Fruits of my labour

So much work, such little jars!

It is gloomy-grey and pouring with rain outside. The conservatory is the only place in the house where there’s enough light to photograph all these jars. It’s a day for conjuring up the sun, in thought if not in fact, as I said in my rose petal post in June:

That’s the magic we make with preserves, we bottle summer, make ourselves a memory and a promise it will come again, for when we are lost in depths of winter.

This is my last preserving post for the time being, just as the rosehip syrup of Monday’s post was the last outing for bottles, jars and jelly bags – until February and marmalade-time come around again. I thought you might like to know what I have been making this year.

Jams: rose & rhubarb, redcurrant & gooseberry, black & redcurrant, plum with cumin, blackberry & plum and fig & plum.

Chutneys (made by self or partner): courgette & apricot, green tomato, damson & apple and spicy mixed vegetable.

Also: cucumber pickle, hawthorn ketchup, rowan jelly, black hedgerow jelly and plum & apple mincemeat for Christmas.

Then there was the membrillo or quince cheese, which kept me up, watching and stirring, until 3 o’clock in the morning. And jars and jars of fruit compotes and sauces, mostly apple, with blackberry, quince or plum. Our one apple tree was laden and we couldn’t bear to throw away such good food, even onto the compost heap.

I love this laying down the bounty of summer and autumn against winter’s scarcity, even though it’s no longer necessary. It connects me to the changing seasons, the turning year, and to centuries of people doing this before me. It gives me a comforting sense of prudence and providing; and feeds my sense of history.

I must remember all this next time I am swearing and sweating in the kitchen over a pan of fruit. Next year perhaps I will remember to invite friends to share the work and bounty both – though not to stay up until the early hours!

Tap the photo for a bigger version if you want to read all those little labels.

Roses revisited

Rosehips cooking

You may remember my summer post about roses and making rose petal and rhubarb jam. One or two of those beautiful salmon pink roses are still out, not realising winter is nearly upon us. In the meantime I have been making rosehip syrup, which you can see cooking in the photo above.

The rosehips in the saucepan are not from the garden but from the hedges in the field at the end of our road (as featured in View from the dog field and No longer the dog field). They are the hips of the dog rose or rosa canina, orange, fat and glossy; and very abundant this year (see photo in Mellow Frenzy).

During World War II schoolchildren were sent out to pick rosehips in bulk, as part of the government’s attempt to make Britain self sufficient in food. They contain lots of Vitamin C, which was in scarce supply when there were no imported oranges and lemons.

The recipe I used is based on the one given out by the government in those years. You chop the hips, boil and strain them through a jelly bag not once, but twice and then boil up the juice again with sugar.

When I tasted the resulting pink stuff I was transported back to my mother’s kitchen sometime in the 1960s when we were still given it as something medicinal. I plan to pour my 21st century version over ice cream with rose and rhubarb jam.

Mellow frenzy

Elderberries

Autumn has a sadness to it as days grow short and cold and vegetation dies all around us. Yet it has its own energy and pace; the dying plants are reproducing, new life lying in wait for the spring. Fruits and seeds feed us, feed other animals; more life arising out of death.

I have felt a childlike, secretive excitement this year, anticipating the colours and change of autumn, the season Lincolnshire has yet to show me. And as the days shorten, I feel the world racing towards the solstice, into that darkness from which we emerge into the light once more.

‘Mellow fruitfulness,’ said Keats in his Ode to Autumn. Yes, my autumns are full of fruit. But mellow? My autumns are a busy time, when I dream of jars and preserving pans.

Our new garden has just one apple tree, but the hedgerows are dripping with blackberries, elderberries, rowanberries, rosehips. And house after house has a table outside selling excess apples or plums for next to nothing.

Last autumn, sweating over chutneys in our Manchester kitchen, waiting for the house to sell, allotment produce heaped around me, I imagined this next one would be slower, quieter, with a pace like Keat’s lovely poem.

I hadn’t reckoned with the bounty of the English countryside. Once again I have been sweating, chopping, stirring: stuffing summer into bottles while partner makes wine out of everything.

Now we only have to eat it all up.

Sloes and rosehips