autumn oak leaves

early autumn

Autumn is here. Hurrah.

There may be various ways of working out the start of autumn, whether you use the Met Office or astronomical dates or veer towards phenology, guided by the changes in the natural world such as the colouring of leaves and ripening of acorns, but sometimes it’s more personal. Here’s five ways I know that autumn is here.

Lt Forest field early atumn

ONE The countryside is changing colour. From the brown fields where the ground has been cultivated ready for sowing the new wheat crop to the leaves on the trees that are slowly turning yellow, brown and orange.

TWO  I feel drawn to wearing browns and purples. This happens every autumn as catalogues drop unbidden through the letter box featuring leggy models photographed in misty orchards wearing felt hats, tweed trousers and brogues. I resist the urge to emulate them as (a) brown and purple don’t particularly suit me and (b) my legs are at least 30 centimetres too short to carry off the look without appearing to be in fancy dress for a war-time drama.

Neck warmer

THREE  I start knitting. I thought it would be good to knit a neck warmer using the wool that I dyed with plants gathered from around the garden and farm. A sort of knitted story rather like the printed book I made in the spring. It would have been better if I’d worked out how long to make it rather than just cast on stitches until I got fed up (it winds around my neck three times and there’s still a lot of slack). Having decided to knit in the round, it would also have been better if I’d untwisted at Row 3 when I realised my error instead of thinking it wouldn’t matter. Actually, by the time it’s wound around and around, it doesn’t show. Not too much anyway. And yes, it does appear to contain brown and purple.

FOUR The Autumn Menu for The Dinner Party Collective is published. There are recipes for Vegetable Dips, Boeuf Bourguignon and Blackberry Tart together with suggestions for wines to accompany them. Just the thing for evenings around the table with friends. Nothing pretentious or fussy, just good autumn food.

FIVE  The kitchen reeks of vinegar or sugary fruit as saucepans filled with chutneys and jams boil away on the cooker. I know that I do not need to lay in stores for the winter like the squirrels that I watch pilfering our walnuts from the tree. For goodness sake, I live half a mile from a supermarket that’s open twenty-four hours a day. But there seems to be some sort of primitive urge to stock the pantry shelves for the winter and anyway, I always plant more tomatoes than we can eat fresh and  I cannot bear to see the fruit fall from the trees to lie rotting on the ground. And I can’t walk past blackberry bushes day after day without stopping to pick a few to drop into an apple crumble. And a few to make jam. And a whole lot more for Blackberry Gin. And blackberry chutney. And blackberry leather …

How do you know that Autumn has arrived? Or maybe you don’t notice or even care. Do tell.

 


July wildflower walk

Simple pleasures for July

Eating vegetables from the garden every day.

beetroot

We’re in that blissful period when there’s enough vegetables for meals but before the summer gluts of courgettes, tomatoes and runner beans.

digging new potatoes

The asparagus and broad beans have finished but we’re eating sweet carrots and thinnings of beetroot and we scrabble in the dirt to lift the new potatoes, so far unsullied by slugs or scabs.

cherries from garden

Picking fruit

It’s a bumper year for cherries. Last year we had a crop of just three cherries that we watched slowly change colour. And then they disappeared. Just as they were almost ready. This year we netted the tree more carefully and have been picking cherries by the bowlful along with blackcurrants, gooseberries and loganberries while out in the fruit field we’ve started to pick raspberries for Raspberry Gin.

baking tins

BAKING BREAD

In July we light up the outdoor oven, though it always takes me a couple of sessions to get back into the different way of cooking. The pizzas were successful, cooking in three or four minutes with a crispy base and bubbling hot topping but the loaf of bread I put into the oven afterwards was less successful because I didn’t let the oven cool down enough. The base was blackened and inedible so I sliced off the bottom, scooped out the middle to make breadcrumbs and put the top into a slow oven (indoors) to dry  out so that I can use it as a bowl. In theory. Maybe.

There have also been experiments with Devonshire Splits, which I’ve started to make instead of scones because they taste so good, especially when eaten with cream and freshly picked strawberries.

cow parsley gone to seed

ENJOYING THE COUNTRYSIDE

A lack of rainfall this year, coupled with a few hot days last week has tipped the countryside from green to yellow. The wheat crops are already turning colour, the oilseed rape is dying off and the cow parsley in the verges has run to seed.

being creative

I’ve been trying some different screen printing techniques and doing more jelly printing. And I’ve been dyeing wool and fabric. With beetroot and rose petals. Hmm. I think I’ll stick to printing.

simple pleasures for july

What are your simple pleasures for July?


rhubarb

rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

Do extras in films really mutter rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb when they’re pretending to have a conversation? Whether they do or not, meals here are a bit rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb.

I like to have a clump of rhubarb in the garden that, with little effort on my part, reliably pops up every year. First the tiniest spear emerges, followed by a bright green crinkly leaf that gradually unfolds as the rhubarb rises from the ground.

We seem to have two different varieties; one produces long, slim deep pink stems and the other stout, green stems with just a touch of red that grow almost as thick as my wrist if I leave them for too long.

rhubarb
Both varieties are doing very well at the moment so I’m cooking rather a lot of rhubarb. Mostly I just mix it with some sugar and a couple of tablespoons of water and bung it in the oven for 15 minutes to make a compote. The compote can be eaten on its own, with yoghurt or folded into a custard and cream mixture to make a fool, though I only use the red rhubarb for that as the green stems make a rather sludgy looking fool.  I’ve frozen plenty of rhubarb crumbles so that on cold winter days I can quickly heat them up to to eat surrounded by a moat of custard.

Here’s five more ways to use rhubarb.

1. Rhubarb with Strawberry Gin.

Nigel Slater has a recipe for cooking rhubarb in sloe gin, which makes a gloriously deep coloured dish. This variation is pinker and the strawberry taste shines through making it a little more summery.

Chop 750g rhubarb into short lengths, toss into a glass dish with 100g caster sugar and 120ml of Strawberry Gin. I cook it in a hot oven (about 220C) for 15 minutes (plus another five minutes if I’m using the thick stemmed variety) until the fruit is tender though NS recommends a good forty minutes at 160C. Eat warm or cold.

2.Rhubarb and Custard Cake.

Margot posted a recipe for a delicious looking Berry and Custard Cake but as I have no berries, I substituted rhubarb. I used only 300g rhubarb as I thought it might be a bit soggy with more. This is a wonderfully forgiving cake if you (a) forget to add the eggs so have to take the tin out of the oven and tip the mixture back in the bowl and (b) try to take it out of the tin before it’s cooled and then gather up the sloppy custardy mess and plonk it back.

3. Rhubarb Jelly.

rhubarb jelly recipe
4. Rhubarb Bitters

A subtle aromatic bitters to add a little joy to your lemonade and lime. Find my recipe here.

5. Rhubarb Flatbread

rhubarb and sesame flatbread

I was looking for different ways to use up the rhubarb and came across Johanna’s
Rhubarb and Raspberry Foccacia at Green Gourmet Giraffe . A little more searching and I turned up all sorts of variations. The addition of sesame seeds comes from The Shed: The Cookbook

This is surprisingly good with smoked mackerel or ham and I’d happily eat this warm for breakfast.

rhubarb flatbread recipeRhubarb Flatbread Recipe

 Next on the list is Rhubarb Relish and possibly raw rhubarb in a salad, though I’m not convinced about the raw rhubarb. Do you eat raw rhubarb?

 


cow parsley

Simple pleasures for May

1 Take a walk outside.

public bridleway Slamseys Farm, Great Notley

 

In May, the English countryside is at its best. Everywhere is lush and verdant so that looking across the fields it seems that every shade of green is featured. Cow parsley fills the verges, the birds are singing and some days the sun shines too.

2 Smell the blossom.

apple blossom

The crab apple tree is so smothered in blossom that it looks like a bride on her wedding day but my favourite blossom in the garden is this pink blossom on the apple tree.

3 Visit the seaside.

Slamseys Rose Gin

The seaside out of season is a very different place to the seaside in the middle of summer being less crowded and quieter. And colder. This week, we dragged an Australian teenager to the Essex seaside at Mersea Island and I fear she was less than impressed. The tide was out so the view from the beach hut was of grassy sand, an expanse of mud leading to the water and a decommissioned power station and a wind farm across the estuary. Not quite Forty Baskets Beach. But we still dug holes and made sand castles on the beach, ate fish & chips and took home a pint of the tastiest prawns for supper.

Please excuse the product placement. We took the opportunity to take some photos of Beth’s gin and seem to have taken none of the sea.

4 Make

washing line bowl

Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth at http://www.mrsthomasinatittlemouse.blogspot.co.uk

Make a basket like Elizabeth’s beautiful washing line baskets. At last I’ve found a way of using up all those pesky scraps of fabric that are stuffed into bags. I hoped that one day I’d find a use for the little fabric cords I made last year and finally I’ve found it by using Elizabeth’s technique to make a miniature basket.

miniature basket made with fabric cords

Naturally, the tiny basket is of little more use than the bare cords but I tell myself, it’s all about the process, rather than the finished object. Next on the list is a full sized version using washing line.

5 Spend time with family and friends.

Because, honestly, isn’t that the best pleasure in life?

 

 


Blackthorn - sloes destined for Slamseys Sloe Gin

Five for Friday – the spring edition

Five photos from the farm this week.

Around the fields, the first froth of white blossom is filling the hedges. In the garden the cherry plum tree just beats the blackthorn, but on the farm the blackthorn bushes are always the first to flower followed by the hawthorn.

blackthorn hedge

Blackthorn blossom forming

We have lots of sloe bearing blackthorn bushes growing in the hedges around the farm, which isn’t surprising as we live on Blackley Lane and the name of our farm is thought to derive from the Old English for “enclosure of the sloe (tree) hill”. We plant new hedges most years somewhere on the farm and always include plenty of blackthorn, especially as Beth needs a ready supply of sloes to make her Slamseys Sloe Gin. The photo in the header is the hedge that was planted three years ago to form the boundary for part of the Slamseys Drinks fruit field. Follow this link to see what it looked like three years ago.

blackthorn flowers

Blackthorn Flowers

Through the winter, the blackthorn bushes cut a dark silhouette with their tough, black branches tipped with long sharp thorns and then in spring, before the leaves appear, tiny white buds form that burst into blossom.

Once the blackthorn flowers have been pollinated by insects, they’ll develop into tiny round green fruits known as sloes. Through summer the sloes grow bigger, gradually turning purple, then develop a blue bloom and finally as the cold winter sets in, they turn a glossy black colour and are ready for picking. These sloes are incredibly astringent, but make a fine liqueur when steeped in gin.

According to Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, “a handful of the flowers infused, is an easy purge; and, if taken in wine and water, is excellent to dispel windy colic.” I’ve read that you can make an almond flavoured syrup by immersing enormous amounts of flowers into a sugar and water solution but I shall give this a miss because (a) I don’t need an almond flavoured syrup (b) it will take forever to pick the flowers and (c) I don’t need purging (easy or otherwise).

crystallised violets, polyanthus and blackthorn flowers

Crystallised Flowers from the fields and garden

I also read that the flowers can be crystallised but I found them too fragile. Can you see the stalk with one petal and some stamens? (It’s halfway down on the right).  That’s all that’s left of the blackthorn flower. The book suggested that the crystallised blackthorn flowers could be used to decorate a cake for a spring wedding. Quite frankly, it would be madness to consider that plan for longer than a second.

my favourite duck

My favourite duck off on an adventure.

Known as The Brown Duck because I’m not very good at naming things. Following a request for some ducklings, on Sunday I handed over a dozen duck eggs to hatch in an incubator as none of my ducks or hens were broody. Typically, by Wedneday morning one of my ducks had decided to sit on a nest of eggs. However, the eggs in the incubator stand more chance of hatching as this duck sits every year with varying degrees of success. Sometimes I think she just does it to keep away from the drakes for a month and I can’t say I blame her.

newly planted Christmas trees at Slamseys Farm

Row upon row of newly planted Christmas trees.

These Nordman Fir trees are only about 30 centimetres tall so they have a fair bit of growing to do before they’re cut down to sell as Christmas trees, probably in 2022, if they aren’t eaten by rabbits or muntjac deer, die from disease or grow a funny shape.

I do love this time of year. So much promise of things to come.