Medieval fly problems….

This lady’s scheming sideways glance at the huge bluebottle finds an echo in Yours Truly! I don’t know the source of the illustration.

Yesterday, in the comfort of my own home, I enjoyed my favourite treat, Stapleton’s Gooseberry Luxury Fruit Yogurt, which is, believe me, sin in a little pot!

If you like gooseberries, this fruit delight is full of them. Gooseberries are a rare treat these days, whereas once an awful lot of people had a few of bushes in their gardens, and certainly in allotments. My grandparents certainly did, and the wardrobe on the landing was full of Kilner jars of them, and every other fruit (red currants, white currants, black currants, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, apples, pears—and those are just the ones I remember). So a gooseberry tart in the middle of winter was easy—no need for freezers.

picture from britishfoodhistory.com

However, I am not alone in my addiction. Or in having doors and windows open because it’s summer. The safeguards I don’t have are fly screens. So, one sniff of the gooseberry aroma drifting on the beautiful Gloucestershire air, and enter the Bluebottle Brigade—stage left, right and centre. Well, I finished my treat, put the pot aside and continued with my typing. I swear those darned demons were just waiting for my attention to be diverted, so they could descend upon the empty pot.

I have everything under the sun in the house to keep flying insects away (except fly screens) but bluebottles are i.m.m.u.n.e. One in particular was Public Enemy Number One. The others did give up, but not this one. Oh, no, he/she was a prime example of why a species has existed and prospered, and why it will continue to exist and prosper! We proceeded to have a very unseemly battle. Me with the fly swat (last resort) and he with the speed and agility of an alien spacecraft.

They’re from the family of blowflies, and their Latin name tells us all we need to know: Calliphora vomitoria and here but only read if you have a strong stomach)

from squarespace

I wasn’t going to admit defeat by putting the pot in the bin (too easy), I wanted that fly’s head on a plate! Preferably separated from its body. Well, in the end my blood pressure was probably up among the stars, but he wasn’t. He was still as swift, determined and earthbound as ever, so I gave in and binned the pot. He immediately lost interest and zoomed off to pastures new.

My grandmother used to put a dollop of jam in a milk bottle and pour some water in. This was especially at jam-making season, when wasps were patrolling. Dead fly and wasp bodies would soon accumulate because the stupid things dived in then found they couldn’t get out. The same with jamjars, the lids were pierced so they could get in and not out. But I didn’t fancy that gruesome scenario next to me while I was working. A glass death chamber a couple of feet from me? No!

Maybe medieval people knew this trick too, although not with glass – far too expensive!

Well, we have all sorts of aids these days (which in my house do not work!) but what did they do in medieval times? Prayers and magic wouldn’t do it—bluebottles are definitely the Devil’s work and Satan looks after his own. So, what did they do back then? The same thing they did for so many problems, they turned to herbs.

A brief search on Google took to me to this site and a list of seven herbs that were known to be fly-deterrents and which would definitely have been available to our medieval ancestors: basil, bayleaf, lavender, mint, rosemary, sweet woodruff and tansy. The website explains much more. Mmmm, my brain can “smell” them already. Delicious.

So, must I have pots of these fragrant plants beside me as I enjoy my gooseberry yogurts? If that’s what it takes, YES!

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