Denise: We’ve already harvested and frozen more than enough hot chillis to last us until next year, and there’s still plenty in the greenhouse. Anyone wanting some fresh hot chillis for free, just call in at the walled garden in the next day or two. Call us first on 01878 700828. After that they’ll be going onto the compost heap, where hopefully they’ll fire up the compost for the winter!
Jonathan: Warm, Sunny, September! Today, we’ve been amongst the rows and roses, harvesting spuds and hips.
The unseasonal Severe Gale over this past weekend has left the haulms of our potatoes battered, broken and blackened, but the crop beneath was already suffering distress after a cold dry spring and a warm and damp summer. The sunshine and lack of rain from late March to early July was much appreciated by our self-catering guests (not least Jacalyn and Mary over from California!), but the sandy soil of the walled garden dried out to too great a depth for the potatoes to thrive, and at least half of the seed potatoes simply withered in the ground. Long gaps in the rows of potato haulms gave us early warning that we won’t have enough potatoes to last us even through the winter, let alone to next spring.
Then, in early July, Mother Nature abruptly flipped the weather-mode switch to Cloudy Warm and Wet – perfect conditions for potato blight! So, even before the storm this past weekend, we were already reconciled to the prospect of having to buy potatoes from the Co-Op! To save ourselves from that humiliation as long as possible, and taking advantage of the warm sunshine forecast for all of today, we set about digging up all the main crop potatoes – Charlotte and Sarpo Mira, spreading them out on the warm paving at the south-facing front of the house. This evening, before the dew starts to settle, we’ll transfer them to the storage boxes: that’ll not take long – I doubt we’ll need more than three of the seven boxes we filled last year!
Whilst I’m not for a moment suggesting that plentitude of rose hips can in any way compensate in any practical way for a deficiency of potatoes, there is at least a certain pleasing symmetry in the reverse of fortunes between the two. Last year there were so few hips (and even they were small and hard) that we didn’t bother picking any – we simply left them for the wild birds. This year, the dry spring encouraged an early and abundant display of flowers – and it was just as the first fruits from these flowers started to appear that the weather turned warmer and wetter – resulting in the plants bowing down with the weight of big juicy hips. The sunshine and showers of late summer and early September prompted a second flourish of colour and scent – and a final flush of the glorious red rosehips! What will we use them for? Perhaps a few bottles of syrup, but mostly for Rosehip Jelly, one of our great favourites! The syrup is clear, sweet and simple; but the jelly is made cloudy, with a flavour as rich and complex as a single-malt whisky – a perfect companion with hogget lamb, goose, turkey – or a really good mature English cheese. But first we’ve got to get the hips picked – before the birds peck away all the best of them!
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
John Keats: To Autumn, September 1819
Denise: The greenhouses are full of lovely tomatoes, peppers and herbs, and the garden and our stores are overflowing with every kind of goodness! There’s few things we make with our produce that makes better use of the variety and abundance, and is so long-lasting and useful, than chutney. The art and craft of chutney-making is so rich with possibilities …
The chutneys we make for sale have to conform to our Big Garden ‘house style’, all using the same hexagonal jars, the labels, wording and ‘trimmings’ all conforming to the same format. But for ourselves, we’re free to be more spontaneous, with the ingredients, with an assortment of previously used jars and lids – whatever comes to hand. The labels may be simply hand-written on a scrap of paper and pasted on – or may be omitted entirely, in which case we rely on appearance, memory, and position on the shelf to avoid a shock to the tastebuds!
Jonathan: Here’s the last tray-full of gooseberries from the croft. That makes a total of about 25kg from the croft, and possibly 60kg from croft and garden combined. All the bushes on the croft are of this red desert type – sweet and rich in flavour. It’s called Black Velvet. At home, in the walled garden, we’ve got green culinary gooseberries (Leveller), and a small blushed/red desert gooseberry which we think is Careless. A few kilos of Leveller are being turned into wine, but everything else is for making jams, jellies, chutneys. Right, now to top-and tail these little lovelies, the last of the best. Then into the freezer with them!