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

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.”


Last of the Summer Roses

The roses in the garden are reaching the end of flowering with more dead heads than flowers and green rosehips forming. They’ve lasted well this year, but along with most of the flowers in the garden, they’re past their best for this summer.

rose petals

Each year there’s a bit of a battle between Beth and I to see who can pick the roses first.

I use a few petals to make Rose Petal Jam, flavour milk jellies and syllabubs or to make a pink hued lemon squash . This year, my favourite use for rose petals has been in a Turkish Delight Posset, so called only because I associate rose flavour with Turkish Delight. Possets are incredibly easy to make and delicious to eat though being little more than cream and sugar aren’t an everyday pudding. Unfortunately.Slamseys Rose Gin

Meanwhile, Beth picks buckets of rose petals for her Rose Gin. If you follow Slamseys on Instagram, you may have noticed we have regular gin tastings when we try cocktails, taste new flavours or re-evaluate the existing range. Last week, we sampled the first 2016 batches of Rose Gin and Elderflower Gin, concluding  that while equal measures of Rose Gin and Elderflower Gin, shaken with ice and a good squeeze of lime juice makes a delightfully floral drink, Elderflower Delight is hard to beat on a sunny evening.

skyfall wheat

As the garden tips from midsummer abundance to straggly plants and seedheads, we wait for the wheat and barley to ripen on the farm. Every day, the weather forecast is listened to on the radio, watched on television and then checked on the internet in the hope that one of them will predict dry sunny days. Ears of wheat are rubbed between hands, the chaff blown away from cupped palms and the grains bitten to see if they’ve hardened. The harvest contractors are consulted to check where we are on their schedule and anticipation builds that harvest might soon start. Maybe just a few days to wait. Then a night of rain sets everything back and the routine starts again.

Yesterday, Bill took the moisture meter down from the shelf, which is always a sign that harvest is very imminent and after testing some barley, declared it should be ready at the beginning of next week. However, the only way into these fields is through an old farmyard that the owner has developed into a range of smart offices and negotiating first an enormous combine through the tightly packed car park and then a succession of tractors and trailers is rather tricky. As a consequence, these fields are only harvested at the weekend, when the car park is deserted, and so Bill has to decide whether to harvest on Sunday when the barley may not be quite ready or wait until the following weekend, when yield and quality may have fallen or the contractor may not be available or it might rain.

Decisions, decisions.

Elderflower Delight

Oh, sod it. Pass the gin.

 

Turkish Delight Posset

This is a rich dessert that will serve four, though I often put it into shot glasses accompanied by a shortbread type biscuit, in which case it will easily stretch to six.

300 ml double cream
50g caster sugar
Rose petals
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons Elderflower Gin*

Snip the rose petals from the flowers leaving behind the tough base of each petal. I use one or two roses depending on their size and how scented they are, so use your own judgement on how subtle you want the taste to be.

Put the cream, sugar and rose petals into a pan, stirring to dissolve the sugar and bring slowly to the boil. Boil for 3 minutes and then remove from the heat. Whisk in the lemon juice and elderflower gin, strain into a jug and leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Pour into small glasses or dishes and chill for at least four hours.

 

*Replace with Elderflower Cordial for a non-alcoholic version

 

 

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Essex huffer

meals in fields

During harvest, meals become moveable feasts both in location and timing. At regular intervals through the day, empty flasks and cold boxes are dumped on the shelf in the grain store to be replenished.

Food has to withstand the rigours of bumping up and down on tractors as they rush down rough tracks and be easily pulled from the cold box and eaten while waiting for the next load. It has to be chunky and filling; indeed, glancing in the cold boxes you might be forgiven for thinking that you’d slipped back a few decades. I might start off with imaginative offerings but I soon fall back on old fashioned foods like Scotch Eggs, slabs of fruit cake and hefty huffers, firmly compressed to hold in the fillings.

Everyone seems to like something sweet in their cold box, even if they normally declare an aversion to puddings and cakes. One of Celia’s Butterscotch Bars* is always a hit and this year I’ve fiddled with the recipe a little to create a Harvest Bar packed with extra fruit and nuts, which I pack for the late evening shift when everyone needs a little extra oomph.

Sometimes I use a mixture of plain and milk chocolate chips, sometimes just plain. The nuts tend to be a combination of whatever packets are started; last time I used 100g pecans and 40g almonds but I’ve also used walnuts, Brazil nuts and unsalted cashews.

Harvest Bars

harvest bars recipe

  • 250g butter
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teasp vanilla extract
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 200g chocolate chips
  • 140g roughly chopped nuts – such as pecans, walnuts, almonds
  • 100g raisins

Blend together the butter and sugar, beat in the egg and vanilla extract.

Stir in the remaining ingredients and spread out evenly in a baking tin approximately 30 x 21 cms that you’ve lined with baking parchment.

Cook for about 45 minutes at 150C fan oven for firm bars or ten minutes less if you want squidgy bars. In the AGA – 10 minutes in the roasting oven with the cold shelf in and then 50 minutes in the simmering oven.

Leave to cool in the tin and then cut into bars or squares.

Are you a follower of recipes or do you tweak and alter? Some people get very upset when someone changes their recipe, which I find hard to understand.

Also, any suggestions for slightly more exciting meals to take to the fields would be more than welcomed (especially by those eating them).

*Such is the popularity of Celia’s Butterscotch Bars that I have passed on the recipe to many others and one of my sons has declared that they are on his list of “Last Supper” foods.


Harvest 2015

combining wheat 2015

Step outside the back door and you know that it’s harvest time. First the unmistakable dusty smell of harvest, then the steady noise of the combine in a distant field and the roar of the tractors driving into the yard …

emptying wheat trailer

… followed by the bang of the trailer tailgate as they empty their load of wheat.

wheat harvest 2015

It is a slightly fraught time of year, when everything seems to be done at a run, tempers run short and the weather forecasts consulted and sworn about more than usual.

harvest rolls

Thankfully, I’m no longer required to drive tractors and corn cart but have slipped into the role of chief gofer, provider of refreshments and soothing influence.

harvest bars

I am more suited to some of these roles than others.