Thursday, 22 September 2011

The party's over.

September has been a fumnny month this year. A little bit wild and wet and windy; not very mellow or yellow or languid and lovely. The last days of summer often seem to seamlessly segue into Autumn, with the chance to squeeze in a few last barbecues and some warm afternoons harvesting fruits and planning delicacies for the 'proper' Autumn.
But not this year. I feel a bit cheated. The central heating is on at home, jumpers and fleeces are definitely needed more often than not and even the blackberries have been defeated by the rain and have come to an abrupt end weeks earlier than usual.
Visiting the plot last weekend after a week off so reminded me of ''the morning after the night before''.
The ground was sticky and squelchy and littered with detrius from the recent storms.
All the gladioli in their gladrags were listing tipsily. The delicate sweetpeas had definitely overdone it all and were flat on the ground, support stakes and all.
Slugs and snails had done for the beans. Apples had rolled and rotted. The raspberry canes were drooping queasily, with the fruit soggy and unpickable.
Even the runner bean pyramids had definitely overdone it and were writhing on the floor like drunken teenagers.
And the gatecrashers! Weeds everywhere.....
Because I love marigolds (calendula - oh the glorious racket of yellow and orange!colours!)) I had given them free reign and they had invited all their mates and their mates' mates. I have had to pull them all up and bag them in unsightly bin bags, in the hope of stopping a takeover next year.
It just all seems a bit sudden. I'm not really ready for the party to end.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Harvest Moon

It's wild tonight. The wind is rattling our catflap, and the buddleah outside our window is dancing an unhibited fandango. If I stand outside, I'm feeling the same atoms of air which were slapping into Carribbean coastlines yesterday. I like that.
The moon is so bright; she's currently skirting our neighbour's rooftop.
Ocasionally she grabs a passing cloud, like a shy nudist grabbing a handtowel, but mostly she's out there, shining, proud and very distracting.
I'm trying not to worry about my greenhouse. It's my den-in-the-making, Mrs Moon's retreat down on the allotment plot.
A wooden bench gently releases woody and resiny smells, which mingle with the tomato plants. Baby aubergines are ripening and an over-optimistic melon is flowering, but will probably never bear fruit. The chillis need more light, but are gently fruiting.

The greenhouse was my rather unconventional 40th birthday present last year. It suffered a disaster last storms with an unexpected chair to it's frame from a nbeighbouring plot.
I hope it survives this storm.
The drama of the wind, tail end of a hurricane, combined with the extrovert moon is making me antsy and angsty. I know it's not life or death. I know we will all survive. A broken frame, a few raspberry canes down. But something primal makes me nervous about the racket, the rattlings and the wild rumpus outside.
But tonight I must content myself with watching from my window.....

Sunday, 11 September 2011

we're jammin'

I always thought jam-making was one of the dark arts.
It seemed to involve little old ladies stirring bubbling concoctions for hours. Possibly days. Probably on a special phase of the moon! Eldritch equipment and terminology was bandied about. Special pans, thermometers, pectin testing, sterilisations....a whole day would be given over to it.
And though the house smelled lovely, the end product seemed dark and sticky and just, well, too home-made!
Jars of black, tar-like, strong smelling, over-seeded, bizarre blends of gerkin and raspberry, marrow and parsnip and strawberry would be pressed upon me, which I would dutifully put inthe back of my cupboard, along with murky looking chutneys and pickles. Then, a year
later, I would sling 'em....
Meanwhile, each supemarket visit would see me buying nice, reliable Robinsons, or more latterly the middle-class yummy-mumminess of Bonne Maman.
But see, jam-making is easy these days! It really has been a revelation. I can go and pick 200 g of raspberries at 8am, and by 8.45, be pouring bright, tangy, fruity, scarlet gorgeousness into my jars!
Someone somewhere, decided to provide us undomestic godesses with a special sugar, with added pectin (the gelling agent). You can't go wrong! There are even different sorts of preserving jam for different kinds of fruits.

I'm probably preaching to the converted, but just in case my one reader wants to have a go and is as mystified as my former self at the whole process, here's how I make jam. Please note, I am terrible at following recipes so this has been a sort of trial and error. Also please note, so far, I have limited myself to raspberry jam and gooseberry jam.
I make small quantities of jam, as my harvests never seem to provide me with the larger quantities of fruit required all at once. I heat the oven to sterilise my jars, and wash the fruit (usually around 200-400g worth). In a heavy-bottomed pan, I heat the fruit until it is liquidy, then add a tspn of butter. Then around the same quantity of preserving sugar as fruit. Take jars out of oven and cool. (They will be blooming hot!)
The sugar must dissolve in the simmering mixture, then bring to a rolling boil, scoop off any 'scum' and keep boiling until you notice the jam starting to gel. Put a little on a metal teaspoon to see this better, it will look set and 'puckery'. Then allow to cool for 5 mins before pouring into jar, use a wax circle (Lakeland have them in packs of 200 which will last me for decades :)) to seal, put on lid and bung on a label.
You can also use a microwave to sterilise jars, but Ii don't have one!

It may not be up to Women's Institute standards, or win any prizes at a produce show, but it is delicious and fruity, and with some home-made bread, is one of the compensations of saying farewell to Summer...

Saturday, 10 September 2011

In the beginning

I've been wanting to write a blog since before blogs were invented....
I never dreamed it would take me more than 10 years to get around to it.

The main focus of my blog, which has brought me here, is my allotment; But it is the strings of life leading from my eden which have inspired me to come and write .
Tonight I celebrate my community. My neighbourhood. The connections of people which my allotment has inroduced me to.
For almost all my adult life, I have lived in these streets of a pleasant Northern town. But it is my alllotment which I feel has truly made me a thread in this web.
The retired gentleman cottage gardener, the pastor of a local happy-clappy church, the tax-inspector, the lecturer, the housewives, the couples, the young family, the community health worker, the builder, the scaffolder, the teacher, the shop worker and the train driver. We all have a little plot in the middle of a housing estate.
Over the hedge, we hear the sirens, the barking dogs, the distant lonely hoot of a train, the quarreling children, the pub-goers and the ice-cream van.
In our eden we hear bird-song, the tap, tap, tap of horticultral handiwork, the hiss of a hose-pipe, the murmuration of bees....
Last week, we watched the weather, watered our greenhouses and harvested fruit.
Yesterday, one of our number was killed in a crash.
And today, the housewife hugged the tax-collector, the train driver and the scaffolder arranged a collection, the shop worker and the health-worker sorted a rota to look after the plot and tears were shed for the family left behind and the memory of the deceased.
I realised that all these people, these strangers with whom I have exhanged pleasantries and surplus pears, small talk and sweetpeas are all neighbours. We live within a few houses, a few streets of each other, but never really noticed. We are a modest neighbourhood, where people nod in the street, but don't really socialise.
Today, more than ever, connections have been made and a seedling sense of community has been firmly rooted.
And for that I am grateful.