Category Archives: Fruit

Please stop….

I just want the garden to stop for a bit while I catch ip with it. Please… whimper…

First, the apples. Oh my lordy, the apples. Apples to the right of them, apples to the left of them, into the valley of apples rode the six hundred … well, me and P with a load of carrier bags. We’ve had heavy apple years, we’ve had light apple years. This year we didn’t have a June drop, more of an August avalanche. Despite that, I have given away 22, yup, twenty-two, completely full, handle-stretchingly full, enormous carrier bags of these,

apples

and have made over twenty jars of chutney, and have filled the downstairs freezer with purée. AND THERE’S THE OTHER HALF OF THE TREE TO PICK.

Incidentally, I have zero idea what this tree is. They are sharpish eaters, sweetish cookers, and mature really quickly once picked. They don’t keep brilliantly, which is a shame considering I have about 4,567,000 tons.

(That is, of course, not accounting for the fact that the meadow beneath this tree was so covered with rotting and freshly fallen apples that we had to scrape them off with spades before strimming the meadow, and that the jackdaws have had so many apples that they are about as fat as dodos and can barely lift off when you go into the garden and shout at them. I swear I can hear them burping.)

And there are two other trees. The ancient cox and the second mystery tree which is a lovely shape but hardly ever produces an apple.

Wrong.

FFS

These were going to be turned into autumn jelly (with hawthorn, sloes, blackberries, rowan berries), but then a friend arrived and I said ‘Would you like some apples?’ expecting her to run away making the sign of the cross as she did so, as has become normal. But she said yes (though in all fairness she did look a bit surprised by the sheer size of the carrier bags I gave her, but hey ho).

I don’t mind, though. There’s the other half of the big tree still hanging on; for some reason the ones on the south side are slower to mature than the more northerly ones. I suspect it is down to exposure, the south side of the tree to some extent protecting the northern side from the full fury of the sea winds.

And, in the meanwhile, the autumn crocuses are springing up in the newly shorn meadow,

autumn crocuses

as are the mushrooms; the squashes are ripening; the greenhouse has been cleared and is full of logs, and we are about to start the great shifting of plant positions. When I’ve cleared a few more million apples off everything.

And I’ve forgotten the two crab apples. Those trees are laden, too. Agh……

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Oh, sod off, winter!

I don’t know, we have spring in November, a whole year’s rain in December and now, March, we have snow. Had snow. Had snow a few miles inland; here we had sleet. Oh, all right, I know, global warming, the scary though temporary ‘achievement’ of the 2% above normal temperature recently (that’s the target which is critical, ahem, and it will be back), melting glaciers – and here I am complaining about it being a bit chilly. But it is.

However, poo to glaciers, here in west Wales we have achieved peak gravel, even though it’s still bedding down and is about as stable to walk on as marshmallow (similar to some glaciers, perhaps). And there was only half a sack left over, too. (Who was right? Hm? Who would that have been? Hm? HMM?)

But it is revolting, cold, crappy, raining, drizzling, nasty, vile, horrible and therefore, in a spirit of generosity, I am sharing my blackberry whisky recipe, as requested on the #gdnbloggers twitter thing a week ago Sunday. Just make sure you know where the recipe is when it’s August or September. I spent so long looking for another scribbled recipe once that the elders I’d located were reduced to sticks and occasional dead leaves.

show

It’s award winning, too, if you count a first place at the village show as an award. I do. After all, if anybody and everybody can describe anything from black pudding to shirts as ‘award winning’ then so can I. Hrrupmf. (It’s the big bottle at the front, with the purple label. What, pray, is the point of a small bottle?)

Crabby today? Moi?

Anyway, you need a tribe of small children, and possibly you need to wear a snood and not be male (these pickers are foraging in WW2, so all the men were away),

blackberry picking in WW2

and end up with a kilo of ripe blackberries.

You then need a couple of huge Kilner or Le Parfait jars – other brands of airtight storage bottles are available – half a kilo of sugar and a litre of whisky. Cheap whisky is just fine; in fact, it’s better. Pick over the blackberries and wash any wildlife off; divide the berries between the jars. Divide the sugar between the jars too, and then slosh in the whisky. Seal the jars well, and then turn them over. Store in a dark place, and turn them a couple of times a week for the first month or so.

I know people who decant their whisky for Christmas, but I prefer to leave mine for longer; the 2015 crop is still in its jars and will remain so until late summer and the foraging of the next lot. I also know people who purée the sodden blackberries and make an ice-cream topping, but I’ve tried that and prefer to put them in the compost.

Drain the whisky carefully, preferably through muslin – and you may need to do this twice. Put it into clean, sterile bottles (an oven at 100 degrees is a good way to sterilise a bottle) and enjoy. It is fabulous over ice, drunk beside a roaring stove while snow falls outside. Just saying.

blackberry whisky

Tried to take a pic with the light shining through to reveal the gorgeous colour, but the light wouldn’t cooperate. Grumble, grumble, chunter. Again. Ahem.

And – if you have easy access to elderberries, which I curiously do not, there’s a recipe for a similar elderberry elixir over on my food blog, Twelve Miles from a Lemon. It’s great for colds, probably because of the high Vit C content. Or maybe it’s the rum.

And sometimes I do manage to forget the weather and the mud aka meadow, because the Viburnum bodnantense is flowering and I just have to go up there for a noseful… squish, squish, oh great, thanks, Next Door’s Cat, ex-mouse, squish…

Viburnum

Incidentally, I haven’t joined in with the tree following meme yet because I can’t decide what tree to follow. I thought it might be my apples, but they’re difficult to photograph. I’m currently auditioning the ginkgo. And grumbling.

Knackered, cream crackered, utterly whacked

Phew.

I’ve been a bad blogger. But I’ve been quite a good gardener, at least in lugging things, cutting things, dead-heading things, demolishing things and not spending a huge amount of money on other things. It’s the time of year, and in some aspects (especially the latter) it will get worse in October. But some jobs are done.

The meadow is gone and the footpath tracks will fade, but for the moment it does look a bit like a patchwork quilt. Not a very good quilt, and one with shaved anthills (oops), but a quilt nonetheless.

meadow gone

Some of the hay got burnt in the giant bonfire, some found its way into my brown bin, some went in the compost and some disappeared, I know not where (actually I do know where, but I’m not saying). There was a heck of a lot to dispose of this year and the strim / leave / use mulching mower option wasn’t possible. There are still a few optimistic butterflies dancing about, and even the occasional cricket calling, but the nights are getting colder and they’d better all cwtch up for the winter. Thinking along the same lines I went shopping for clothes last week and came back with a new doormat and an axe. Well, I need the latter for logs. I also need clothing, but hey.

We had the traditional immense and barely controlled conflagration,

fire1

this time to get rid of the skimmia, among other debris. P is still mattocking roots out, so I’m sure this will be a two-bonfire autumn. We also had the traditional hunt for the baked potatoes which vanished despite the insertion of a metal rod to mark the spot (they vanished because the fire was so hot that the rod disintegrated). Amazingly I failed with another tradition – the generating of complaints from neighbours. Everyone is burning stuff this year.

I’ve been harvesting like mad. The spuds are all up, the shallots and garlic have largely dried off and are in use, the freezers are full of beans and I’m giving extra runners away, the apples are almost all in their new homes (phew and double phew) being turned into chutneys and crumbles by other people as well as by me. I ate too many plums,

plums

and I’m still getting the odd courgette, so they stay a little bit longer. The greenhouse has been cleared, with the last of the tomatoes going into chutneys. Cabbage whites have eaten the kale and purple sprouting broccoli down to the stems, but they’ll be fine once it gets a bit colder.

In the flowery parts of the garden, the deadheading marathon is getting a bit silly and I’m letting it slip. This means that the entire place will be covered in calendula next year, but I shall rootle them out then. I’m rather hoping that the cosmos will set seed, because they are fab.

cosmos

In fact my ‘scatter seeds straight on’ bed has been a huge, huge, hit. The salvias are over now, as are the poppies and the white daisy-like flowers that should have been something else, but the cosmos have more than compensated. It’s interesting – I sowed some separately as normal and planted them out individually as well as scattering the remaining seed here, and yet these have done markedly better. Hmm. I’m certainly repeating the experiment next year and have bought some half-price packets of seeds in Wilkos to that end (larkspur, more cosmos in case they don’t set enough themselves, and a crimson flax).

Next on my target list are the lavenders. The four big ones, the last to flower, are now clearly over but I cannot touch them:

bzzzzz

They are still heaving with bees, bees so overburdened that they can hardly fly, bees so stunned by the abundance that they are incredibly tolerant of my attempts at portraiture. You can hear the noise of the buzzing when you walk round the front of the house, but it does seem to be getting fainter. Slightly fainter. Other wildlife seems equally present, possibly temporarily, at least going by the sheer number of dead things Next Door’s Cat is leaving for me (she’s a rodent specialist, so I’m quite tolerant of her exploits). I opened the shed – aka old ty bach, ex-outside toilet – the other day to get a trug and discovered a dead mouse in it already (tidy cat) which I hurled over the wall into the wildy bit. Thank heavens for the wildy bit, though I do suspect that’s where most of the rodents she finds come from originally. I hope it is, anyway…

Enough. I’ve also been excavating the containers I have on the outside of the garden, along the lane. I planted those up with Geranium macrorrhizum album because I felt guilty about uprooting it and throwing it out – those days have gone – but it didn’t work and so I’ve popped some little violas in (‘lemon blueberry swirl’):

violas

Soooo cute, certainly much cuter than G. mac.

What else? Well, we’ve done some more work on supporting climbers on the gable end, and I’ve bought a new Parthenocissus, henryii, to go up it. The rose hedge by the kitchen has been pruned by the simple expedient of hedge-trimming it (I heard Bob Flowerdew state that prissy pruning was a Victorian invention, designed to keep armies of under-gardeners in work, so I’m going with it). I’ve trimmed the eschallonia – again. I’ve weeded and dead-headed and not committed murder of anything other than a non-performing artichoke, which I think is quite restrained.

And now the foraging season begins. What can I do with these, other than rowan jelly, I wonder?

rowan

I know, P will take them for his rowan wine. The last lot was made four years ago, and is sensational. Apparently. I go for spirits, and have put up blackberry whisky so far. Next the sloe gin and – possibly, if I can find decent ones, always a bit iffy round here – elderberry liqueur. It’s sensational, and very effective against colds. Elderberries are high in vitamin C, after all, though its efficacy could have something to do with the half litre of brandy also used. Yum. Drool. Dribble.

I feel I’ve deserved it, and tomorrow I have to clear out the shed. Who knows what horrors await?

Apple Day? What?

Today is, officially, Apple Day. A day to celebrate the British apple harvest.

Yeah, right. Not in this garden. It’s a shame; I miss my apples. They’re such a wonderful fruit – so useful, so tasty, so celebrated in myths, legends, stories, even going back to the earliest times; so generously abundant. Hm.

The photograph above, like almost all those in this post, was not taken this year. Normally I have something of an apple problem:

This was last year, and not a particularly good one for me, or so I thought. And then we had 2012.

Oh, it was fine in March – that eccentric warm spell brought everything into flower, including the apples.

But most of the insects hadn’t woken up so they weren’t being properly pollinated, and then it got cold. The blossom fell off and even my most prolific tree – above – sat and sulked. Dammit, even the crab apples sat and sulked. They don’t generally do that; they usually have so many apples on that we leave most of them on the trees for the birds, being content with a mere nine or ten large carrier bags bulging with perfect fruit.

So no jars of golden-pink crab apple jelly this year. No freezer full of crumble. Much to my shame, I’m buying apples. Buying, I ask you!

Maybe I forgot to wassail the trees at Christmas? I usually go out and give them a quick toast, and have even done it in snow, but I can’t remember if I did it last Christmas season. I’ve definitely displeased the apple gods, but at least it’s not just me. Forgetting to wassail your trees was always supposed to guarantee a poor harvest, so maybe the whole nation should start doing it again (except in the West Country, where I bet they’ve never stopped). So come Twelfth Night, I’ll be out there with a wee dram. I probably won’t sing to the trees, and I certainly won’t fire a gun up into them – both traditional ways of doing the business – and neither will I herald them with ‘blasts upon a cow-horn’, as one old book recommends. Noise is essential, but I usually manage to create that accidentally by tripping over roots in the dark (it’s best to do this sort of thing in the dark).

Perhaps I stripped the trees too completely? In parts of Yorkshire that’s bad; you’re supposed to leave a couple for the birds (possibly originally for the Fair Folk) and if you don’t, there’ll be trouble… no, it can’t be that superstition coming into play because of the crabs.

And it’s not just the produce I’m missing out on. Take knowing the future, for instance. Everyone knows the old games of fortune telling by means of apple skins, but I don’t imagine an apple from the shops would be quite as – er – knowledgeable as one from my own garden (and anyway I don’t want to know the initial of my future husband; seems a tad uninteresting once you’re over the age of, say, 18).

How about a cure for warts? Happily I don’t need that, but if I did I could just slice an apple in half, rub the wart with both halves, tie them back together and then bury them in the garden. Rheumatism? Apply a poultice of rotten apples (that’s especially effective, as well, if someone’s thumped you in the eye). Bit of a cough? Bake an apple and eat it with honey. Nose too red? Mop it with a decoction of apples. Fancy casting a spell to summon someone to you? Put twelve new pins in an apple and then put it on the fire.

Nah, I just can’t see an apple from Tesco cutting it in the same way. I must remember my whisky, my singing, my 12-bore and my cow’s horn and make a noise around my apple trees this coming January. And if the police arrive, I shall use this post in my defence.

No hedgerow left untouched

There’s something about autumn that always gets me – well, there are lots of things, but a significant one is the prospect of (almost) free food. I am incapable of ignoring the possibilities for jams, chutneys, drinks and simple snacking that a straightforward walk presents.

After all, blackberries are made to be eaten as soon as you see them. Aren’t they?

I have the feeling that it’s all going to waste if I don’t do something with it, that I have a moral duty to get out there and harvest some of it, though I know it’s a rubbish theory. Last year I was a bit late and my favourite sloe location had been stripped. There were a few rather dessicated fruits, but I had to make a hedgerow jelly to eke them out, and couldn’t make any sloe gin as there weren’t enough good sloes. I had some gin left from the year before, and it was phenomenally strong, so all was not lost:

but if I missed another year, I’d run out. This could not be allowed to happen.

You have to hit the right moment with sloes, and one thing I have learned over the last ten years in Gwynedd is that I mustn’t wait for the devil to spit on them here (otherwise known as waiting for the first frost). If I do that: no sloes. It’s not people – well, not entirely; it’s a combination of weather conditions and wildlife.

So in the late burst of Archangel Michael’s little summer we experienced last week, I got out my boots and my basket and went gathering. This year – predictably perhaps, given that it was a superb plum year – the blackthorns were laden. I couldn’t begin to even make a slight impression.

And they were incredibly ripe. Great big fat juicy sloes, all ready and waiting to be picked and made into sloe vodka. Damson vodka has been good in the past, so I thought I’d try it with sloes. Also I had vodka and I’d run out of gin, but hey.

I didn’t even have to reach up high; I didn’t need my stick, I didn’t need to leap over the wall to avoid ‘interested’ and chancy Welsh Black cattle – perfect sloeing, in short.

I still can’t believe how lucky I was, but I think it was some sort of compensation for the 2011 elderberry fiasco. Every year I make an elderberry cordial which is very effective against colds and coughs; could be the ridiculously high Vit C content, could be the half-litre of rum it contains – whatever, it works. This year either I was a bit slow (sorry, agh) off the mark or the elderberries were early, but I kept missing them. When I did get any, they grew grey fur almost immediately, meaning a quick trip to the compost heap rather than the preserving pan. I finally managed to get enough by spotting some as I was driving along and screeching to a halt… phew. So I made the most of some easy foraging.

In the end I was so laden with sloes that I managed to walk past the hawthorns – but they’ll last a little longer. And they are equally beautiful, and equally laden.

I filled all my giant Le Parfait jars and used up all my cheap vodka. I had picked so many sloes that I had to think of something else to do with my bumper crop. Fortunately it’s been a good year for crab apples as well, and I have two trees.

I got out the steps, climbed on the wall of the old pigsty and picked a whole load, and then I picked another couple of carrier bags’ worth for some friends who are trying crab apple wine (exchange is no robbery, or so the saying goes), and there are still lots and lots left for the birds.

They are so beautiful and golden and light up the place, even on the gloomiest day. On a sunny day, you can warm your hands by the bowl:

Sloe and crab apple cheese. Yum.

Well, almost. Delicious with good bread and a nice strong cheddar. Just as well I’ve been saving jars for the past year!

Arrrggggpples…

Quite why I should want another apple tree is beyond me. It’s not as though I don’t have apples. With thanks to Andrew Marvell, it’s not so much ‘stumbling on melons, as I pass…’ as ‘sliding on windfalls, I land on my ass.’ Ahem. Sorry. Its the fumes.

I decided to strip the apple trees, especially as they were in the process of stripping themselves as the remnants of hurricane Katia came barrelling in over the bay, and despite the fact that my two freezers are both full (they’ll empty soon enough). Windy, or what? And while it wasn’t actually raining, there was a weird light and a low haze; it was only later that I realised what it was. Sand and very fine spray. Exactly the right weather to get out the stepladder and go wall-rambling.

Given the slope, it’s just as well that the stone wall is broad enough to stand on. Apart from the middle tree, which is a Cox, I have no idea what my elderly apples are. This top one is a cooker or a sharp eater when very ripe, but the birds usually beat me to the ripest. The bottom one has a hint of russet, and usually produces about six apples. But they’re good. This year, it’s had a fit of the vapours and produced loads. The top tree has done well as usual, but the birds have had most of the good apples from the Cox. I was a bit disappointed initally, but now I’m relieved.

It’s impossible to set the step ladder safely without thumping it into the ground, but P is always up for mountaineering, plastic bag in hand.

Me, I’m a wimp. I pick the ones I can reach without the need for safety ropes and crampons. Initially, P started collecting them in a trug, but it was filling up in no time so we moved on to rather less photogenic supermarket carrier bag. And I had to keep going back to the house for more. And more. They piled up in the garden,

and they piled up in the house,

where I did Triage Stage 2 (Stage 1 was done on the wall – anything too manky was either left for the birds to finish or thrown over the wall into the wildy bit and left for the animals), and redirected a bagfull which had sneaked through Stage 1 to the compost bins.

Several of my friends have expressed an interest in having a few apples, and that’s enough for me  to translate ‘a few’ into ‘a whole carrier bag’. So I’ve sorted them into keepers and those for relatively immediate use, and bagged a lot of the latter up, and have just started doling them out. Even the vaguest of suggestions is enough. B just came to read my electricity meter, for instance – clambered over the apples to get through the room to the meter, innocently said ‘oh, you have got a lot of apples’ – and left with some. It’s safest to say nothing, really. Just pretend they’re not there.

I think we were very lucky. The winds got worse, and the weather deteriorated, and by the time I’d given up work for the day and gone for a restorative walk on the beach to see what I could find to beachcomb in the storm – if anything – the sand was darkening the sky.

And when I got back, most of the apples we left were either down or even more damaged. Now I just need to give away a few more.