Preserving Autumn

I have a snapshot memory from my childhood of walking across a field on my way for a swim, with my swimsuit under my clothes and knickers rolled up in the towel, thinking about life and what it was all about. I can pinpoint the exact spot, just past the tin shed, as I wondered if we were merely like dolls and farmyard toys, being played with by some unseen hand and if there was more to life than being born, getting told what to do and then dying.

trug filled with autumn fruit

As we lurch from one set of arbitrary rules to another in this Covic-19 crisis, I get a fleeting reminder of that childhood impotence and crave a little control. Nothing major. Not world domination. It’s enough to gather up some fruit or vegetables, to fill the kitchen with the smell of boiling sugar or gently simmering vinegar and make a batch of jam or chutney. To carefully fill the jars and screw on the lids, label them and line them up on the shelf. A ritual that celebrates the late summer and autumnal abundance of the garden and hedgerows with nobody whispering Hands Face Space, Keep Your Distance, Cover Your Face, Stay Home, Eat Out or whatever the latest slogan may be.

I rarely make the same preserves on consecutive years because I often forget which recipe I used the previous year or there may still be a jar or two left on the shelf, so it seems pointless to make yet more. Also, there’s rarely an excess of the same things every year or I realise too late that everything is past its peak.

quince

The quince tree, while not as burdened with fruit as it has been some years, is having a prolific year and we have an overabundance of quince. The knobbly fruit are pressed (from a suitable distance) into the hands of anyone who happens to call in along with boxes of walnuts, of which there are far too many for us this year, even when shared with the squirrels. We swap with friends: walnuts and quince for their surplus pumpkins and chillies, a jar of chutney for one of pickled onions.

quince poached in syrup

The problem with quince is that they are inedible unless cooked, unlike an apple or plum that you can pick from the tree and pop straight into your mouth. A fruit for the cook. My quince repertoire doesn’t usually extend beyond poached quince, which we eat several days running with lemon ice-cream, Greek yoghurt or custard and, new for this year, Walnut Biscuits.

Quince and Orange Marmalade

For the first time, I’ve also made Quince and Orange Marmalade. It’s funny how I can have a recipe book and use some recipes over and over again, yet completely ignore others. Then, I see something looking delicious in a magazine or on a blog and instantly want to make it, only to realise that I’ve had the recipe for years but, for whatever reason, have never been tempted. Quince and Orange Marmalade is one such recipe. The original recipe is in The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook,  my copy of which is well used and food spattered, but I’ve never lingered on that page. Last week, the photos and descriptions on Fenland Lottie inspired me to find the original recipe and make it. It’s delicious and I wish I’d discovered it years ago. Annie has given a slightly shortened version of the recipe, so try it for yourself if you can get hold of some quince.

It only takes minutes to walk to the nearest shop, so I do all this preserving through choice, not necessity. It seems a little absurd and far-fetched to say it, but having a store of jewel coloured jams and wire clipped jars of chutney gives a feeling of permanence, of laying down stores for the future and being prepared.  If nothing else, should there be another lockdown we’ll be able to dine on jam and slices of quince, which (obviously) we’ll eat with a runcible spoon.


elderflowers and roses

Sparkling Elderflower and Rose Drink

The elder has flowered early this year, no doubt duped by the endless days of sunshine this year. As ever, the flowers closest to home are either too high for me to reach, on the wrong side of a wide ditch or next to a busy track along which lorries thunder past all day.

But, as I walked around the farm, I’ve kept an eye on a lone elder that overhangs the wide ditch running between Lakes Field and Great Forest, the branches dipping down just low enough for me to reach. If I stand on tiptoe. And reach precariously across the ditch. This week I decided the large saucer shaped flowers were ripe for picking and duly collected a small bagful of elderflower heads.


I flip flop each year between making elderflower cordial and a sparkling elderflower drink. I like cordial because it’s concentrated and keeps for a long time but I have to remember to buy soda water to mix with it as I prefer it fizzy. On the other hand, sparkling elderflower needs no soda water but takes up more room because it’s already diluted and needs careful storing so the bottles don’t explode.


This year, my mind has been made up for me. I have no desire to stand in a long, socially distanced queue at the pharmacy to buy citric acid (or more likely, try to buy it as they inevitably sell out), which is needed for the cordial recipes. So, it’s sparkling elderflower for 2020.

elderflowers and roses


This year, I’ve added a few scented rose petals to the mix. I hoped the rose petals would turn the drink pink as they do with the Elderflower and Rose Cordial but I didn’t use enough deep coloured petals so I have the flavour but not the colour. Which is fine by me.


If you’d like to make Sparkling Elderflower & Rose, the recipe is below. Leave out the rose petals for a Sparkling Elderflower drink.


Pick the elderflowers on a dry day, choosing the creamy new heads (rather than old and browning ones) and give them a shake to dislodge any lurking insects. Back home, use them straight away.

Sparkling Elderflower and Rose Drink


Ingredients

700g granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cider (or white wine) vinegar

20 good sized elderflower heads – flowers pulled or cut from main stem

4 roses – petals only (I snip them off with scissors)

1 lemon – juice and zest (use a vegetable peeler)

1 lemon – sliced

Directions


Put everything into a large bowl or a bucket and add 1 gallon (4.5 litres) of cold water.

Cover the bowl with a cloth (not cling film as it needs to breathe) and leave for 48 hours. Stir occasionally to help dissolve the sugar.

Strain and pour into sterilised bottles. Use bottles with corks or fizzy drinks bottles otherwise your bottles might explode (I speak from experience).

Leave the bottles in a cool, dry place for two or three weeks. If you use plastic bottles, you’ll know when it’s ready to drink as the gas will fill the bottles so that the sides are very firm.

Open carefully!




Summer Loving

It feels as though summer may have peaked and is about to start slowly drifting away. Time to make the most of the warm, sunny days, to take stock and enjoy some snippets of happiness.

combining wheat in field

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The wheat harvest has finished leaving fields of stubble, an interlude in the cycle of sowing, growing and harvesting. Today, the first wheat of the 2019 harvest was milled into flour and made into bread. There was a slight confusion between flour and flower when my two year-old grandson was invited to help. I feel he may have been slightly disappointed.

hen with green feathers

The countryside and garden are entering that slightly unkempt and beautiful stage of late summer. Vegetables are harvested from the garden every day with a fork to table distance of twenty paces. Naturally, there are courgettes that have grown far too big but happily, the hens enjoy the odd one lobbed into the run. One hen has also been eating the eggs, so she’s daubed with pig tattoo paste to make it easy to separate her at night.

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geraniums growing with tomatoes in trough

Geraniums have added a bright splash of colour to the garden this summer making me wonder why I’ve spurned them for so long. The herbs have proliferated, very much at home in the new garden, providing a flash of green in the bleached summer light. A batch of freezer raspberry jam has been made in the hope that its brilliant colour and fresh taste will bring back a ray of summer sunshine in the depths of winter. This year’s meagre crop of greengages has mainly been eaten by wasps, but I’ve delighted in the few we managed to pick. The rosehips, blackberries and sloes in the field hedgerows bear the first blush of colour and the ground is littered with the husks of hazelnuts discarded by the squirrels.  

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Chocolate biscuits and oat biscuits cooling on wire rack

Trays of biscuits have been baked for printmaking classes because everyone knows that a biscuit helps you to concentrate but otherwise, the oven has barely been turned on through the summer apart from bread baking and the Sunday roast. A splash of Manly Gin before Sunday lunch has kept alive memories of our Australian holiday. We flirted with fame or to be more precise, some of our family appeared on Australian TV for thirty seconds, which was quite long enough.  Our television has barely been switched on all summer apart from watching the netball and cricket. Piles of books have been borrowed from the library to read outside in the evenings while it’s still light. Reading fiction has been so much better than watching the news.

Happy days.


Making the most of the raspberry crop

August weather is always a bit changeable and as soon as the combine rolls into the field, you can be sure that rainclouds will follow. As ever, this year there has been much dashing about while the sun shines interspersed with hopeful weather forecast consultation while the rain pours down outside.

On the plus side, it’s been possible to pick raspberries in the sunshine and retreat inside to deal with them when it rains. The autumn fruiting raspberries are in full production and no doubt their good size is partly due to the rain. When we start to tire of eating raspberries for breakfast, lunch and supper I have to cast around for ways of prolonging the season because a couple of weeks after the crop has finished, they suddenly become desirable again.

First this year was a batch of raspberry ripple ice-cream. I’ve made gallons of ice-cream since I discovered how easy it is to make it with a carton of cream and a tin of sweetened condensed milk. It’s another of those things that I wish I’d known about years ago. If you’ve never tried the condensed milk recipe, try a batch of Raspberry Ripple ice-cream.

Making raspberry vinegarNext to make was a new batch of Raspberry Vinegar as I’m down to the dregs of my last bottle from 2018. Some modern recipes for Raspberry Vinegar don’t add sugar and some older ones use an awful lot. My recipe is halfway between the two, so you may want to adjust it either way. I suppose it depends how you plan to use it.

Next on the list are a couple of  Raspberry Loaf cakes. One for the printmaking class that’s running this week in The Barley Barn and another for the freezer. Just as soon as the rain stops so that I can pick more raspberries.  

No-Churn Ice cream raspberry ripple

Raspberry Ripple Ice-Cream

A simple to make fresh tasting ice-cream

Ingredients

• 200 g Fresh Raspberries
• 600 ml Double Cream
• 397 g Tin Sweetened, Condensed Milk
• 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Directions

  1. Gently heat the raspberries with a splash of water in a small saucepan until they burst and the juice starts to run. Don’t boil or cook the raspberries.
  2. Push the raspberries through a sieve, which will give you a ruby coloured puree.
  3. Whip the cream until it’s floppy and then add the condensed milk and vanilla extract, continuing to whip until it’s incorporated.
  4. Pour in the raspberry puree and swirl through with a knife to give a ripple effect.
  5. Scrape into a plastic container, cover and freeze overnight until hard.

Move the ice-cream from the freezer to the fridge 30 minutes before serving to make it easier to scoop out.