Poised and Waiting

Life may have changed irrevocably in many ways, but some things are just the same as ever.


This week, everyone is poised and waiting for harvest. Every year in late July and early August, there are constant checks to see if any of the crops are ready to harvest and the weather forecast consulted regularly in the hope of dry sunny days. As usual, this begins way in advance with varying estimates of the likely start date. Today Bill’s forecast was “not before the weekend”.

Bowl of freshly picked raspberries and alpine strawberries from English country garden


The garden is in full production with enough fruit and vegetables to feed us, so long as we don’t object to eating pretty much the same thing every day. As usual, we’re moving rapidly through the sequence of excitement at the first raspberry, bean or whatever, then getting rather bored with eating them every day and then finally, having a great fancy for them when there are none left.

In normal times, I’d be tempted to supplement the garden produce with something we don’t grow, but this year I’m trying to be more imaginative with it all in an effort to cut down the shopping. That said, today we’re having stuffed marrow with runner beans and new potatoes, which is not at all imaginative as I’ve probably eaten that every summer of my life.

wildflowers and weeds in a vase


There are always wildflowers and weeds to pick around the farm and yesterday I saw the first ripe blackberries, though I wasn’t tempted to pick them as they were next to the road.

peacock


Rather unusually, a peacock has taken up residence on the farm for the past couple of weeks and comes across the field each morning when I let the hens out, though they are deeply unimpressed by the tail waving, bottom waggling shuffle that he performs for them. The other day he flew onto the netting that covers the top of the hen run as he tried to join them or perhaps impress them with his flying prowess. I was worried that he’d get tangled up in the loose net but he just sort of bounced across it, as if it was a trampoline, and shook himself down when he reached the side pole. I suspect he’ll wander off soon, but he’s brought a vivid splash of colour to the farm.


Saturday is Lammas Day. Lammas was originally an Anglo Saxo festival that marked the beginning of harvest. The first grains of the new harvest would be baked into a loaf of bread that was taken into the church to be blessed, hence Loaf Mass. Normally, I’d say that bread is taken for granted, a basic foodstuff that’s thrown in the shopping trolley with little thought, but maybe it’s valued a tiny bit more after the bread and flour shortages earlier in the year.

Perhaps this year we should all bake a loaf to celebrate Lammas Day. If we can get the yeast, which still seems in very short supply.


It was upon a Lammas night,
   When corn rigs are bonie,
Beneath the moon’s unclouded light,
   I held awa to Annie;
The time flew by, wi tentless heed;
   Till, ‘tween the late and early,
Wi sma’ persuasion she agreed
   To see me thro the barley.

Robert Burns: The Rigs o’ Barley

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!




purple sage and parsley

Reasons to Be Cheerful

I’ve always thought that blogs like this can be a little removed from the real world. We witter on about baking bread and taking walks, picking flowers and knitting blankets seemingly without a care in the world, while cataclysmic events rock the world.

I see no reason for that to change too much even though our lives have changed in ways we wouldn’t have considered possible a few weeks ago.

For many of us there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful; here are a few of mine:

primroses growing in grass

Spring is here and winter is over. The primroses, cowslips and violets are in flower, the fruit trees and blackthorn bushes are frothing with blossom and the birds are singing. The hens are laying, the herbs in the garden are bright and fresh.

My calendar is empty for the next few weeks. No appointments, no obligations, no boring meetings. I can do whatever I like. So long as I don’t leave home.

I have more time to do the things I want to do. All Ruth’s printmaking classes in The Barley Barn have been cancelled, which is not something to be cheerful about, but instead we’re trying out printing projects and other creative things to share on Slamseys Journal. The first post about creative craft distractions if you’re stuck at home is already up and there’ll be more to follow. Also, instead of baking cakes and biscuits for the classes, I can fill my own cake tins.

It’s not raining and the sun is shining. The washing can be hung outside to dry, it’s a joy to get into the garden to sow some seeds and I no longer have to squelch along wet, muddy paths in wellies. Best of all, after a dismal autumn and spring sowing season, it’s finally just about dry out enough for the tractors to get onto the land in a last ditch attempt to drill some spring barley.

I have a knitting project that will last for ages. Last month, I knitted a Gamaldags sweater from Icelandic Knitter, which was incredibly quick to knit and I’ve worn it almost non-stop. I then had a fancy to knit a gansey or guernsey, whichever you like to call it. I have no idea why it seemed a good idea to knit something on tiny 2.25mm needles, which is taking an age to knit. There seems barely any noticeable progress after an hour of knitting each evening and though that seemed a bit of a drawback at first, it now seems a positive thing.

coffee and biscuits on the table

People have started to blog again. We may have to socially distance ourselves in real life, but on the web, we can drop in or open our doors to people all over the world. A virtual seat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a biscuit.

*

Stay safe.


Christmas Traditions

circle of herbs hanging from red ribbon

This morning, the house is quiet and unadorned, apart from a tiny circle of bay, thyme and rosemary that hangs in the kitchen so that I don’t have to search for herbs in the dark outside.


Later, I shall get out the boxes of decorations, arrange the nativity scene and slot together the candle fuelled chiming angels. If I can find all the bits. Mistletoe, holly and ivy will be gathered, the Christmas tree dragged inside and the house decorated while listening to carols from Kings College, Cambridge.

Many people might sniff at the naffness of the chiming angels and think that Christmas Eve is far too late to start decorating the house, but I like the family traditions that we’ve built up over the years. They change a little each year but provide a sort of certainty in life that’s needed more than ever in this year of nastiness in politics and social media along with the harrowing stories of flooding in this country and bushfires in Australia.

Wherever you are and whatever your traditions, I hope that you can have a Happy Christmas and wish you a Peaceful New Year.