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Christmas recipes with a twist

Sam Bertram

6 November 2018

We spoke to The Wiltshire Liqueur Company’s Tiffinie Pride about her favourite recipes & cocktails using her liqueurs, and why we should be stocking up for Christmas. Why should we be buying your liqueurs? ‘They are incredibly versatile – they are great on their own but also brilliant as a basis for cocktails and in cooking. We have lots of cocktail and recipe ideas on our website - they’re perfect to keep drinks and food interesting through the festive season. My favourite cocktail is one I conceived after a hard day’s slog in the office. It’s still my go to drink after a long day.  ‘Damson in Distress’ has Damson Vodka, Ginger Ale and Ice and if I’m feeling flush I add a mint leaf. My favourite recipe is a bit summery but it’s just so delicious I have to share. At a fair someone once told me they mix Blood Orange with Olive Oil and mustard to make a salad dressing. We’ve eaten it with fresh peas, mozzarella and Parma ham and it is so yummy.  Perfect for dinner parties as a light starter. Craft is a bar in Greenwich in London that stock our liqueurs. They make a delicious cocktail called SE10 made up of our Wild Strawberry, Gin, honey and black pepper. It is amazing!’ What should we be cooking up for Christmas? ‘Christmas cake soaked in Blood Orange rather than brandy is so good. People are starting to make their Christmas cakes at this time of year so if you’re looking to do something different this could be the answer. You just feed your cake with Blood Orange in the same way you would with brandy. We’ve also got a great Nigel Slater recipe on the website.  Pheasant and Sloe Gin – really good and perfect with the shooting season upon us, and lots of winter entertaining to be done. On Christmas day serve any of our liqueurs with Champagne.  We have a name for every combination – Sloepagne, Damshame, Bloodyfizz & Chamberry. And it doesn’t just have to be Christmas day it could be Christmas Eve or Boxing Day or indeed any time you’re drinking during the festive season! Another Christmassy treat is Sloe Gin or Blood Orange chocolate truffles. Really yummy and they make great homemade presents to thank someone for their hospitality or serve with coffee. I’m thinking of having a gift box at fairs which has some small liqueur bottles and truffles. So if you see me at any fairs please do ask about them and tell me what you think.  Everything else is available to buy online so you can get it anytime and even better the price includes postage and packaging. There’s no excuse for not getting creative in the kitchen this season!’ And Christmas Gifts? ‘All our full size bottles can be ordered online and have personalised labels at no extra cost. We’ve had some funny requests for labels. The one that sticks in my mind the most is ‘Kevin loves pink ponies’. I didn’t like to delve too deep about what that was about! Most people put a name and there are lots of puns on the word sloe ‘for your Sloe investment’ or ‘Drink it Sloe-ly’.  Our gift packs of smaller bottles are only available at fairs. We can be found at Marlborough Feast of Food, Beaufort Hunt, Highclere Castle and a couple of school Christmas fairs like Pinewood and St Francis in Pewsey. Check our website to see where else we’ll be. Our liqueurs are also extremely popular for corporate gifts. You could give every employee a bottle with their name on the label – we’ve done that in the past and it went down a storm. Or give them to clients with your company name on the label or a cracking phrase to show your creativity! http://www.wiltshireliqueur.com/  

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Be bold & colourful in interiors

Sam Bertram

10 March 2017

There’s no doubt Spring incentivises us to inject new life into our homes. The signs of life, colour and longer days makes us re-look at our whole environment. We spoke to Henrietta Gillespie from Balmain & Balmain, a local Wiltshire company making bespoke sofas and chairs, about interiors latest trends.  What trends are you currently seeing in interiors?  ‘Colour is definitely making a comeback which I love, as it’s great fun making sofas with bold or colourful designs. Until recently there was a lot of beige and cream but people are becoming more adventurous. There’s a desire for something a bit different – most people are tired of seeing the same in their friend’s houses and they’re looking to stand out. Even the paint companies are promoting big colour. It doesn’t mean you have to live in a room that’s black or red but there’s an acknowledgement that colour in a room is good, so people are being bolder with the shades they choose. It’s interesting because interiors are becoming more linked to the fashion industry. Every six months there are new fabric books, and colour often follows those used by fashion designers. I love the challenge of finding something different and slightly extraordinary and some of our recent sofas have had bold patterns with orange, greens and yellow.’ So, what happens when you get a brief to create a bespoke sofa or chair? ‘People mostly come and visit me at my office in Wilton near Marlborough – occasionally we do orders over the phone. Most who order over the phone have sat on one of our sofas and sought us out and we can always send them samples. Although the furniture is made in our workshop on the Wiltshire / Dorset border, we have examples of all styles at our office so people can see them and try them out. We also have loads of fabric books for inspiration.  We discuss all the different options and then I go and find the fabric they’re looking for. I have lots of contacts especially in London and plug into them to find special pieces that aren’t run of the mill. Once the fabric is agreed we start putting together the components in our workshop. We start with the Beech wood frame and then the coil sprung unit with the sprung front edge. Fine plywood goes over the arms so they don’t sink away and then the felt padding is applied followed by the rubberised horse hair. We then put the fabric on top and do the sewing and piping. Everything is done by hand and it’s a real skill and quite a process – even cutting out the sofa takes a day! All our furniture is delivered by us to its final home.’ What would you like to see happening in interiors? I would love to see more people making things. We have become consumers of mass market goods so it’s more difficult to find craftsmen who actually make stuff. In days gone by you would get a painter in and they would mix the paint themselves. Our handmade sofas and chairs are built to last. We do a lot of recovering of our own furniture as the foundations and structure of the sofas lasts a long time, but after a while our buyers might want a fabric update. We’re a small business offering an extremely personalised service so we’re always at the end of the phone if our customers need anything.'  www.balmainandbalmain.com

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Marlborough's historical treasure

Sam Bertram

17 June 2016

We visited The Merchant’s House, Marlborough to find out a bit more the house and how it all started. So why should people visit The Merchant’s House, Marlborough? ‘It is a fabulous example of how a rich merchant might have lived in the 17th Century and is incredibly unique - there are no roped off areas and you can look at and touch everything. You can even get into the bed if you so wish! It’s also a work in progress so someone might be doing restorative work on the furniture or walls as you walk around. Feedback from the tours is always extremely positive. They are very personalised and interactive – if you’re interested in needlework you can ask more about Mr and Mrs Bayly’s costumes, and conversely if art is your subject then you can ask about that too. What people don’t realise is you learn more than just the history of the house.  You get to understand all about the history behind the Marlborough area and its role in the civil war too.’ Tell us a bit about the merchant who lived in the house ‘Thomas Bayly described himself as a silk merchant which suggests his customers were from the upper echelons of society. As well as serving the local gentry Thomas also benefitted from Marlborough’s strategic position, serving passing trade between London and Bristol. There’s no doubt that Thomas was a prominent character in the town, he served as Mayor twice. He was also living in the house when the fire of 1653 burned down most of the High Street.  Marlborough were supporters of Cromwell so following the fire Cromwell rewarded their loyalty with a national collection to help re-build Marlborough. The Merchant’s House was given the second largest amount and, after it was re-built, Thomas lived there with his wife Katherine and their nine children until his death in 1670.’ When did the house come into trust? We’ve just celebrated 25 years of the trust and when you come on a tour you’ll learn all about it. It was started in 1991 when the tenants, WHSmith, were moving on.  A group of locals went to the town council to ask for support in turning it into an attraction for Marlborough. Many thought it would be a five or six year project but the house is still being restored and visitors are still coming and many of the original group are still involved as trustees today.  When the Trust first started restoring and uncovering the wall paintings and panels they found it was a far greater treasure than they originally thought. There are now over 100 volunteers working weekly as well as some part time staff. This year we’re doing some restorative work on some wall paintings in the top bedroom. The space above Clarks has also become available so we are discussing restoring that and establishing a Marlborough museum. You’ve got lots of events coming up in the summer – tell us more We’ve got lots in store for the summer with a talk by historian Michael Gray on 17th and 18th Century Oak furniture on 28th June.  Our annual lunch at Marlborough College during Summer School promises lots of family fun with the history of Punch & Judy followed by a show. We have a harp recital in August and an evening with Mr and Mrs Bayly in September. How do you generate fund for the trust? The Trust receives some rental income to help with the costs of running the charity. All profits from events and the shop go towards restoration.  So when you shop with The Merchant’s House you know your money is going towards restoring and keeping this national treasure. In the shop we have some great brands and try and stock local products when we can. There are some Marlborough branded gifts and we’ve got lots of appealing gifts for dads for father’s day so pop in. http://www.themerchantshouse.co.uk/

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Furnishing your home

Sam Bertram

9 March 2016

We dropped in at Digger & Mojo, a vintage furniture emporium in Pewsey, to talk to Clarissa Reilly about how it’s all been going since they opened in November 2014.   So how is it going? ‘It’s great – We’ve got people coming to see us from Wiltshire and beyond.  Sometimes people come down from London and combine it with lunch at one of our lovely local country pubs - The Red Lion, East Chisenbury or The Three Tuns, Great Bedwyn. Next week we’ve got a client from the United States coming by. Some people are moving to the area and looking for furniture for their new property.  Others are just looking for unique items to complete a room.  We’re especially chuffed this week as we’re quoted in an article in April’s Homes & Antiques.  It’s all about Kate Watson-Smyth and her brand new book Shades of Grey which (surprise!) is about using shades of grey in the home. I’m in the article talking about how to make antiques work in a contemporary space & the fact they are offset especially well with grey. Beige is out and grey is in! We’re also taking our stock beyond our showroom in Pewsey in April and have a pop-up at the Tedworth Hunt point to point at Barbary Castle.  We’re really looking forward to that as it’s a great opportunity to meet new people.’   What inspired you to set-up Digger & Mojo? ‘We’ve travelled a lot in our married life – living in Papua New Guinea and Africa and both places have provided a lot of inspiration for us with some of the tribal/fertility artefacts we stock.  Yosh has always had a passion for mending and being really good with his hands.  I have a background in interior design so when we moved to Wiltshire we realised this was something we could do together and build on both our passions.  We love building relationships with locals and finding local custom, but selling nationally online is obviously good for us too. We live in such a throwaway society and we love the fact that antiques are green.  Why throw it away when you can pass it on and it can be just as useful to the next owner as to those who have gone before?  It saddens us when beautiful pieces of furniture go to the dump because they have nowhere else to go.  If we can take them we will, and can transform them into a beautiful piece of furniture.’   So if someone was going to visit you what would they find? 'Our showroom has hundreds more pieces than are on our website. There’s aren’t enough hours in the day to photo and upload all pieces and many fly out the door before we’ve had a chance. We’re into antiques & painted furniture and just anything that’s generally attractive & decorative.  We have all sizes of tables, chairs, chest of drawers, desks, sideboards & wardrobes. We also have some lovely and unique lamps, vases, bowls and quirky items. We do stock some retro pieces are more focused on restoring older pieces some of which we make more contemporary and modern using traditional methods. As well as selling stock we’ve sourced, we can update or re-upholster people’s existing items. We have lots of fabrics in stock. We always have an antique of the week.  So one table we have dates from the time of Charles II – it’s made in Walnut with rope twist legs but you can see where the stretcher has been flattened by 350 years of boots! We’ve had silhouettes in stock – some we’ve shown to the kids who visit, as they were done by the same man who designed the costumes for Star Wars. We’ve got some lovely botanical prints which can look fabulous in a home when hung correctly. We also have antiquarian and vintage books both for readers and those who just want something decorative.  They look great in a shelf space in the home. If someone isn’t sure of the style and mood they want to create I always recommend they go to the library, read all the home & interior magazines and then come back when they’ve formed a firmer view.  Then when they return it will be more obvious which items are right for them.  For clients that don’t find what they want we keep a Hunting book of items they’re seeking, together with measurements, approximate budget and their contact details. We’ll track down whatever they’re looking for.'   How do you source antiques? 'I travel to fairs and buy from auctions all over the country  I find social media a great way of meeting new dealers and twitter has been especially effective. As we’ve become more well-known we’ve started to get a lot of people coming directly to us with furniture from their private homes. Beautiful antique pieces just get a little tlc and a wax to bring out the grain of their lovely wood, but some items arrive as a lump of brown. However, we paint it in neutral colours and suddenly voilà – there stands a completely different piece.'    What would be your advice when furnishing a home? 'These days styles are so eclectic but it’s important to get to know your home first before rushing into anything. Really stylish homes have some antiques positioned for great effect, a pop of bright colour, neutral walls with some funky wallpaper, sculptural shapes and some modern, industrial piece thrown in. Lighting is one of the most important things to consider – we’re about to start making lamp bases out of decanters which should be popular.'   Any new plans afoot? 'We’re looking at starting a website for all antique dealers.  It’ll cater for people who are looking for something specific or already have a piece and want to know more about it.  So watch this space. We’re also restoring Prince of Wales Investiture Chairs : The Red Chairs – a design icon of the 20th century. We repair them and replace the old degraded (and illegal) foam. Then we clean and replace the original upholstery or we replace them with seats made in the original fabric, which it’s taken me 3 years of research to source. These chairs are going up in value and a great addition to any home.  We love welcoming people to our showroom to browse as well as buy and are keen to help so please pop in..'   www.diggerandmojo.com   

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