Jul 23 2004

July: Harvest begins

Trug2

The June sun baked down on us in an unseasonable heatwave. The grass turned brown and the sprinkler whirred endlessly as I struggled to keep vegetables and flowers alive. Frequent seed sowings in the polytunnel failed as seedlings fried as they germinated! And then the weather changed. Storms raged for days on end. Rain and wind lashed the valley. Paul sailed to France, and I struggled through the gale force winds to check the sheep on the top of the hill. The dogs were even reluctant to join me.

Rose petals filled the air as they were stripped from the huge white climbers by the pond. Trees bent double, the stream swelled as the water poured off the parched cracked earth. Branches came down up the valley and power cuts followed.

I kept donkeys and chickens inside out of the weather but nevertheless the badger paid two disastrous visits in the same week. Blood and feathers every where, my Aracuana broodies, such rare pretty chickens, gone just as the eggs were about to hatch. Just one flustered terrified hen with one little chick escaped. Bantams that I’ve had for years massacred too, one forlorn little lady left, her cockerel and off-spring stolen from a stone barn. The hungry creature burrowed under door, wire fence and concrete blocks, bodies removed to a nearby set were the cubs doubtless feasted. Sad though it is, we must continue to find a way to live here together. I share the valley with badgers and foxes, buzzards and innumerable other beautiful birds. Squirrels, rats and mink abound too, which I find harder to welcome!

chuck
Piggy-back chick

But despite all this destruction, Saturday found me at Newton Abbot Poultry Sale buying two beautiful hens each with a clutch of chicks. Two Welsummer laying hens, and four little White Sussex poults came home with me too. The rest of the weekend was spent housing them safely.

We have a respite now from the storms. Breeze, cloud, sun, showers following each other in rapid succession day in day out. The extremes of heat and wet have changed the landscape early this year. Hedges have grown up hiding familiar landmarks, the lanes have become furry green tunnels only to be shaved close by huge cutting teeth mounted on the back of tractors. The grass in the orchard is suddenly three feet high, it seems like only minutes ago wild flowers covered the ground between plumbs and apples. Last summers drastic pruning of the plumb trees seems to have eradicated the silver leaf which threatened to kill all the trees. But this means this year’s crop will be light. medlar2On the other hand, the Medlar and Quince are laden with fruit to look forward to later. Lots of potential for jellies and cheeses there!

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sweet peas

Remarkably, I have the best sweet peas ever. I saved seed from last year and have an abundance of long stemmed, sweet smelling flowers which somehow survived the buffeting. peas2Not so successful are the peas, mange-tout, turned tough and leathery through lack of water, are now swelling with regular peas. I left them to see what would happen and they are surprisingly good. Broad beans got similarly battered but we’ve enjoyed a small but delicious crop. French and runner beans are late, the heat held them back too. shallotShallots on the other hand look fat and bronzed already, they obviously thrived under the sun.

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jam

I was too late to get the strawberry plants into the new fruit cage this year. So I took a chance and covered them with a piece of black netting from the farmyard and had the best crop ever. I even made a little jam, whisking a few away before the family devoured the lot! Gooseberries are ready to pick and the black, white and red currants, now safely protected from the birds are looking very promising. New raspberry canes are a little sad but they’ve given us a few bowls full. Better next year, I hope

Beautiful French apricots arrived in the market just as the elder burst into flower so I made more jam. The elderflower scent seems to lift the flavour of the apricots to new heights. Its wonderful with gooseberries too, but the blossom is nearly over now and tiny green berries are beginning to form. They’ll be ripe in November in time for the game season!

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tomatoes

Tomato plants are heavy with trusses of fruit gradually beginning to ripen. The delicate flavour of home grown tomatoes never fails to surprise me, they simply bear no resemblance to those bought in a shop. I’m really not sure why. I wonder if it is the variety, the cultivation, the time between harvest and distribution? Whatever it is, the taste of a tomato straight from the plant is unbeatable.

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courgettes

Courgette are in abundance now too. They of course love the rain and swell almost before my eyes. If I’m too slow I have a glut of marrows. Chicks love them though!

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pickling

So the pickling begins. I supplement what I have in the garden with vegetables from the market. Some cauliflower and celery for Piccalilli, and sweet peppers, baby carrots and spring onions go into the spiced courgette.

wholepickle2

I experimented with one over-large, round courgette. I hollowed it out and salted it in the usual way, and filled it with chopped, salted mixed vegetables and immersed it whole into boiling spiced vinegar. If it holds together it may make a striking accompaniment for a winter feast of cold meats. Confit of duck perhaps, or more likely cockerel!

Bottling, pickling and preserving will continue now as summer leads into autumn, and stores are put together for the winter months. Nothing pleases me more than an Autumn store cupboard and larder filled with jams and chutneys, pickles and jellies, confit and rilletes.

steepfield2

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “July: Harvest begins”

  1. Oliver Pitton 13 Aug 2004 at 3:59 pm

    Hi Sally it is me, what is your email as I have pics from the party, off to thailand for 2.5 weeks so will be eating as much as possible in all the street markets.

    Oli

  2. Evaon 16 Jun 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks for your elderflower cordial recipe and all these others lovely yummy recipes on your blog site!!!!!
    It’s always a pleasure to read it, and- I am not afraid to say salivate over the recipes and beautiful photos.

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