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.

A holiday feeling

Coffee

We’ve had a few days away, taking Doris the dog and the campervan off to visit cousins in Suffolk and friends in Essex. In Colchester one morning I found myself in last-days-of-summer, holiday mood, seeing colours, shapes and interest in the most ordinary of corners.

I wonder what brings on these hard-to-pin-down states. This was a sunny day, with winter forecast to arrive the following morning and so there was a definite sense of carpe diem; and our friends are especially easy and relaxing to be with. But still, what was there about a small coffee bar and a medium-interesting art exhibition (Xerography at Colchester’s new art gallery) that felt like being in some little town in Picardy on the last day of a French camping holiday?

Part of me says, don’t analyse, just be open to the surprise and the fun, accept this grace with grace. Another part of me says why save all our analysis for the miserable days? So here I am marking a happy morning, giving it a little attention and thanks.

A few more photos are on the new Facebook page.

Church door, Colchester

Evening on Star Fen

Back home in the flatlands and out for an evening bike ride on Star Fen: I love this place for its pretty name and for being so quiet and remote, so close to our village.

The photos can’t do justice to the quality of the light at this time of day; nor to the cute and curious alpacas who live on the fen. The bike is my ‘second-best’ one, old but lovely, recently come here to live from my mum’s house and out for her first spin on the fen roads.

A day later I walked with Boston Ramblers on the last of their summertime evening walks. In July we walked until 9pm, but yesterday the light was fading fast when we finished at 8.15. We walked briskly by road and river at South Kyme (see South Kyme by Ferry Lane). I drove home into a dusky sky streaked with pink, watching the lights of combine harvesters on the dark road ahead.

Late summer is deceptive, a time of contrasts; in the still, slow heat plants are racing to reproduce and while some of us laze on bank holiday beaches farmers are working into the night to bring the harvest in.

A swallow summer

Swallows are flying all round the station as I wait in the sunshine for the train this morning.

I’ve been having mysterious problems with my blog this week, unable to post a gallery of photos and sometimes unable to do anything at all. Very frustrating.

The photos I wanted to show you (and hope to put up soon) were from a lovely kitchen garden at Houghton Hall, seen as part of a trip with my mum to houses and gardens in Norfolk.

The night before the visits, our bed and breakfast place was a large, old farm. We looked out on green Norfolk fields, the garden was full of swallows and one pair had their nest under the eaves at my mother’s window.

As she looked out of the window in the morning she said, ‘this is what England used to be like.’ She could have meant the green and the quiet, but she was speaking of all the birds.

Watching this morning’s swallows took me back to that moment, the close-up of swallows at their nest. I love seeing so many of them in this, my first Heckington summer.

Summer’s lease

By Heckington Eau Swallows swoop and skim over the grass when I walk Doris the dog round the village sports field, telling me it’s summer even with a gale blowing and grey sky overhead.

Blue sky later: good for an evening walk. The footpath runs along the bank of Heckington Eau and I look over fields of wheat or peas, stretching like a dark green sea below me. The banks of the drains, so plain in winter, are bursting with grasses, cow parsley, wild flowers.

Many fields have wide verges left uncut for wildlife: crops and grasses make stripes of light/dark green, grey, yellow.

Stripes bring to mind the Isle of Wight, 1970s, bottles filled with layers of coloured Alum Bay sands. Before that, in my grandmother’s house, stripy sands in a bottle were from the Egyptian desert: my teenage summers or my mother’s lost, hot childhood, bottled.

And watery fen or arid desert exist under the same bowl of sky.

image

Summer is icumen in – at last…

Delicious roses

Well, I’m sorry about the spring we didn’t have, but glad that it’s summer now. Everything feels late and little – given that we are only starting out in this garden, but there are some things to get excited about.

There are delicious strawberries and rhubarb left by our kind predecessors; potatoes thriving on what was more or less a patch of rubble; lettuce improbably large for the tiny seed they come from; swiss chard coming along nicely; beetroot and turnips needing urgent weeding; squash plants romping over the lawn and two tiny courgettes not quite big enough to leave their mother…

And there are the most fragrant, beautiful, sweet roses, piles of which are about to turn into rhubarb and rose petal jam. Already I’m imagining it as dessert on some dreary cold day. 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.

The sun was shining when I began to write and now I look out of the window and it is raining – hooray, the garden needs it!

Postscript: if I believed in heaven, it would smell like this jam…

Rose jam