September Days

No matter how many decades it is since I was at school (and it’s several) September is always a prominent marker in the year. It makes me think of sharp pencils and new shoes; reading suggestions and equipment lists; scratched hands picking shiny blackberries and apples eaten straight from the tree.

September collage of new shoes, sloes, blackberrries and rosehips

This September, the Barley Barn has been cleared after the overnight Gong Bath ready for the new term of printmaking classes, which start this week. In preparation, there’s been a flurry of creative activity including some experiments for using up rubbish imperfect prints, hence the collage above.

In September, the farming year starts a new cycle as the fields have lime, farmyard manure or biosolids spread on them filling the air with dust or a range of smells. Curiously, the biosolids (the more attractive name for sewage sludge) have a not unpleasant smell with a slight whiff of washing powder.  Before the new crop is sown and while the ground is dry, the chance is taken to trim some of the hedges and clear any ditches that have become overgrown or been dammed by children during the summer holidays.

This September, a trailer was discovered dumped or hidden in a remote spinney. The discarded number plates and other detritus suggest it was probably a holding place for stolen machinery.  Meanwhile, field boundaries are checked and any bordering a road without a thick hedge are trenched or bunded against unwelcome intruders, which seems positively mediaeval but is actually very effective.

rosehiips in September

In September, the hedgerows around the farm are filled with the colour of spiky sweet chestnut cases, orange rosehips, red haws and the beautiful dusky blue skin of the sloes that belies the astringent flesh beneath. Branches dumped in a jug with some bolted salad crops from the garden make an unfussy grouping, which is about my limit for flower arranging.

sloes in September

This September, the sloes are plentiful but the plum trees in the garden have been disappointing. The wasps ate more greengages than we did and many of the damsons went from hard as bullets to wrinkled almost overnight.

Soon it will be time to eat crumbles and pies, socks and sweaters will be pulled on reluctantly and doors that have stood open all day during summer will be closed as the days cool. But for now, we’re enjoying the late summer days of September.


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.


A Summer’s Day

The challenge today on Slamseys Journal is to spend fifteen minutes sketching the everyday and while I’m not going to share my sketches, I’m more than happy to share the everyday happenings on a summer’s day here.

At last, the wheat harvest has started. The combine roared into this field this morning and has been steadily working up and down all day.

heap of wheat in barn

The wheat heap is slowly building in the barn. Always a good sight to see.

glass of home made lemon squash

There’s time for a  drink of home-made lemon squash in the shade. The bull you can see in the background is made from recycled tools and bits of farm implements and stands in the place that used to be the bull’s pen. If you lift his tail or tickle his balls, a bell rings.

carrots, courgettes, beetroot, onions, runner beans, French beans in trug

Supper tonight, freshly picked from the garden. Carrots, peas, courgettes, beetroot, spring onion (yes, it is enormous), French and runner beans. I shall make HFW’s Half-the-garden-soup but add some potatoes and Feta cheese and call it stew. Supper has been put back three times so far as lorry drivers have rung to say they’ll be coming this evening to collect wheat. Luckily this isn’t a fussy dish that needs split second timing.

bowl of raspberries

Raspberries for pudding. The summer raspberries have just about finished and the autumn fruiting ones are just ripening. Unfortunately, the wasps have also discovered them so the raspberries have to be picked carefully to avoid getting stung.

Sometimes, I take the everyday things for granted but, to quote Evan Davis “It’s not a bad idea to occasionally spend a little time thinking about things you take for granted. Plain everyday things.”


Gorgeous Elderflower Fizz

Every year in late May and early June, the hedgerows on the farm are littered with large saucer shaped elder flowers with their distinctive heady scent. Last year I nearly missed the flowers as the hot weather turned them brown very quickly, so this year I’ve been out picking as soon as the tight buds burst into cream coloured flowers.

I used to make several bottles of elderflower cordial and elderflower fizz each summer, which were always drunk fairly quickly (apart from the odd bottle that got forgotten until it blew the lid off in the middle of the night showering everywhere with stickiness). But nowadays we rarely drink sweet cordials, which called for a rethink. The answer is to make infused water (continued throughout the summer using flowers, fruit and herbs) and a batch of elderflower fizz for special summer days.

Elderflowers are abundant across the UK in field hedges, roadside hedges, the fringes of woodland and wasteground. Pick your elderflowers on a sunny morning before they’ve endured the heat of the day and while they’re still heavy with pollen. Pick only the creamy coloured flowers and leave the flower heads that are turning brown to develop into elderberries. Shake out any insects that are lurking but don’t wash them.

Infused water is ridiculously easy to make and the Rose and Elderflower version looks pretty and tastes good. There’s no sugar, so it’s not sweet and cloying like some elderflower cordials and the taste is floral, but subtle. Sometimes the rose dominates, sometimes elderflower.

Strip the elder flowers from the main stem of three large heads – I don’t bother to remove the flowers completely, but you may wish to – and snip seven or eight large, petals from a scented, unsprayed rose into strips. Put the flowers into a jug, or a jar if that’s your thing, top up with 750ml water, cover and stand in the fridge. After a couple of hours, you’ll have delicately flavoured water. Use more flowers if you favour a stronger infusion or wait a bit longer until you start to drink it. I keep the flowers in the water for no more than a day, so if I haven’t finished the jugful, I strain out the flowers and keep the flavoured water in the jug.

Making infused water means foraging each day for your elderflowers, which can be a bit of a pain. Making a batch of Elderflower Fizz gets your foraging done in one day and then you have a few weeks to enjoy the fruits of your labour.


 

elderflowers


There are numerous commercial versions of Elderflower Presse or Sparkling Elderflower available but elderflowers are so widespread and this recipe is so easy, that it seems a shame not to make your own. Making your own also gives you the chance to vary the flavour a little; try adding some scented rose petals or lemon balm leaves. It’s a particularly English summer drink: floral, delicate and immensely quaffable.

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Elderflower Fizz

Floral, delicate and immensely quaffable drink for summer

Ingredients

  • 20 creamy elderflower heads
  • 700g granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
  • 2 lemons

Directions

  • Put the peel (use a potato peeler) and juice from the lemons in a large bowl with the sugar and vinegar.
  • Strip the elderflowers from the main stems. Discard the stems and add the flowers to the bowl.
  • Add 1 gallon of cold water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or mesh cover (not cling film as it needs to breathe) and stand for 48 hours in a cool place.
  • Strain into bottles. Use either flip top bottles that can withstand the pressure of a fizzy drink or reuse plastic fizzy drink ones.
  • Keep for a week or two as it builds up some fizz. If too much pressure builds, untwist the lid a little to release the pressure and reseal.
Best drunk within 3 months

If you’ve picked your elderflowers, made your Elderflower Fizz and Infused Water and still have some left over, you might be interested in:

Rose & Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Syrup & Cordial

Elderflower Creams

Rose & Elderflower Marshmallows

Jelly Printing with elderflowers


O to be in England

O to be in England

Now that April’s there,

 

Robert Browning

I’ve been sorting through a pile of books and came across two poetry books, each with a poem for every day. I have a fancy to use these books as a prompt for doing something creative each day, though I know it won’t be every day and I’ll probably lose enthusiasm after a while. Or when I get to a difficult poem.

 

‘Home-thoughts, from Abroad’ by Robert Browning is the poem for today, which seems absolutely right on such a beautiful April day. Late April into May is surely one of the best times of year to be out in the English countryside and the fields here look green and fresh, despite the lack of rain (total so far across the whole farm for April = 1 thimbleful). If you plan to visit England, this is the time to come.

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There’s colour all over the farm. Weeds, blossom and wildflowers make a colourful contribution to the table.

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That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Walk across the fields and birdsong fills the air. Rifling through a heap of paper discarded from printing sessions I thought it might be fun to make some collages in my sketchbook, inspired by the poem and my walk today. Turns out that it’s way more difficult than it looks.

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How about you? Enjoying England? Wishing you were here? Or enjoying being somewhere else?