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Gardening: Cuttings: Fun with ferns

ONE OF the excitements of a visit to the West Country and Cumbria is seeing ferns growing naturally in the forks and along the branches of trees. In areas of high rainfall the native polypody (Polypodium vulgare) will do it easily. But even in drier areas the effect can be contrived. Set 2-3 square inches of fern in a shady fork now, on a pancake of dung, soil and moss, and tie it on with soft string. The fern will not have made any new growth yet and will put out new fronds in due course. Given a wet year or an occasional artificial soaking it will grow hard next year.

Letter: The original cook-chill

Sir: W. Geoffrey Heath wants to know the point of his mother and others adding snow to their pancake batter (Letters, 24 February). It was in order that the snow, which evaporated as the batter cooked, left a plethora of attractive holes - as in a pikelet - to secrete whatever it was served or spread with. The colder and crisper the snow the better, otherwise it melts too soon.

Letter: An old, cold custom in pancake-making

Sir: Reading Sophie Grigson's recipes (Food & Drink, 20 February), I was disappointed to find no mention of an ingredient that my mother would have regarded as important when making pancakes for her family 60-odd years ago. It always seemed to be in season on Shrove Tuesday in those days, although I haven't seen much of it about lately.

BOOK REVIEW / Singing the blue-collar blues: 'Trilobites' - Breece D'J Pancake: Secker, 7.99 pounds

THESE tales of West Virginia are peopled by folk with nothing to laugh about. A second mate on a tug, whiling away New Year's Eve, might be speaking for them all when he says, having burned his mouth with coffee: 'Nothing ever goes just the way it should.'

Food: This sweet, scented season: Joanna Blythman went along to Strasbourg's famous Christmas fair expecting to hate its kitsch cuteness. She was surprised

STRASBOURG likes to claim it is the Christmas capital of France. In evidence it proudly points to its Kristkindlsmarik, reputedly the finest market of its kind in Europe, held each day through Advent until Christmas.

MUSIC / Notices: English Bach Festival - Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is currently at the hub of musicological debate: when was it written and for what sort of performance? One indisputable fact is that it was originally prefaced by a Prologue, the music for which has been lost - with the possible exception of an overture marked in the source 'Overture to Mr P's Opera'. This, together with a number of dance pieces from about the same period (the late 1680s) and a duet from Dioclesian, was included on Monday in Curtis Price's reconstruction. Such an attempt to present Dido in something approaching its original theatrical context is typical of the English Bach Festival's pioneering approach to the performance of early opera. Visually it was very appealing: the costumes were made of gorgeous stuffs of gold and bronze which glimmered and shimmered in the warmly-lit closing tableau, and Sarah Cremer's choreography was convincing and well executed. What a shame, then, that musically it was as flat as a pancake. The only saving grace (and it was a major one) was Della Jones's Dido. She sings a poignant Lament, but she was also made to double, less successfully, as the Sorceress. This can prove acceptable in the concert hall, but was dramatically disastrous here.

Food and drink: The leanest times, the fattest times . . . and all the suppers in-between: 'Roasted flour and water: you try it sometime'

THIS week we print two extracts from Loaves & Wishes, a book about food in all its aspects. It is a compilation of 20 pieces by some of the most successful female writers of our time. Inspired by famine or feast, by fear of cooking or by fun, each shows how central food is to our lives.
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