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

Plum compote

On Wednesday I found myself at the side of an industrial building in the Shire, doing a deal. The substance in question was plums; the dealer was a dear old school friend Chappers. Chappers’ trademark is her Landie. You hear it before you see it. It suits her.

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Chappers handing over the goods


When the offer of a bag of free fruit comes along, you NEVER turn it down. These plums were pilfered by Chappers’ from her Mum’s orchard in Castlemorton, which by now will be laden with soft purple fruit. These home-grown plums are a bit different to the ones in the shops, much smaller, very difficult to stone, nectar-scented, and simultaneously sweet as you like whilst acidic enough to induce face-pulling. They would have been great for chutney, but really, who eats that much chutney? So compote it is.

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Coated in sugar

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Simmer down with a vanilla pod

I optimistically attempted to stone these before cooking, but gave up after about 5; it would have taken a whole day to stone the lot. So I just cooked them up and once cold, fished out the stones with my fingers. It came out quite tart so I put in more icing sugar at the end to balance the flavours. One carrier-bag of fruit produced about three pints of compote. It’s gloriously gloopy and unashamedly richly purple.

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Bagged up for freezing

There are endless possibilities for this…use as the base of a Bakewell tart, mix with custard for a fool, eat with yoghurt for breakfast, add cinnamon and five spice for a Chinese sauce, and so on.

I made trifle. Soak sponge with sherry, layer up with the compote, then top with home-made creamy vanilla custard and whipped cream. Any pudding that requires two different types (and cartons) of cream can’t be bad.