Aug 28 2018

Summer’s End


Be careful what you pray for!

I watch in fascination as a high wind drives sheets of rain horizontally across the valley. Trees bend double. Then suddenly the wind drops and thundery rain threatens to engulf me. Encased in my winter waterproofs, hood pulled down over eyes, I struggle with Millie up to the yard on this wild, wet, windy August Sunday morning to feed animals before church.

The chickens will have to stay in their shed. Their run is already beginning to turn to a mud slide. Good thing I saved all sorts of old deliciousness for them when I cleaned out the deepfreeze earlier this week! It is nearly time to move them back to their winter quarters in the farmyard where they can spend their days roaming free in the fields, provided of course, that M. Reynard has moved on to pastures new.

New house!

I must give the donkeys plenty of straw and shut them in their big barn out of the torrent. These desert animals are not waterproof like their equine cousins and their feet soak up moisture like sponges.

I fill their trough with straw and they nuzzle me gratefully before tucking in. The new boys have settled in now and dear old Nutmeg has taken on a new lease of life with her feisty, affectionate new companions.

Christos & Tiny Freddie

Millie and I return to the house soaking wet and covered in straw! Summer seems to have come to an abrupt end but the harvest continues. Dittisham plumbs came and went very fast. A mixture of extreme heat and sudden light showers caused them to rot on the trees. But a row of plum jam sits in the larder and a few bags are stashed away in the freezer for winter crumbles and plum tart.

Dittisham Plums

It is the figs that are beating me right now. No sooner had I poached a batch in syrup than another crop appeared: great big fat Brown Turkey’s, quite delicious and a special treat. Thank goodness they freeze so well!

Brown Turkey

Beans are already over. It was a race to pick and freeze as the prolonged summer drought accelerated their demise. And courgettes turned into giant marrows overnight in the searing heat; a bonus now for hungry chickens. But despite this, a good crop of little fellows found their way in to many meals and, of course, the deep freeze too.

Tomatoes continue to amaze! Such a fantastic crop this year, and all tasting quite sublime as they gloried in the extreme greenhouse temperatures. One huge “Orange Wellington” will make a lunch for two topped with chopped basil, salt and pepper, a touch of Virgin Olive Oil and a slice of “Almond Thief” sour dough bread from the bakery in Dartington or Sally’s Deli in Dartmouth; delicious! And the little Sun Cherry chaps make a wonderful salad. Even the strange “Indigo Blue” improved as they ripened.

Indigo Blue

Kings of Colour, Green Zebra and still more Orange Wellington go into the oven with courgettes, onions, shallots and garlic. Cooked gently till soft I let them cool then freeze them  for a myriad of winter meals. They will become lunchtime soups, sauce for pasta suppers, an accompaniment to quickly fried fish. They will enrich stews instead of the ubiquitous tinned- toms, cheer up sausage and mash on a cold November evening and join those frozen beans to accompany some of our own Whiteface Dartmoor lamb: no end of possibilities!

Five wethers went off to the butcher recently. I wondered whether my regular customers would still be interested in these vegan, vegetarian fuelled times. But within an hour on the phone my fears were unfounded and I almost forgot to save enough for ourselves! It seems that people do still put huge store by the provenance of their food despite all that we read in the press. And I do have to say that Whiteface hogget, properly bred, fed, butchered and cooked is not called Angel Meat on its native Dartmoor for nothing, provided, of course, you are a meat eater!

Lambs in Pastures New!

All the fields are topped at last and swathes of rich green grass are revealed as the drought burnt sward is cut away. Ewes and their newly shorn lambs race through gates to get to lush pastures new at last. We can almost see the grass grow in the warm rain, so good after weeks and weeks of staring helplessly at a brown parched landscape.

Mothers relax

As I climb the hill I turn my face to the sky and feel the warm stinging raindrops run down my neck; a strangely wonderful sensation! Relief floods over me as I look across the greening valley, Dartmoor in the distance, all restored once more. Sheep and cows graze contentedly on the hills all about me, house martins swirl around above my head feeding on a host of insects and preparing for their long journey south. Buzzards cry as they ride the thermals over the hills. All is a reminder, once again, to trust in the healing power of nature

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