Sep 21 2016

Wooodpeckers and Chutney!

Suddenly our shadows lengthen as Millie and I climb the hill to check the sheep. The sun sinks lower day by day. Cobwebs glisten in the morning light by the back door. Geese fly by in huge noisy squadrons, house martins line up on the wires and leave. There’s a chill in the morning air. Autumn has arrived
And so has Western Power Distribution; oh, thank goodness the birds have left!

“When’s the tarmac lorry arriving” says our neighbour with a wry smile. He’s spotted our devastated fields from his farm across the valley. He’s seen Steep Field, the name is explanation enough, a motorway ploughed right across it. Huge diggers have levelled the ground to make way for monstrous machines to trundle back and forth.

Holes, taller than a man, have been dug, rocks and boulders flung sideways, earth moved! No wonder all local building is of stone, what else to do with it!

“Woodpeckers, is it really woodpeckers?” I ask the digger driver hesitantly ”only my neighbour said…..”
He smiled “Yes, they cause us awful problems. They drill away at the poles looking for insects, get right inside sometimes. Then the poles become so badly damaged we have to replace them. They’re no longer safe to carry the huge weight of the electricity cables.”

He’s talking about the entire power supply to Dartmouth; all because of beautiful little woodpeckers. The great spotted, the lesser spotted and the green woodpecker; we often watch them all with delight as they feed on the poles or hang from our bird feeder, their wonderful colours glistening in the sun. Till now we had no idea of the damage they do. Can it be true?

Well, yes it is. The last weeks have proved it so. For days now a team of men have been going aloft in huge cherry-pickers skilfully erecting pylons and swinging cables weighing tons across the sky. We watch in horrified fascination as our farmland is turned upside down, the landscape changed overnight. Hurriedly we move sheep up onto the highest fields and confine the donkeys to barracks. And the whole valley resonates with the constant whirr of mighty machines and men’s voices raised above their rumble.

How will they put it all back? They promise they will restore everything: replace fencing, fill the vast craters, level the ground, re-seed, plant new trees. I wait in wonder and make chutney to keep out of the way! I will never take electricity for granted again!

Tomato Chutney

After a wonderful tomato crop, blight suddenly arrived in the greenhouse. It spread from plant to plant like wild fire, devastating everything almost overnight. I quickly picked all the remaining sound fruit before pulling up the withering plants and burning them. I made tomato sauce and roasted tomatoes with olive oil and basil and put them in the freezer. More are sitting in the kitchen in a basket waiting to ripen.

The rest are chutney. It is so simple to make and will cheer up a Ploughman’s Lunch right through the winter.
Though I search for a new recipes year by year I always seem to return to Rosemary Hume in my battered old ConstanceSpry Cookery Book! So simple and so good:

3kg sliced tomatoes         350 g sultanas large piece of root ginger chopped
I kg chopped apples          30g salt generous litre cider vinegar
I kg chopped shallots       I kg brown sugar

Put all the ingredients in a large preserving pan. Simmer gently for a couple of hours till thick and delicious. Stir occasionally to make sure it’s not sticking. If it is, turn down the heat.
Then pot up, cover and store for at least 2 weeks before eating.

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