Urban decay

Neither of us had to be anywhere until mid-morning today so I bullied Matt out of bed to do some urgent allotment work: the hopolisk is no more.

The hops should have been harvested about a month ago if we were actually going to use them for beer – apparently there is a perfect time with the active chemicals are at their most potent. Matt was killing himself with work last month so it didn’t happen, and there was no way that I was messing around with a 10ft+ metal pole. But no need to waste them: decorating rooms with hops is a fine country tradition at harvest time and I’m happy to continue that tradition, even if we are in the city.

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End of the hopolisk

Taking down the hopolisk seems to me to be a ritual activity marking the end of the season. I’ve not done any maintenance of the land for about two or three weeks and in that time, autumnal die-back has set in. The earth is sodden and heavy, flower heads rotten from days of rain. But I think there is beauty within the decay.

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Striking autumn colour on the blueberries

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Dahlia heads turned rotten

Everything needs digging up and stripping back, manuring and tidying, ready for the winter sleep. But there is still harvesting to be done and today, it’s the squash. We’ve got 15 of them, gnarled, striped and brilliant. I am like a kid with excitement over these squash.

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Turks turban ready for harvesting

One of the (many) problems with living in a flat is lack of space to deal with the harvest. So the squash got scrubbed in the bath and are now drying on the spare bed alongside those borlotti beans. Meanwhile the hops have gone up, and the kitchen  smells like a brewery. A satisfying few hours work.

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Turks turban scrubbed in the bath

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Hops dried in the kitchen

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Borlotti beans drying on the spare bed

Harvested: Turks turban and last summer squash, hops, last borlotti beans

Emergency gingerbread

We come home to concrete skies and rain, the kind of wet that penetrates through to the bone. Proper Midlands weather. It’s hard to believe that just a few days ago we were living amongst this:

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Doom Bar in Padstow

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Outlaw’s Kitchen at Port Isaac

Nathan Outlaw’s Kitchen at Port Isaac was a revelation. Seafood cookery that is brilliantly fresh (the evening’s fish delivery arrived whilst we were lunching) and incredibly good value for money (set menu £15pp) without any pretension. The cuttlefish croquettes were served with grey mayonnaise, presumably from the cuttlefish ink – what a great touch.

And oh, those Cornwall beaches.

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Low tide at Mawgan Porth

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Birds enjoying the surf

Faced with today’s downpour, and with no sign of immediate let-up, I donned the waterproofs and got on with the essential task of harvesting the borlotti beans. Note – it is a TERRIBLE idea to harvest something meant for drying in the pouring rain. But leaving them any longer gave the risk of rot. So a sackful (no exaggeration) of beans is now languishing on old newspaper on the spare bed. If they don’t dry off by morning I’m going at them with the hairdryer.

I came home sodden. Time for emergency gingerbread. This recipe comes from an old client, Bill Sewell, who I was fortunate enough to work for when he opened his cafe at St Davids Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. It’s incredibly easy, really tasty and keeps brilliantly. Ideal for wet autumnal afternoons.

Emergency Gingerbread

Preheat oven to 180 celsius. Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment.

In a small pan, gently melt together 100g each of treacle, golden syrup & light brown sugar and 300ml milk. Leave to cool. The milk may separate, but no matter.

Measure 225g self-raising flour in a bowl with 1tsp bicarb of soda, 1tsp cinnamon, 3tsp ground ginger and a good grating of nutmeg. Rub in 100g butter until well combined.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and give it a good stir until it comes together as a batter – I just use a wooden spoon. Beat 1 egg in the (now-dirty) milk pan and stir it in.

Pour the lot into the prepared tin and bake for about 45mins, until done.

Gingerbread keeps brilliantly and gets better with age. Keep in a tin for future rainy Mondays.