Sep 18 2010

Harvest Time

The vegetable garden enters autumn
Buzzards circle overhead calling to their young; autumn flying lessons have begun. As geese arrive, so house martins and swallows leave. The trees are looking tired; the whole valley resembles a great fruit salad.

It’s been a funny year. A winter of relentless rain, ice and snow, was followed by a devastating spring drought; blazing sunshine but no grass for tired ewes and growing lambs. We fretted, we worried, we moved sheep from field to field following every tiny flush of green. Then rain arrived in August just as the holiday season dawned, lush grass appeared once more, sheep grew fat again. Now autumn days bring mixed fortune. Gentle mizzle soaks fleece and fur. A golden sun warms us briefly as it casts long strange shadows across the hills before slipping from the sky.
It is time for us to take stock, to go through the sheep to select ewes for next years’ breeding and send off hoggs for meat or market. This years lambs are sturdy now, plenty of ewe lamb followers to ensure the future of the breed. Chris has done a fine job. His new companion, Cliff or Gake, so named by our Japanese grandchildren based on some complicated pun, is developing into a strong young ram ready to join Chris for duty at the end of the month.
We plan a whole new chicken complex in the spring; a major undertaking requiring the manhandling of old sheds into the orchard and the creation of yet another anti-fox/badger fortification. Meanwhile all birds have been moved from what I feared was becoming a slum dwelling in the autumn rain. They are now in luxury dry winter quarters in the farmyard. Chicks are growing fast too; their beautiful varied colours tell me they are descendants of my dear old Aruacana chap who vanished several weeks ago.
Despite the draught the wild harvest is prolific. I have never seen such a glut of wild plums in the hedgerow. They glisten like big juicy marbles amongst the little sloe bushes. Their jam is rich and dark but somewhat irksome to make because of all the tiny stones. Finally I gave up with the mouli and simply rubbed them laboriously through a sieve; worth it though for the velvety, unctuous result.
The famous “Dittisham Plum”
Our famous unique Dittisham plums were not such a success this year developing mould overnight in relentless warm August rain. I did gather enough to freeze, make a few pots of jam and the odd flan before they vanished into the grass. Apples trees are bowed low with the promise of a huge harvest in October. With the closure of our local cider press I will have to find another destination for our crop. I cannot bear to see them simply rot in the ground.
The fig trees have also surpassed themselves. I picked thirty fruit on just one day alone last week. Some I poached in vanilla syrup as last year, some I baked and lots simply disappeared immediately with slices of prosciutto. But my best find by far, is a recipe in The Cooking of South West France by Paula Wolfert. The combination of fig, lemon and walnuts is magical. Served with soft cheese it will be an ongoing winter treat.
The delicous figs
French beans are in the deep freeze too; some just blanched, others blanched then tossed in butter with tiny red tomatoes. Tomato blight hit once again this summer destroying most of my crop but little Floridity seems strangely resistant. There will be no potatoes or tomatoes next year as we try to fight the blight once more.
Majestic Cavalo Nero
Cavalo Nero stand majestic in the vegetable garden while carrots, parsnips, beetroot, chard await their turn in the kitchen. And the giant sunflower will soon give up her seeds.
Huge Horse Mushrooms
Huge Horse Mushrooms appear beside the little old barn on the top field, so large that just one makes a substantial meal with a sausage and a fried potato or two. I found parasol mushrooms too. I wasn’t sure so I gave some to my dear Czech friends who fell on them with glee. Confident now I cooked ours and regretted giving so many away! Fry in egg and breadcrumbs says Carluccio, very, very nice indeed.
Friends arrive from Brittany next week, an excuse for another feast or two. I’m planning that butterflied leg of lamb with samphire, lemon and mint again; it was such a success in the summer. I’ll make a Paella and cook a duck. We’ll eat more figs with clotted cream and bake the first quince. I’ll make chicken liver pate to have with bread from our wonderful French patisserie, coals to Newcastle for them, I know but still a treat for us and on our doorstep.
And then it will be time to tackle that pumpkin and make chutney.
“A golden sunflower”
Fig Conserve with Lemon and Walnuts.
Take about sixteen figs or 1 kilo, 2 lemons, 750 grams sugar and 125 grams shelled walnuts, fresh if possible.
Take the zest from the lemons either with a lemon zester or potato peeler. If you use the latter slice the peel into tiny julienne strips. Remove and discard the lemon pith and cut the flesh into slices retaining all the juice. Save pips and put into a little piece of muslin.
Halve the figs removing the tough stem tip.
Make a syrup with the sugar and 300ml water. When the sugar has dissolved add figs, lemon rind and slices and muslin bag of pips (this aids setting)
Cook gently till setting point is reached. Test for this by putting a teaspoonful of liquid on a saucer; put the saucer in the freezer or fridge till cool. If it wrinkles as you touch it the jam is ready. Add the walnuts and stir in thoroughly.
Pot the conserve into small sterilised jars while still hot. Cover and seal. I prefer to use small kilner jars for this recipe. Store the jam in the fridge after opening.

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