BCN Marathon Challenge 2011 – my part in its completion

For those who do not know, the BCN Marathon Challenge is a race involving narrowboats.  No, this is not an oxymoronic concept.  You must all stop laughing.  Now.  It is actually a gruelling endurance test involving very little sleep, ridiculous numbers of locks, little used pounds filled with weeds and old sofas, all within a time limit.

I had a very background role.  Ground being the operative word.  Many would question my involvement at all.  Indeed I believe the Captain himself would dispute my participation.  It is true I did not join the crew of Wand’ring Bark while they executed the 86 locks of Saturday.  Nor did I share the delights of the weed hatch today.  In fact, I was not exactly part of the crew at all.  You will not find me on the log sheet.  But I like to think my role was nevertheless crucial.  Baking.  That was my part.

But not just any baking.  Oh no, this was baking with foraged ingredients!  It seemed deeply appropriate to be making things with rose petals I found on the Wolverhampton 21.  Which is part of the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigations).  I had used some of the petals to make rose sugar (500g caster sugar, handful of japanese rose petals).  In fact, I had made quite a lot.  Consequently, baking seemed the Right Thing To Do.

First up, was Rose Petal Victoria Sponge Cake.  I simply added one tablespoon of rose petal syrup to the cake mix.  Then sandwiched it together with Rose Petal Jelly and whipped cream flavoured with rose petal syrup.  Finally I dusted the top with a sprinkling of rose sugar.

Next, a small batch of Lavender Shortbread.  This was just for the Captain and crew.  I really intended to concentrate on Rose Petal Shortbread but got sidetracked.  The recipe is very like the one that follows which a few changes.  Obvious changes.  I am sure you can work them out.

My main batch of baking was making wee bags of the Rose Petal Shortbread prettily packaged.  I should probably get out more …

Rose Petal Shortbread

175g plain flour

75g rose petal sugar

175g butter, softened

75g fine semolina

For topping: sprinkle with extra rose petal sugar or drizzle with icing made from rose petal syrup and icing sugar.

Pre-heat oven to 150C / gas mark 2

Grease and line a baking tin 28 x 18cm

Beat all ingredients in bowl till thoroughly mixed and soft dough formed.  Use hands to shape to a ball then press into tin evenly.  Use a fork to prick all over.  Bake for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and cool in tin for 10 mins.  Cut into fingers and place on wire rack till completely cool.



Since tucking Wand’ring Bark back up into the marina after our Stratford trip, I have been silly busy.  It is a consequence of feeling so much better and must therefore be regarded as a good thing.  However, I guess I am only really firing on three and half cylinders.

As well as routine things domestic, I have had to deal with the results of all my foraging from the trip.  I have been having a lovely time doing things with flowers.  The return run through the Wolverhampton 21 was a productive as it had been on the outward journey.  I collected vast numbers of Japanese Rose (Rosa Rugosa – thank you, Roger, I’m not good with proper names!) petals and Elderflowers.  Once home I put them all into soak in various solutions so that I could deal with them the next day.

I used them to make Rose Petal sugar, Rose Petal Syrup, Rose Petal Water, Elderflower Jam and an old family recipe for Elderflower Squash.  Remember the Lavender Sugar I made while in Stratford?  It’s delicious sprinkled on top of Victoria Sponge cake:

and I am feeling slightly bad that I did not stretch my busy-ness to bake a Lavender Sponge for the Captain this weekend.  He is taking part in the Birmingham Canal Navigation Marathon Challenge and is all locks and racing.  I would have thought that the words narrowboat race were something of an oxymoron but it seems not.  I have left him to it.  I am a bad wife.

I also used the sugar it to make Lavender Syrup which is fabulous drizzled over strawberries.  Sue from Indigo Dreams, who is also taking part in the BCN Challenge, suggested using the Wild Flower Syrup as an ice cream flavouring and I bet this would be good too.  Perhaps even better as a sorbet?

Lavender Syrup

500g lavender sugar

275ml boiling water

Place sugar in pan.  Stir in boiling water and heat gently, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved.  Strain into a clean jug then pour into sterilised bottles, seal and store in cool, dark cupboard.  Should keep for up to a year.  Once opened, store in fridge.


I do not normally need to pack vast quantities of socks when going away on ‘Wand’ring Bark’. I don’t even take a pair for each day. And, no, I am not just lacking in the hygiene department, I simply prefer to go bare foot. If absolutely necessary I’ll don a pair of sandals, or self-draining shoes as the Captain prefers to call them. However, since embarking on this foraging business, socks and more substantial footwear have become necessary.

But not always. Last night I did a bit of foraging while wearing a rather fetching pair of patent red stilettos and no socks whatsoever. I know. Shocking. But it was only for lavender. So quite harmless really. I used a handful to add to a kilogram of sugar. I’m planning to experiment with some lavender recipes later so having lavender sugar seemed like a good starting point. And what could be finer than lavender from Stratford?

However, as much as it pleases me to be able to tell you about my red shoes, they really are not as practical as socks and trainers/walking boots. So tonight’s top foraging tip is: always pack more socks than you think you’ll need.

I thought of that as I hand washed a few pairs at the top of the Wilmcote Locks. See? Always thinking of you, I am.