Rachelle Blondel describes her latest book as a “nod and a wave to homekeepers, gardeners, crafters and kitchen alchemists” who came before her.
One of them was her grandmother, who gave her homemade St Clement’s, a far superior and additive-free version of the fluorescent squash sold in the shops when Rachelle was a child in the 1970s. Nana also taught her how to make do and mend, forage from hedgerows and to knit and sew.
Since then, Rachelle has collected a host of other natural recipes, remedies and cleaning and beauty tips, and has combined them with her own crafting ideas and good housekeeping advice to create Forgotten Ways for Modern Days.
The book, which harks back to an era before harsh chemicals and products in plastic bottles, looks set to become a well-thumbed classic. In it she reveals how to make your own beeswax furniture polish, brighten your whites with eggshells and turn an old blanket into a pretty fabric-backed throw. There’s a delicious recipe for a honey-flavoured syrup made from dandelion petals and a multitude of reasons why garlic is a store cupboard staple.
Rachelle, who lives in a Dales farmhouse, near Settle, with her husband and three children, says: “More often than not our grandparents were forced to be creative and use what was to hand, whereas now we are bombarded with stuff we ‘cannot possibly do without’. Many of us just want to get back to basics by using natural products and the joy of concocting them can make a dull task cheerier.”
A well-known crafter and co-author of the vintage bible Granny Chic, Rachelle’s top tip is to make yourself a harvest apron, and she shows you how on page 46 of her new book. It’s a pinny with a gigantic pouch on the front and it originated in the 1940s. “As the name suggests, you can use it for harvesting fruit and veg but it works just as well in the house for picking up the clothing and toys that children discard,” she says.
Adding pretty fabric backing to vintage wool blankets makes them great to throw across your lap on a chilly evening without suffering the dreaded wool itch.
Materials: old woollen blanket, 1m soft cotton lawn or other fabric of similar weight, 5m bias binding and matching thread.
1. Wash and dry the blanket and iron using steam to remove creases.
2. Mark a 1x1.4m rectangle and cut out the piece from your blanket.
3. Place the blanket onto your cotton lawn with right sides facing out and smooth everything out.
4. Tack the blanket and cotton fabric together along the edges and then trim the cotton to the size of the blanket.
5. Unfold the bias binding and pin down one of the edges of the fabric side. Stitch the bias to the blanket and fabric. Then fold the bias over the seam and pin to the blanket side. Hand stitch the bias down.
6. Repeat for the remaining two sides but leave a little extra tape at each end to fold over and neaten the edge.
This recipe is as old as the hills and is known as May honey. It is a great vegan alternative to the real stuff. Use to soothe a sore throat or mix with lemon juice in a mug and top it up with hot water.
Ingredients: 650ml spring water, grated rind and juice of one lemon, 250g fresh dandelion petals, 1.5kg granulated sugar, sterilised glass jars.
1. Place the water, juice and dandelion petals in a pan. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes then remove from heat and allow to cool overnight.
2. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve and return to the pan.
3. Stir in the sugar and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has thickened slightly. Pour into sterilised glass jars, allow to cool and store in the fridge. Consume within a month.
Weeds are great at extracting various nutrients and minerals from the soil, so unlock their hidden potential and put them to work in this healthy garden brew.
Materials: Old pair of tights or large net bag; selection of plants and weeds – nettles, comfrey, dandelion, dock, parsley, mint, yarrow, rosemary and so on; large bucket.
1. Stuff a leg of the tights or net bag with your plants. Pack them as tightly as possible and tie a knot at the top.
2. Place this in a large bucket of water, cover and leave for at least three weeks, stirring from time to time. It will smell, so be brave. When the tonic is ready, use it at a ratio of 3:1 water to tonic.
Growing your own produce is a most fulfilling activity but, sadly, not everyone has access to space that is suitable. Fear not, for a humble windowsill can be turned into a wealth of health and nutrients by growing a few simple plants that can supply you with fresh, succulent leaves.
Materials: Pebbles or a few pieces of broken crockery, a plant pit with a tray, compost and seeds.
1. Place pebbles or broken crockery in the base of your pot and cover with compost.
2. Moisten the soil and allow it to settle then sow the seeds in lines along the length of the pot, covering lightly with compost.
3. Place on a sunny windowsill and water regularly.
4. Once germinated you may have to thin out the seedlings. If you use the cut-and-come-again varieties of salad leaves you can grow much closer together.
• Forgotten Ways for Modern Days, Kyle Books, £14.99.