5 December 1997

Old stagers who are still going strong…

YOU cant help but admire the women in the latest of Brian Martins books* about old country folk.

How I would love to meet Edith Windibank. Her father was a gamekeeper in the days when 23 keepers were employed on the one estate. Edith, one of seven children, married a farm worker and had four children of her own, and still has two living with her. She reluctantly laid aside her crash helmet and moped last year, after 40 years of using this mode of transport, rather than take a driving test in Southamptons traffic.

At 82, she says she has slowed up a bit, but still cooks from Sunday morning to Thursday evening each week in preparation for the WI market held in Romsey, Hants, each Friday. There she sells her sought-after cakes, pies and preserves, and vegetables from her garden. She has just retired as sexton to her local church at Farley Chamber-layne, Hants.

Violet Clark was born in 1928 in an isolated community in Northumberland. She dreamed of being a hairdresser or a nurse, but the choice then was service in the big house or farm work. She chose the former but after a week had to change to farm work for her fathers employer. She was 14 and has toiled at it all her life, never owning her own home and never living more than 12 miles from where she was born. Her wage packet was given straight to her mother until she was 18, when 2/6 (12.5p) was given back to her as pocket money.

But if she was poor at least she wasnt a bondager. Violet can remember these female bonded farm labourers who wore a uniform of heavy brown skirt and apron, navy blue raffia hat lined with pink, and pink-and-white headscarf. The scarf was worn over the hat and tied under the chin. Even out of uniform a bondager was instantly recognisable by the brown triangle on her face where it was exposed to all weathers, surrounded by the white skin shaded by the scarf. "In those days our farm still had two or three bondagers, for each male farm worker had to provide one bondager," says Violet, of the custom that was mainly kept in the Borders.

As well as the memories of country women, this book contains some of the recipes they have used. One for farmhouse wheatbread lists among the ingredients: 1lb of plain shop flour (sieve out weevils!), 2lb of home stone-ground wheat (blow of husks). Sussex roast "pudden" sounds interesting – a boiled suet pud that is sliced and finished in the oven round a meat joint but, most delicious and a winner at the WI, is Edith Windibanks fig and orange jam. To make six pounds of this place half-a-pound of dried figs, one (1lb 14oz) tin of Marmade, four pounds of sugar and three-quarters of a pint of water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for half-an-hour. Bottle and cover while still Hot. Like the book, this jam will be a pleasure to dip into. TG

Tales of the Old Country-women, Brian P Martin, David & Charles (£17.99). A £2 discount is available to FW readers using the David & Charles credit card hotline: (01626-334555) quoting reference N010. There is no charge for for post and packing.