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Deaths are always sad to report. Here are two stories about amazing women.

On February 8, I read the latest report on the cold snap seizing Britain as well as the rest of Europe. It mentioned that an award-winning cheesemonger, Mandy Reed, was called to her rest on February 5.

Mrs Reed and her late husband David — who died in July 2005 — had founded the Swaledale Cheese Company in 1987 in Richmond, North Yorkshire. It must have seemed an improbable proposition at the time. The company website states:

Swaledale cheese has been made in the Dale that bears its name for centuries. It is thought that cheese making was first brought to the Yorkshire Dales in the 11th century by Cistercian monks who arrived from Normandy and settled in the local abbeys. They in turn passed on the cheese making techniques to the local farmers of Swaledale and thus, Swaledale cheese was born.

Originally Swaledale cheese was made with the milk of Swaledale sheep or Goats milk and it was not until the 17th Century when dairy cows were introduced into the Dales that Swaledale cheese was made from Cows milk.

The Farmers would make cheese by way of preserving the excess milk after calving time, some would be kept to feed the family and some would be bartered with Grocers and Corn Merchants, for food and flour.

By the late 20th century, only two people still made Swaledale — Mr and Mrs Longstaff of Harkerside, near Reeth. Mrs Longstaff’s family had passed a generations-old recipe onto her. When Mr Longstaff died in the early 1980s, his widow sold her dairy concern and retired. However, she then passed the Swaledale recipe to David and Mandy Reed and served as chief taster for their new cheesemaking business, established in 1987.

The business went from strength to strength. By 1995, the Reeds had achieved a challenging PDO status for their Swaledale cheeses. PDO — Protected Designation of Origin — is hard to come by and must be applied for in one’s own EU member country and approved in Brussels:

A PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) covers the term used to describe foodstuffs which are produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognised know-how (such as Mozzarella di Bufala Campana).

When the Reeds’  children — Louise and Sam — grew older, they joined the business.  The Swaledale Cheese Company

won four medals at the 2011 British Cheese Awards.

Food artisans are increasingly valued in Britain. Most work with local ingredients and, like the late Mrs Reed, acquire authentic regional recipes — ‘receipts’ — from which to work. It’s a difficult business, often requiring considerable work in persuading people to a) buy the product, b) serve it properly and c) come back for more.  My deepest sympathies to Louise and Sam as well as to Mrs Reed’s extended family, employees and friends. She and her expertise will be sorely missed.

Artisanal food is very much in keeping with Genesis in God’s directive to Man to become custodian of our natural kingdom of animals and plants. Anyone who pursues this line of work deserves our patronage and admiration. Please buy these products when you see them on sale at farmers’ markets and at your local shops. Let’s preserve our heritage!

In other food-related news, Florence Beatrice (Patterson) Green — the final veteran of the Great War — met her Maker on February 4, 2012, just a fortnight before her 111th birthday. Born in London, Florence Patterson entered the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) when she was 17.  She worked as an Officer’s Mess steward, serving up three square meals a day to the RAF stationed in Norfolk.

The UK edition of the Huffington Post (aforementioned link) reports:

Before her death she said: ”I enjoyed my time in the WRAF. There were plenty of people at the airfields where I worked and they were all very good company.

”I would work every hour God sent but I had dozens of friends on the base and we had a great deal of fun in our spare time. In many ways I had the time of my life.

”I met dozens of pilots and would go on dates. I had the opportunity to go up in one of the planes but I was scared of flying.

”It was a lovely experience and I’m very proud.”

One does not need to have served on the front line — valiant and vital though it is — to be considered a surviving ‘old soldier’. If it hadn’t been for the meals, smiles and kind words that Miss Patterson had passed along to the RAF, they might not have been the daring young men in the flying machines that they were. The technology was new, so was the RAF, and it must have been a daunting prospect for everyone — from the engineers to the pilots.

As Napoleon said, ‘An army marches on its stomach’. In other words, soldiers must be fed and watered regularly and sufficiently in order for them to accomplish their mission.

The RAF have not forgotten Mrs Green’s service:

RAF Squadron Leader Paula Willmot said RAF Marham, where Florence was stationed for seven months, would pay its respects to the veteran “in true style”.

She said: “We will be supporting the family at the funeral. We are sending a number of our stewards as a tribute to her.

“We kept in contact with her and visited her just before Christmas to give her a Christmas cake, which she was delighted with.

“We were due to visit her on Friday to celebrate her 111th birthday. It is a very sad occasion, but what an amazing woman.

“She is very much a Norfolk lass. We have very good memories of her. RAF Marham will be paying its respects in true style.”

In her later years, Mrs Green lived with her daughter May, aged 90, who, until recently, cared for her full time. Mrs Green moved into a care home only in December 2011. Her other surviving children are June, 76, and Bob, 86, both of whom live in the UK. Mrs Green had been married for 50 years to Walter, a railway porter, prior to his death in 1970.

There really are no more veterans of the Great War now. Huffington Post says:

Andrew Holmes, UK correspondent for the Gerontology Research Group, today confirmed Florence was the only remaining WW1 veteran in the world.

He said: “I am saddened by her death. Florence was the sixth oldest person in the UK and the only remaining WW1 veteran in the world.”

It is thanks to Mr Holmes that we know about Mrs Green’s service, her longevity and her family. May she rest in peace. My deepest sympathy to her children and other surviving family members.

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