Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The Invasion

An ant farm on the leaf of a walnut tree

A few days ago I decided to made some tarts with a lemon cream filling. Actually I was trying something out. As a kid I would visit my grandmother every second Sunday with my mum and dad. She lived on the outskirts of London in the county of Essex. Over the years Essex has become part of London, but at this time it was like going to the country. She had bluebells at the bottom of the garden which is one of my memories. Actually the family arrived there during the war as their house in Stratford, East End of London, had been destroyed by a stray bomb.

Anyhow my grandmother was a fantastic pastry cook. She had grown up at Sissinghurt castle where the family were occupied as farm labourers. As she was the only girl amongst 11 brothers she could not work on the farm so she had her job in the local diary. Mind you, I found this out only about 5 years ago when I started digging into the background of the family. I belonged to a few genealogy societies and got a lot of information. So, back to the pastry cooking – she made the best lemon tarts that I had ever tasted in my life. Neither my mother, nor anyone else in the family knew how she made them, but after eating one they were imprinted on your memory and about fifty odd years later I still remembered the taste.

Admittedly I am drifting off the topic here, but that is the beauty of blogging, I can ramble on how I want to – like the television you can always switch it off. So there I was in the kitchen capturing memories of a grandmother’s pastry and did my best and the result was almost perfect. I took two eggs and beat them with a good portion of sugar, added some milk and then poured the juice of a fresh lemon into the mixture beating as I did it. I was a bit worried that the mixture might curdle, but it didn’t. I had a rolled out flaky pastry that I had bought at the supermarket. I know gran made her own pastry, but she didn’t have a supermarket and the machines were then not invented for rolling out the pastry and being able to preserve it, so you couldn’t buy it then. Sorry gran, but these days things have gone a long way since around 1955 when I used to make my Sunday visits.

So my super granny tarts were baked in the oven and came out perfectly. The pastry nice and brown and the filling had set correctly. After they cooled down they were distributed amongst the natives at home and everyone was happy. They almost tasted the same as my gran’s pastries. There was one left, and out of politeness or forgetfulness it was left on the kitchen surface for someone to eat later.

That was the nice part of the story, now comes the exciting part. Around eleven in the evening Mr. Swiss found it was time to empty the dishwasher (something else gran didn’t have) and called out I should come into the kitchen, “where have they all come from?” The last lemon pastry was still sitting in the kitchen, but unfortunately its nice yellowy colour was disturbed by moving black dots, being ants. Looking further we found the complete kitchen surface to be more or less populated by them. The problem was that we had a sort of granite with a mottled pattern and it was difficult to find all the invaders. I took my courage in both hands and a wet dishcloth and swept them down into the sink. I afterwards submerged them in the water from the running tap and so the first invaders were sent to the eternal ant land. Actually my first thought at the beginning of the invasion was to take a photo. However, realising that Mr. Swiss was getting rather nervous, I decided against it. Just one of the problems we photographers have to deal with. Shame really, I am sure it would have been in the newspaper on the next day. Headlines “Home in swiss village kidnapped by ants”. That was phase one.

Phase two was where did they come from. They came in through the French window from the garden as we noticed that was the route of their ant path. Now ants are very slender animals, not bulky and find there way through all crevices. They decided to explore the dishwasher and indeed made a motorway to transport themselves along the side of the dishwasher door to the top of the kitchen surfaces – wait a minute I think we have been here before. So I sent them down the sink again. Rembering this was now around 11.30 at night, Mr. Swiss removed the bottom surrounds to the cupboards as behind there was a hollow room which was providing a nice hiding place for our new pets. Needless to say the air was rich with negative exclamations both in Swiss German and English – not impressing the ants very much. As we were not preprared for this attack, we had nothing to combat the ants with. However, we found a bottle of methylated spirits (which we use for the preparation of cheese fondue and not for drinking purposes) and cleaned all the surfaces with it. Unfortunately methylated spirits has the advantage of evaporating quickly. Both being very tired we eventually retired at about 12.30.

The next morning our first glance was to see whether there was any movement in the ant population. There was, a coming and going at the kitchen window. This time they had lost the interest in climbing, probably realising that many of their brothers and sisters had lost their life by drowning the evening before.

Mr. Swiss and I went shopping and returned armed with at least six anti ant tins. For those that do not know them, they are filled with a poison that attracts ants. They enter the tin, take a walk and afterwards return to the nest containing the egg laying machine known as the queen. Somehow the poison infects the nest, kills the queen and that is the end of an ant colony, the problem being that No. 1 you hope that they return to the nest, No. 2 you hope that the queen gets poisoned. This process does take a couple of days. On the second day I bought a can of anti insect to spray on the invasion, but they had disappeared. Since then I have not seen a single ant inside. Admittedly I have numerous tribes in all shapes, sizes and colours in the garden, but no longer indoors.

Here is the sequel to the story: Yesterday evening there was a ring at the door and Mr. Swiss opened it to find it was our neighbour. He was invited in and guess what he asked “Do you have anything against ants, we have an invasion in the kitchen”. No problem we told him, we still had two unused anti ant tins and told him to have them. We also gave him the spray which we had not yet used. We have wonderful next door neighbours, so we were glad to be of assistance. I saw his wife today and she said there were now only one or two ants left. I just had to write that down. Now I feel much better. Thank goodness earwigs are bigger than ants. We have quite a population in the garden at the moment, but they have not found the way indoors, yet?

Formix again ants

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