We’ll spare you the tedious to-and-fro of arguments pulling us this way, pushing us that way, and – just when you think a line of reasoning had answered the question, it suddenly seems not to make sense at all, and we’re back where we were. It’s been difficult, but the decision has been made …
We’ve been producing and selling our Big Garden Preserves from home – here at the walled garden – for nearly fifteen years, and it’s been a great success. But we need to reduce our workload, simplify our lives. We also want to rediscover the joy of making preserves and storing them in the pantry in the knowledge that they will be there through the long winter months, to feed us, to cheer us, to sustain us. If you’ve done that yourself, you’ll know what we mean! We want to enjoy the best of our preserves, not make do with the batches we’ve condemned as less-than-perfect. We want to enjoy the freedom to experiment, to be more spontaneous ; not just in the choice of fruit or the ingredients, but also in use of jars and how we label them. We’d really like to make our preserves to please ourselves! So …
2018 will be the last year we’ll be systematically making and selling The Big Garden preserves – jams, jellies, marmalades, chutneys, dried herbs. So, when they’re gone, they’re gone!
After a long journey, we’re back in Uist : home, sweet home! (No, we haven’t moved permanently to Navarra!)
Becky’s pleased to see us! Tilly’s pleased to see us! (And judging from appearances, Tilly’s tail is even more excited to see us than Tilly herself!). Pickle is pleased to see us, even if her demeanour is intended to convey her displeasure at having been abandoned by us in the first place. Dusky and Tabatha have each demonstrated their delight at our return by kneading our laps with sharp claws and squeaky purrs. Tom trots ahead of us to show us his empty bowl.
Becky’s done an excellent job of looking after home and garden. And, at the Big Garden Croft – over the water in Eriskay, everything is in excellent order. It’s true that we now have one chicken less than we had before we left, but after that first early-morning raid by an eagle, Becky shut the chickens in for a few days, and there were no more losses. All the sheep are present and in good shape. (Now half-way through pregnancy, that shape is getting rounder by the day!) They really do enjoy their morning supplementary ration of sheep nuts and hay!
Becky can’t be expected to do everything for us, whilst we’re away, so there’s a lot of jobs to catch up on – not least the the administration and bureaucracy of modern life (especially a life of multiple self-employments).
Then there’s re-stocking with animal feed and hay. Winter maintenance, decoration and improvements at the holiday lets to complete. The compost heap built up in 2016, and now matured, has to be dug out , and spread across about a third of the walled garden’s growing plots : the 2017 compost will take it’s place (thereby being thoroughly stirred up and aerated) and then over the next couple of months seaweed will be collected from the shore and piled up on top.
On the agenda today : shopping to re-stock the pantry shelves ; sawing firewood ; spinning wool ; checking our stock of potatoes ; filling the vehicles with fuel ; financial records ; and of course, inevitably, everything to tip out of our travel bags and put back in their proper places, and dirty washing to launder.
Horns and Plenty. Ram lambs.
Left-overs from an eagle’s breakfast. Fewer eggs for ours.
Checking the electric fence voltage.
Breakfast Gate. Bothy Field.
Checking the boxes of potatos gone-bad. None, thank heavens – but some sprouts to rub off.
After excellent sales during the 2017 summer season, and an unexpectedly steady trickle of online orders since, the Hebridean Woolshed is sorely depleted of stock, and likewise the Big Garden of jams, chutneys and preserves. After nearly a month of our the winter making-season away from home, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do! And to add to the pressure, this year we’ve quite a number of early bookings for our two holiday cottages : not just in March, but even in February. No wonder we’ve scarcely had a holiday in more than fifteen years!
Having, now, a place of our own to go away to (albeit with not a little difficulty) does seem to have given us fresh motivation to make the most of what we have here, to give it our very best.
I’m making soup. A whatever’s-in-the-garden soup – today’s random combination.
Fresh-dug Parsnips, Carrots and Leeks. The Big Garden
Making coffee and toast on the same hob.
Making a Big Garden soup
Potatoes lifted in autumn and stored in crates. Parsnips and carrots dug just earlier this morning. Curly kale picked fresh from the garden – so hardy, it continues to grow new leaves regardless of the winter weather. And leeks : thank heavens for the onion family – theres’s one for every season
Dicing and slicing, J steals away chunks to eat raw: the aroma and taste are so bound up with the idea of winter, the memories and associations, with scenes from Silas Marner or Under The Greenwood Tree. Or my own childhood. Me too, says J.
Winter foods. Grown slowly, accumulating memories of the passing seasons, memories released and relived in the digging, cleaning, preparing, cooking – and eating. We take time. We find time. The more we give, the more we get back. Slow-food is Time-food – and Time’s an ingredient we’ll never find on the supermarket shelves.
There is a richness, a completeness, a peace and fulfillment in winter foods. Thank heavens for seasons!