Autumn is creeping in. The leaves on the trees are just beginning to change colour, the first hints of yellow and gold appearing as a prelude to the riot of russet, bronze and purple to follow. The hedgerows are filled with sloes, their beautiful blue blushed skins belying the astringent flesh within and the apples are at their juiciest best. The days are cooler and it feels like summer is finally over.
It’s time to pack away sandals and summer dresses; to pick the last blackberries and raspberries; to shelve this blog until I regain my enthusiasm for it; to make chutney; to make plans for adventures; to find a new knitting project; to take long walks in the autumn sunshine; to make the most of my favourite season.
There is a restlessness as the seasons shift and a need for change.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next 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.
Raspberry Ripple Ice-Cream
A simple to make fresh tasting ice-cream
• 200 g Fresh Raspberries
• 600 ml Double Cream
• 397 g Tin Sweetened, Condensed Milk
• 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
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.
Push the raspberries through a sieve, which will give you a ruby coloured puree.
Whip the cream until it’s floppy and then add the condensed milk and vanilla extract, continuing to whip until it’s incorporated.
Pour in the raspberry puree and swirl through with a knife to give a ripple effect.
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.
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.
The wheat heap is slowly building in the barn. Always a good sight to see.
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.
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.
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.”