitamix. I then added the sugar and the spices and returned the apple pulp to the pan. Cook on low, stirring frequently until the mixture is thick.
- Wash the jelly moulds in very hot water and pour in the spicy apple pulp. Cover with cheesecloth and leave to cool.
- Leave to dry out for a month at least. Then you can unmould them and keep wrapped in cheesecloth. They will last for years.