Conker Hanger Moth Deterrent (Aesculus hippocastanum)

There is a large, old horsechestnut tree outside my kitchen window. At the moment the horse chestnuts (known as conkers in the UK or buckeyes in the US) are becoming ripe and thudding to the ground. They are round,  polished and lovely to hold. I am unable to see  them  shining on the ground without picking them up, often  they end up forgotten in bags and pockets. Here in Italy they are almost completely ignored, I've only ever spotted school kids throwing them at each other. In the past they were put under pillows to ward off a fever. When I was a kid in the UK they were greatly appreciated, especially by young boys for "conker fights".  I remember my brother experimenting to discover the best way to harden his "weapons"(Baking/ Aging/Varnishing/Pickling). "Conker Fighting" is an old children's game,popular in the UK, which has become less common in  recent years as   many schools  have banned  it ( considered dangerous) and computer/video games/ phones/i-pods  have taken the place of such passtimes.

Conkers  also deter moths as they contain a natural repellent (triterpenoid saponin). Some say they even repel spiders, but I'm not convinced. I don't have any moths but I do still have spiders (country living!).
I  like to make these simple, pretty hangers to deter moths from my wardrobes. The conkers can be changed every year. They make great gifts for kids to give to mums, aunts, grans and neighbours.

Large Needle
Drill or hammer and nail
Glue-gun or glue

Cut the top part off an old coathanger (the type which are given by drycleaners) with pliers  
Leave 4/5 centimeters from the bend and use the pliers to curve it into a circle.

Cover the hook with ribbon. Attach at the end with a glue-gun.

Wrap the ribbon tightly and fix it at the other end.

Allow the conkers to dry out for a few days (sun or low heat).
Drill holes in the conkers and thread them onto some string, Make a few knots between the conkers to stop them dropping down, as they shrink over time. If you haven't got a drill you can also use a hammer and a nail to make the holes.

Attach the string to the hook.

Tie a bow with some ribbon and hang.

I also string conkers to put into drawers (especially for wool/cashmere). They look great with old lace.

Further reading

 All about conkers
 how to play conkers (great school site about British holidays,customs and culture)
Royal Society of Chemistry (fun investigation-"are spiders afraid of conkers?")


 This post is linked to:
Fall Party
The Shabby NestPhotobucket

Natural Living MammaJill's Home RemediesRepurpose My Life


Walnuts hide Furniture Scratches

Maybe you did?
I had no idea.
One of those tips I picked up browsing "Pinterest". You know how one image leads to another?
I'm sorry, but I didn't save it and I can't remember where I saw it.
Anyway, as I still have lots of walnuts I thought it was worth a try as there is alot of scratched furniture in my house. I cracked open a couple of walnuts and rubbed on the scratches and damaged areas of dark furniture(don't use on light coloured furniture). The walnuts crumbled and went everywhere but "hey presto",  the scratches did fade......quite a lot.  I repeated the process a few times and the results gradually improved.  I didn't realise that there was so much oil in one nut.
Look at the results;


I had to clean up afterwards!!
I also learned another snippet of  information.....
Ants go mad for crushed walnuts!

Linked to:


Porcini Pockets (Boletus edulis)

 Italians love Porcini mushrooms and they are highly sought after. It's really easy to buy dried Porcini here but less so to buy fresh ones. Porcini means piglet in Italian.  There are lots of delicious recipes; including Tagliatelle or Pappadrelle con funghi porcini / Risotto ai funghi porcini/ Porcini Trifolati (cooked with garlic and parsley) to name a few. Fresh mushrooms are often served grilled (poor man's steak) and have an almost nutty flavour. They are now protected as they are becomming rare and you need a permit to harvest them. They grow in hardwood forests quite often under pine, chestnut or oak  trees.

On Sunday my husband went fishing to Veneto. He's an avid flyfisher and escapes whever he can. Unfortunately he didn't catch any fish, but  he did bring home a big bag of freshly picked Porcini instead.  He didn't pick them himself, but actually paid quite a lot for them. He said that the guys selling them sold out immediately as word got around that a fresh "catch" had just arrived.

 We cleaned off the part of the mushrooms that had been in contact with the soil and froze half of them.
Inspired by Jamie Oliver this is how we ate the other half  for supper.

Porcini Mushrooms in Pockets

Porcini or other fresh mushrooms/funghi
Fresh herbs(eg rosemary/bay leaves/sage/thyme etc)
Prosciutto(parma ham-or you could use speck or bacon)
One egg - lightly beaten
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Dry White Wine
Greaseproof Paper

Cut large squares of greaseproof paper(roughly A3 size). One piece for every person.
Lay a piece of prosciutto to one side of the paper.
Add a small bunch of herbs tied together with kitchen string. Add a large handful of roughly chopped mushrooms.

 I used rosemary,sage and bay leaves.
Add a drizzel of oil
And a  couple of tablespoons of  wine.

Brush egg around the edges or the paper the fold and roll the edges over a couple of times to seal the edge.

I placed my pockets or parcels in the oven and realised I'd forgotten the wine. They had only been in the oven for a few minutes, but the egg had already made a strong seal. I had to prize them open to add the wine.

This is what happened.....but they still cooked perfectly.
Bake in a preheated oven at 200°C for 15/20mins

Open the pockets and inhale the gorgeous aroma. Let cool a little and eat (not the herb bundles) immediately!

They were delicious, the combination of herbs, prosciutto and wine worked perfectly and didn't overpower the delicate taste of the mushrooms. We all  enjoyed them very much, infact  I'd like to try this way of cooking other vegetables.

I often picked field mushrooms when I was young with my Dad in the UK, but I wouldn't dream of it in Italy.
There are  many more varieties here and some of them can make you very ill or even have fatal resuts. Unless you are an expert it's better to buy them!



Flapjack with Wild Walnuts (Juglans regia)

 Flapjack is a traditional, economic, healthy(quite) and very easy to make British Sweet. If you live in the US however it's a type of pancake.
Flapjack can be crunchy or chewy depending on the type of oats used, the size of baking tray and oven temperature. There are countless  different variations of the recipe. I often make plain flapjack, but yesterday I made a special version with added wildcrafted walnuts. There's none left today!

There are lots of walnut trees growing near here and the walnuts are falling to the ground at the moment. Walnuts grow inside shells, which are protected by  green husks. The husks  dry out and turn dark when the walnuts are ready for collecting.

Leave the walnuts in the sun for a few days to dry the husk so that it flakes off easily.
Open the walnuts carefully and leave them to dry for a few more days to improve the flavour or store the nuts for future use.


250g Porridge Oats/Rolled Oats
100g walnuts roughly chopped 
100g unsalted butter
a pinch of salt
50g brown sugar 
2 tablespoons golden syrup

Mix the oats, salt and nuts together in a bowl.
Melt the sugar, syrup and butter in a pan over low heat.
Add the liquid to the oats and mix well.
Press down into a baking tray lined with grease-proof paper.
(I used 30cmX20cm because I like it thin and crunchy, but smaller is ok)
Bake in a preheated oven 180°C for 20/25 minutes until golden
Remove from oven and leave in the tray until tepid.
Lift out gently with grease-proof paper while still slightly warm and cut into squares/rectangles.
Store in an air-tight container.


Instead of walnuts- Nuts /Coconut/ Raisins/Dried Fruit (Cranberries/Apricots/Blueberries etc) Choc Chips
Instead of Golden Syrup - Corn Syup/Maple Syrup/Honey

 wildcrafting wednesdays @ mindbodyandsoleonline


Yarrow Aromatic Wine

I recently came across a book entitled  " Fiori, Frutti e Semi selvatici in Cucina" presented  by  Tiziano Scarpa which can be translated as,Wild Flowers, Fruit and Seeds in the Kitchen". It's really well presented has cute illustrations and some very unusual Regional Italian and International recipes.

As I've been experimenting with Yarrow recently, this seemed the perfect recipe for some of the  dried herb.


10 Yarrow flower heads (I used dried, but the recipe didn't state dried or fresh)
1 litre of full-bodied red wine
2,5 dl of 95° alcohol ( 250ml)
250 g sugar ( I used 200g. Most Italian liqueurs are too sweet for my taste)

Place Yarrow  with wine in jar and seal. Leave in a cool, dark place for a month.
Add alcohol and sugar and shake the jar.
Replace in a dark place, agitate once a day for 7-10 days (until the sugar is dissolved).
Filter and bottle.

The recipe doesn't say how long to wait before consuming.
With infusions, the most important ingredients are time and patience.
This "brew" has been infusing for just over a month now, I''ll keep you updated.


"NO TIGER" Yarrow Mozzie Spray

(photo from thedailymail.co.uk)
 I have always hated mosquitos, they drove me crazy when I first came to Italy. Yes, I was one of those pink English types covered in swollen bumps of various shades of angry red and purple. I usually resorted to cortisone/anti-histamine creams to help calm my body's indignant reaction and tried to avoid  being bitten.
However, after some time here my body seemed to get used to"Mozzies"(UK) or "Zanzare"(Italian) and the irritations began to be less noticable, that is, UNTIL the Asian Tiger Mosquito manged to stowaway in truck tyres, take up residence  and thrive here.

Tiger Mosquitos are tiny, striped black and white and very aggresive.
They bite you at all hours and often pass through clothes. If I go outside to water the plants they get me, if I hang out washing they are waiting for me, if I run to my car they come with me and gorge on my legs while I am accelerating. If I stay indoors they are often lurking in the corners and can  bite several times. Their bites welt up immediately and it  takes great will power not to start scratching. If you start it's difficut to stop until there is a hole.

I use Deet based sprays if I want to stay outside (which I would prefer not to), but the effect doesn't last long and needs to be reapplied after an hour or so.I have tried Avon SkinSoSoft which works pretty well, but I hate the oily feel and the last time I used it in the bathroom and then nearly broke my neck slipping on the residue on the ceramic tiled floor!
The natural citronella type sprays feel better but last even less time.

I recently came across a recipe for Yarrow Bug Spray (yes Pinterest again) that I thought was worth trying at Herb Mentor by Learning Herbs Link which I adapted slightly.

"No Tiger" Yarrow Mozzie Spray

Yarrow dried
8/10 drops essential oil (sage, clary sage, lemon eucalyptus, tea tree etc)

Chop or cut up dried yarrow flowers, leaves and top part of stems.

A handful of dried calamint or catnip.

Fill a jar with the herbs (I filled just over half and pressed down gently) . Cover with vodka, close and leave in a dark place for a week (I forgot about it for nearly two weeks).
Strain and add the same amount of filtered water. I also added 8 drops of clary sage essential oil. Pour into spray bottles and label.(I used a travel spray bottle and an old deoderant bottle) and had some left over from a small jam jar.
Label (There is a downloadable one at the link above)

I tried the spray this afternoon and thought that the odour was quite pleasant much better than Deet-based products.
I'm also bite free, but that may well be due to the drop in pressure and temperature  today and strong wind that is blowing. They don't like wind.
I'm really hoping it will help when the wind dies down.
It's quite refreshing and cooling when sprayed, but be sure to wash it off before any romance( or you will taste bitter) and I wouldn't spray it on children or before sunbathing.
I will update to say if it's effective or not.

Tiger Mosquitos can spread disease such as Dengue Fever and Chikungunya (a flu-like fever with aching joints). There was an outbreak not too far away in 2007, fortunately such occurences are rare.

Further reading