Denise: Today is Mellow Yellow – the day I make the last batch of lemon curd of the season. There are four jars in the fridge. First come, first served: when they’re gone, they’re gone! The wee pot of curd has gone already!
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!
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!
Denise: As this growing season got, well, growing, we decided we’d no longer sell any of our garden produce. Instead, we’d learn to make full use of it ourselves. All of it! Everything! So now that it’s well and truly tomato season, here’s one of the many things we do with two large greenhouses full of ripening tomatoes, along with our own grown onion, rosemary and … well that would be giving away our secrets! Passata!
Every now and then we buy a commercial bottle of sauce to (a) remind ourselves how cheap and sugary they are, and (b) – more importantly – to expand our stock of sauce bottles!
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!