Michaelmas Day

Today (September 29th) is Michaelmas Day, one of the four historic quarter days, when traditionally farms change hands and farm rents are paid. The wheat harvest has finished and the ground is ready for next year’s crop, making Michaelmas Day a natural break in the farming calendar.

Michaelmas Day 2018 has been a wonderful day, with blue skies and sunshine.

The perfect day to take a walk in the countryside.

To enjoy the changing colours of the leaves on the trees …

… and the scarlet splashes of the haws on an old gnarled hawthorn tree.

To make a note that the crab apples need picking if I’m to make Spiced Crab Apples this year.

There’s time to stop and talk to horses.

To marvel at the Old and New as vapour trails from the planes headed for Stansted Airport criss cross over the bright blue sky above ancient trees.

To wonder why another lone sunflower has appeared. In the summer, one lonely sunflower popped up in the middle of one of our fields of barley and now this one is growing in our neighbour’s strip of cover crop. Maybe someone has been wandering around with a handful of sunflower seeds, tossing them willy nilly into the fields. Who knows?

According to some, a clear, sunny Michaelmas day means  a dry, freezing winter ahead.

We shall see.

making hedgerow gin

hedgerow gin recipe

Folklore has it that blackberries shouldn’t be picked after Old Michaelmas Day on 10th October because that’s the day that the Devil spits on the blackberries. Apparently, when the Devil fell from Heaven on Michaelmas Day he landed in a thorny bramble thicket and this is his revenge. Whether you believe the story or not, blackberries are certainly coming to the end of their season and now that the weather has turned a bit damper the berries will rot even quicker.

We have just about tired of eating blackberries; after weeks of alternating autumn fruiting raspberries and blackberries for pudding each day, the family were beginning to mutiny so making Hedgerow Gin seems a good way to use the last of the blackberries with the hawthorn berries, rose hips and sloes that are now in the hedgerows.

Hedgerow Gin is a wonderfully autumnal drink and is easy to make. Simply add the fruit to a wide necked jar with the sugar and spices, pour in the gin, put the lid on and give it a good shake. Shake the jar once a day for a week and gradually you’ll see the clear gin turn a reddish purple colour. After a week, hide the bottle in a dark cupboard and leave it there for a couple of months at least. If you’re desperate to drink it for Christmas then strain and bottle it, but it will be better if you let it sit a bit longer and save it for next autumn. If you don’t like gin, then use vodka or sherry. Don’t throw away the strained fruit, but tip it into a saucepan with some water and jam sugar to make a jar of Hedgerow Jelly.

We drink Hedgerow Gin (along with Sloe Gin and Blackberry Gin) by the thimbleful on cold evenings and I pour a spoonful into the top of bottles of Elderberry or Blackberry syrups and cordials in the hope that they improve the keeping qualities, though I may be deluding myself.

Now that the evenings are drawing in and the sunny September days have been replaced by a decidedly cooler October it may just be time to dig out last year’s bottle of Hedgerow Gin and have a little taster.