Thinking ahead

My time and attention has been sucked into a brochure-shaped vortex. It’s like that when you work on festivals. Rather like the pain of childbirth (so I’m told), you forget the intensity of concentration and negotiation and emails and headaches (both literal and metaphorical), start work on a new one, then fall into the rabbit hole once more until it’s all over and you emerge back into the light blinking. To organise an arts festival requires at least eight hands spinning 80 plates. There are perks to brochure creation though: I get to be pernickety about the placing of commas and apostrophes, and designers feed me fish-finger sandwiches and key lime pie.

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Key lime pie whilst brochure editing

It’s at these times when the allotment is a god-send: after a full-on day, the knowledge that I have to go and water the tomatoes gives a bit of structure, makes me step away from the computer. Fresh air blows a hole through the most hideous of bad heads. In these late afternoon wanderings, I’ve been spotting season’s changing: Autumn is rearing its head.

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Plumping blackberries

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Swelling hips

At the weekend, the fruit farm had the first plums and apples of the season. The plums gave off that particularly plummy-smell, at once sweet and spicy and vaguely rotting, but in a good way. The wasps buzzed around hoping for their next meal.

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The first plums are ready

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So too the first apples

On the allotment, our dahlias are out and that pesky artichoke has come good with particularly brilliant flowers. The bees dive into the purple spikes and get drunk on pollen, sloping around-and-around on their bellies in a satisfied stupor.

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Our first zingy lemon meringue dahlia

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Artichoke shows its punk credentials

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First tomato from the greenhouse

I’ve been thinking about my winter culinary wardrobe. The cavalo nero seedlings are plump and healthy, the thinnings great when wilted into chunky courgettes.

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Cavalo nero thinnings, lovely wilted with hot salty courgettes

Those rubbish corns were ripped out to make space for the cavalo nero, which I’ll plant out in a couple of weeks. Next to them I’ve put in more chard and spring onions, and in seed-trays I’ve sowed winter lettuce, mustard mix, mustard-spinach and red Russian kale. Fingers crossed for a decent crop to take us through the cold months.

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Winter lettuce, mustard, mustard-spinach & red Russian kale

Sowed: Winter lettuce, mustard mix, mustard-spinach, Red Russian kale, white stemmed chard, spring onion

Harvesting: Sunflowers, sweetpeas, calendula, green and purple beans, spinach, chard, red Russian kale, courgettes, blueberries, raspberries, first tomato

Autumn cleaning

Sometimes, with the best will in the world, Matt says he will do things that we both know he will not. Things like finish laying the bathroom floor or getting the wallpapering done. So when he said he was going to rip out the blackberries I was all ‘yes dear that’s a nice idea’.

I stand chastised, for yesterday he got out his spade and now those blackberries are history. And you know what? Turns out that we have a perfect row of blueberries, white currants and red currants that had spent the summer smothered by their brambly neighbours.

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Newly cleaned out fruit patch

Meanwhile I spent the day tearing out the summer and making way for winter. The cosmos, sunflowers, squash and beans are now all languishing on the compost heap, the ground has been cleared and forked, the spinach, rocket and chard given a hair-cut. The greenhouse is clear and the bonfire is built.

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Greenhouse now empty of tomatoes

Amidst all this activity I realised that we appeared to have parsnips ready for harvest. Actual parsnips! So with excitement Matt dug one out and found….these. They had about 5 different taps and resembled squid. But you know, although they win no prizes for form, the scent of a newly pulled snip is quite extraordinary.

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Proud of his parsnips

So for dinner, roast parsnip, carrot and squash with toad in the hole, followed by apple pie. Autumn days.

Taking it sloe

Last week I mentioned that I’d heard news of a sloe disaster. A sloe emergency, if you will. Shrivelling sloes. In September! This is baaaaad news. Usually I am late with my sloe picking, and that’s at the end of October. But to have them going over at the start of September? Well, that’s just nature turned on its head. Autumn is weeks early this year.

So to the shire for a morning of seasonal hunter gathering. First up, apples and pears. There’s only one place to go, Clives Fruit Farm. I love Clives. This is a farm shop in the old fashioned sense, with huge bins of fruit, chooks running around, and a few old men sporting overalls and boots that have possibly been in use since the 1940s.

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Don’t chase the chickens

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A few bins of their own fruit

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Wobblyjuice

I leave with plums, bramleys, some other apples that I’ve never heard of, cider, bacon, pork, beef…it’s all good.

Next up: sloes.

Over the years I have had to learn the art of protecting oneself against the wickedness that is the blackthorn tree. This is one spiky bugger. There are three essential bits of kit: wellies, leather hat, leather gloves. Of these, the most important is the wellies – not for protection against mud, but against brambles that come up to the knees. Long sleeves are a given. You might look like an idiot, but better that than a scored arm. Though actually I love dressing up in my yokel country clothes.

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Essential sloe gathering kit

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This is why the kit is needed

The berries are abundant this year and I’ve come home with a trugful of fat, round sloes with a special bonus picking of blackberries. To be in amongst the brambles and grasses, with the sweet scent of autumn in the air…this is the essence of living.

Only a fool discloses their special place for foraging so suffice to say that I was near a hill, could hear the sheep having a chat amongst themselves and also the geese who appeared to be losing their minds at the dogs on walkies.

I was right to go out now – some of these sloes are already going over. The effects of an early spring, hot summer, dry early autumn combine, and in a week’s time they will be gone.

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Some are already rotting on the bough

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Thistles turning into cotton candy

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Bonus pickings

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Old man’s beard

I’m not a particularly patient picker and usually give up far earlier than perhaps I should. But today was a good picking. Next up: sloe gin.

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The trug full

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The day’s haul