Autumn goodness

Everyone looked at me like I was mad when I was asking for just a little rain when it was summer and 30 Celsius every day. Truth is, as much as summer is great with its soft fruit, flowers, sunshine and generally good growing conditions I have always preferred autumn – that moment when you wake up and have to move that bit quicker to the shower so you don’t get too cold. When you have to dig out that thick, woollen jumper in the evening because you don’t want to put the heating on just yet. When you go walking and think it’s a bit chilly so you put on layers but when you’re halfway you find that the golden sun is warming your back so much you can take the top layer off. And the food – game, sloes, damsons, mushrooms, apples, pears, nuts – all my favourites and all of these things I look forward to every year.

So on the first autumn forage of the year (when the mizzle stopped finally) we put on our waterproofs and went to the usual sloe spot…

Blackthorn in fruit

The bushes were full to bursting already! There hasn’t been a frost yet so I will be freezing them so the skins split and they soften enough to do something with – I haven’t quite decided what just yet so they can stay frozen until I do. I measured them and we have 1.4kg so enough to make a couple of things at least.

Young sloes

And a bit further along the path there was a road lined with Hazel. I can’t resist a green hazelnut so we started filling our pockets…and didn’t stop until they were full!

Fresh hazelnuts

I’m thinking a chocolate and hazelnut tart one night this week, and the rest…maybe a stuffing mix or another cake. Will follow up this one with another blog entry when I decide.

The other thing about autumn I like is preserving – jams, chutneys, jellies, pickling. Now my jam making is a bit hit or miss. I’m good with flavours but it’s the setting point that was always tricky for me. I had about two lots of elderberry from 2011 that ended up being thick elderberry syrup. One jar went into ice cream to make elderberry ripple which was lovely, but it was definitely no good as jam! Hence why the lovely, and ever-sensible, man brought me a jam thermometer last year. Much safer. But chutney is an easy one without a thermometer.

Chutney making

So I made some last night with the glut of cherry tomatoes from the terrace pots and some apples from my work boss’ orchard (his wife was kind enough to send me in a bag!) This was enough to make 5 jars…

Chutney in jars

It tasted quite sweet from the saucepan, but still with a kick of vinegar so I’m hoping when it mellows out it will keep the tang and not end up too syrupy. Will let you know the verdict when we open one in a month or so!

Mabel liked having lots of round, rolling fruit in the kitchen…

Mabel plays with an apple

So all in all, a productive autumn weekend – long may they continue. I still have another half crate of apples to use up so it’s either going to be more chutney, or if I can get my hands on the right yeasts then I might put an apple wine on the cards.

I forgot to take pictures of the raspberry tart from Thursday but I did get one of the brownies before they all got guzzled:

brownies

Dark chocolate (72% cocoa) and poached pear. They went down very well indeed. But I think it will be a while before I attempt that many bakes in one week again without taking more time off work! Exhausting (but tasty)!

Hurry up and ripen up!

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I spied these beauties in the garden last night, can’t wait for them to ripen up. There’ll be tomato salads all round; get the mozzarella and basil out! 

Also, massive excitement for me as my squash seems to be getting bigger everyday. I can’t even remember which type of squash it is as the first ones got eaten/squashed so I planted these as a last ditch attempt and they’ve finally done really well. One plant is smaller than the other – they might be different types but the baby plants forming all look the same – yellow and round. I think you’re meant to put the fruits on straw to stop them from rotting where they touch the ground so will look into that as I have no intention of losing them now.

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Must find time to do some more planning for a quick autumn crop and what will over-winter. Maybe a job for the long weekend, that and freezing the last of the blackberries on the garden for a guaranteed autumn full of pies, crumbles and booze experiments.

And finally, Mabel says ‘Hi’. A proper lady as always.

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In full swing…

And so busy with work, garden, and managing to catch some kind of yukky virus that it seems time has flown by and I’ve no time to fit in all the things I want to. I imagined my summer to be full of cordial experiments, baking and being healthy but so far it seems when I just about get one side of life sorted out – seeing family and friends more often, for example – then the balance tips and the rest of the fun and needed elements of everyday life sort of slide by unnoticed. 

But even with the garden suffering from mild neglect we’re getting a few bits and bobs…courgettes and tomatoes abound.

ImageThe chickens are also doing fine – but Sally has gone broody again. I don’t know much about broody chickens or rather, the reasons for it, but possibly something to do with abnormally constant warm temperatures? Anyway she’s happy enough being shunted off the nestbox every morning for a wing stretch and food and drink so we’re not too worried. Even partakes in a snail or two when I go on the hunt…

ImageAnd finally, look what we found in the garden…

ImageA PLUM! On a real, live, plum tree! It’s all overgrown and hidden behind what looks to be a pear tree. Plans are afoot to trim back the undergrowth and in the late Autumn or early Spring we’ll trim it up so it’ll grow back healthier next year.

Oh and one final update. A follow-on from my last post, this is what happened to the first blackberries of the year:

ImageBlackberry and apple crumble, with a twist (home made blackberry brandy, vintage 2012, drizzled on top of the fruit before baking). I can vouchsafe that it was delicious, especially with some fresh custard. 

Next up, deciding what to make with the lb of blackberries now in the freezer; wine, vodka, more pie, jam? Suggestions welcome…

 

 

 

Small scale sowing

Space is quite limited in our little first floor flat so I try and keep as many seeds going on my allocated ‘seed table’ as possible at once. I think each time I plant I keep that old gardeners mantra in my head of ‘one for the slugs, one for the pigeon and one for me’ but all three always come up, I don’t like throwing away healthy plants and I end up with three times as many as I planned for! 

As soon as they go outside and in the ground for some veg I’d generally plant a back up row to be used both in case the seedlings are eaten and also to get some follow-on cropping. It’s always good to have peas and beans that just keep going and going through the summer crop – plus my first lots of beans were sown too early and ended up far too straggly before I got around to putting them in the ground so they might struggle when it comes to production.

Anyway, these last two weeks I’ve been keeping the full size tomatoes inside (Tumbling Toms are already out) also two types of chilli (Serrano and Jalapeno), started nasturtiums and marigolds for companion planting (hopefully this weekend or next they’ll be big enough to get out) and cauliflower. I also have back up courgettes (two have been pulled up/trampled from the first batch) second batch broad beans, and second batch peas, first batch borlotti beans, back up sweetcorn (heaven knows what that’s going to do in such a shady spot) and three more Pumpkin Rouge as my Sweet Dumpling has survived being out, but not the Marina di Chioggia – another mysterious disappearance. 

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I really need to put the courgettes and squash into their own pots now so I can get the lid back on the propagator and give the beans the warmth they need – that’s the trouble with getting 6 different things on one propagator – they all come up at different speeds! But generally it’s warm enough in this room and everything’s definitely germinated so hopefully will catch up soon. 

Next to do: Dig another bed in the garden. Plant out tomatoes. Get beetroot, kale and parsnips in. Move chickens so they don’t get too muddy (again).