Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Little More Little Moreton Hall and Ye Olde Pea Soup

A few years ago I wrote about Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire and how much I loved it (HERE). Last summer, I finally got to see it in person and it was so much more than the sum of the many photos I had seen

When you know a house only through photographs you are missing so much. Everyone focuses on different elements when they see a place –– photographs are only the photographer’s synopsis. Haven’t you had the experience where you say to someone, “didn’t you love that yellow wall and they say “What yellow wall, I was looking at the incredible overmantel” and you say, “What overmantle?” I like to read the whole book.

When I went to Little Moreton I got to poke around and take my time combing the nooks and crannies with help from the wonderful Kirsten Warren who looks over the place for the National Trust with her cheerful staff. Walking the tilting floors, inhaling the scent of great age that the wood and stone and plaster exude -- none of these things can be absorbed through photographs. I would give my eye-teeth to live in a house like this.

Wood worn by sun, wind and water for centuries is a work of art. Even the lovely quatrefoils strewn over the darkened surfaces with such profusion have that quality of wabi sabi –– in an old English way to be sure. The beauty is in the imperfection and time is the artist.

A special treat when I visited in person was the painted room at Little Moreton -- the photos I had seen of it were terribly blurry and didn’t do it justice at all. I love Elizabethan painted rooms. For the most part, the style of painting in the rooms is often primitive – I am mad for the robust color palette and effervescent style. It had a terribly short span in fashion, only from about 1570 to 1610 and most of them were lost forever.

Ledbury painted room, photo from English Buildings

Yet some were only covered over with wood paneling as they fell out of fashion. For the most part, this is the reason that painted rooms are discovered from time to time – usually by tradesmen making repairs or renovations. The famous Ledbury painted room was discovered under thick layers of wallpaper. A very perspicacious restoration worker noticed the painting when he was scraping the last of the paper away and stopped work immediately. English Heritage was called in and their conservators finished removing the paper after the discovery, an effort that took 4 months instead of the few days it would have taken to strip the old paper away. Thank heavens for that. The room is justifiably famous, but Little Moreton’s room is magnificent. The ochre paint is brilliantly rich -- the room glows like it has an eternal sun behind it.

The painted room at Little Moreton Hall was found when an electrician was doing some work and pulled up some of the paneling in the room in 1976. The pictures were painted on paper and glued to the wall and the paneling and frieze sections were painted directly on the plaster. The NT said “The paintings represent elaborate paneling and an ornamental frieze. There are also twelve panels showing alternate biblical scenes and black letter text. They are believed to date from around 1580 and are associated with John Moreton who owned the hall at that time.”

I spent a good deal of time in the room peering at the details. It looked like a Renaissance coffered ceiling had been transferred to the walls -- odd and delightful at the same time.

The exuberance wasn’t limited to wall painting. Little Moreton is also a wonder of windows. Light plays everywhere in the house thanks to the refractive quality of all that old glass set in ancient lead. – light shimmers here.

The play between the melting old glass and the half-timbered geometrics of the exterior walls on the other side of the courtyard is a delight – I’m afraid that photos can’t do the effect justice. The designs dance in the quarries (small, square or diamond shipped panes that are clear, colored or painted) as you move in the room.

Leadlights abound with great expanses of clear quarries all around the house (the term leadlight is different from, although is often confused with stained glass). Although it must have been arctic in the winter, the light dances on the floors throughout.

A tour is not complete without a few shots of the long gallery. It is a miracle that it still stands. Honestly, you feel a bit like a drunken sailor walking on it. Made all the worse by looking up at the sprouted wooden circles on the ceiling. For some reason it makes you feel like the wood is still alive and growing in ever so slow motion.

The destiny plasterwork on the end of the great hall.

As you move to the downstairs hall, there is a gorgeous cabinet of old brass tableware.

It is thought this room once had a medieval center firepit and a hole in the ceiling to let out the smoke. Now it is just a simple beautiful room with a polished stone floor to die for.

There are small bits of interest like a tiny sleeping area and a very rustic privy.

Country Life, 1929

All these lovely things but there was no kitchen to be viewed. When Country Life Magazine did a spread on the house in 1929 they took a shot of the corner of the kitchen with an ancient looking tile floor and the Moreton quatrefoils on the columns. The area is no longer open to the public.

What might appeal to the household at Little Moreton when the house was young? I am imagining something simple and good as befitting the personality of the house –– a dish with history and integrity and just the tiniest bit of cheek. I paid a visit to The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened by Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-65). The book was published by a servant after Kenhelm ‘s death but many of the recipes would have been enjoyed by Little Moreton residents. Pease-Porage is a great simple dish and perfect for a warming your insides.  The addition of the butter and mint is really inspired if I may say -- just like Little Moreton Hall.

MY LORD LUMLEY'S PEASE-PORAGE (from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie)

Take two quarts of Pease, and put them into an Ordinary quantity of Water, and when they are almost boiled, take out a pint of the Pease whole, and strain all the rest. A little before you take out the pint of Pease, when they are all boiling together, put in almost an Ounce of Coriander-seed beaten very small, one Onion, some Mint, Parsley, Winter-savoury, Sweet-Marjoram, all minced very small; when you have strained the Pease, put in the whole Pease and the strained again into the pot, and let them boil again, and a little before you take them up, put in half a pound of Sweet-butter. You must season them in due time, and in the ordinary proportion with Pepper and Salt.

This is a proportion to make about a Gallon of Pease-porage. The quantities are set down by guess. The Coriander-seeds are as much as you can conveniently take in the hollow of your hand. You may put in a great good Onion or two. A pretty deal of Parsley, and if you will, and the season afford them, you may add what you like of other Porage herbs, such as they use for their Porages in France. But if you take the savoury herbs dry, you must crumble or beat them to small Powder (as you do the Coriander-seed) and if any part of them be too big to pass through the strainer, after they have given their taste to the quantity, in boiling a sufficient while therein, you put them away with the husks of the Pease. The Pint of Pease that you reserve whole, is only to show that it is Pease-porage. They must be of the thickness of ordinary Pease-porage. For which these proportions will make about a Gallon.

Pease Porage (makes 4 good servings)

1 1/2 c split peas
5-6 cups water
1/2 onion, sliced or diced
2 t ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1 stalk celery and 1 carrot sliced (optional)
a handful of chopped parsley and 2 stalks of parsley
a handful of fresh marjoram, mint, savory celery leaves, etc.
2T butter

Put the peas and water together with the onion, coriander salt and pepper and vegetables as well as the parsley stalks.  Cook for about an hour at low heat, semi-covered until reduced to a puree. Remove the parsley and celery stalks and add the chopped herbs and butter.

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ArchitectDesign™ said...

I'm having a dinner party in 2 weeks and was really wondering what to serve as a starter. As it's winter I figured a soup -but as i'm doing a simple roasted chicken for dinner, I couldn't figure the soup out. THIS IS IT!!! It sounds delicious, hearty, and simple. Now i'm excited!!

chow and chatter said...

wonderful post and what a great place love old buildings maybe I can see it when I am in the UK this summer :-)

La Table De Nana said...

Always something learned here..Thank you!

Faith (An Edible Mosaic) said...

Happy New Year, Deana! Little Moreton is absolutely gorgeous - I'd love the chance to explore all its nooks and crannies and hidden gems.

Love pea soup too - it's always a favorite, especially in this frigid weather!

Hope all is well with you, friend.

Parnassus said...

This is one of the most beautiful and well-written tributes to an old house that I have read. I have often felt that impossibility of expressing an architectural space through flat photographs, especially a place like Little Moreton Hall, where they eye is dynamically led from one point of interest to another.

Incidentally, in Asia dried beans are often made into a sweet soup, served hot or cold, making a favorite dessert.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a pleasure it must have been to roam those halls, and there is no-one more perfect than you that does fully appreciate every detail. We're lucky to have you document these for us Deana!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to walk through those rooms and view that unique architecture! So beautiful and so unique. Love split pea soup :)

sherry from sherrys pickings said...

what wonderful photos of a magnificent house. so beautiful.

Frank said...

What an amazing place! I agree that photos aren't a true substitute for being there, but until I can travel to see the place in person, your pics will have to do, and they do very nicely.