The time has come…

… to pick up my long-neglected keyboard again. Life has started to calm down a little; the kittens are nearly 6 months old now and not quite so relentlessly cute and playful. My mother has moved, and despite other people’s worries about her leaving her lovely “sheltered” flat, is very much happier in her little bungalow, with a garden she can sit out in, and family & friends close by. I have come to the end of my summer shows, and am starting to move surplus stock on as most of my trading “dates” from now on until next spring are indoors, which means having not much more space than a tabletop. The allotment & garden are in full production and now I need to swing into action on the preserving front. It’s not been such a good year for apples & quinces, but the hedgerow fruits seem to have done rather well.

No. 2 son staggered through the door last night, having done a 12-mile training run whilst suffering from a raging cold, and begged for a lift back to the gym where he’d left his car. I wasn’t doing anything, and it was a chance to see him – he moved out (for the third time) a month or so ago – so gladly agreed. As I drove into the car park opposite the gym, my headlights lit up two little trees groaning under the weight of crab apples. So a good armful of those came home with me, whilst my son suddenly regained his athleticism and hurtled off into the night before anyone recognised him. This afternoon I went down to the old railway and liberated a tub of blackberries, and now a muslin full of boiled crab apples & blackberries, along with a sprig of rosemary from the garden, is dripping into one of my preserving pans to be jellied tomorrow. I must raid the stash of reclaimed jam-jars in the garage & clean them ready for use… Much though I’ll miss summer, and never want it to end, I do love this time of year!

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Crab apples & blackberries ready for boiling!

Freecycle Chutney…

Well, what else can I call it? We’re not short of apples on our own big Blenheim Orange tree this year, although it’s hardly a bumper crop, but I’d gathered a handful of those pretty little red crab apples from the riverbank to make some crab apple jelly with. However there weren’t an awful lot on the tree, and I know other people like to use them too, so I didn’t feel I could be greedy & help myself to too many. There are other trees I know of, but they’re quite a walk off the road and the weather’s pretty soggy just now. And I’d found some other interesting-looking crab apple recipes online; several chutneys, crab apple butter, and slow-roasted crab apples, to name but a few, which looked well worth a try. I also seemed to be rather short of jars; the box I thought was still out in the garage, wasn’t, when I went hunting for it. So I asked on one of our local Freecycle groups, both for crab apples and for jars. And I was lucky enough to get two replies, one from Maggie whose elderly mother loves honey & goes through at least a jar a week, so had a full box of jars saved up, and one from Stan, who said he had not crabs, but apples…

Oh boy, does he have apples! I am now suffering from serious orchard envy. He and his wife moved to their cottage 20 odd years ago, on retirement, and he has been building up his orchard ever since. Sadly he’s struggling to manage his garden now, as his wife is very ill and he’s finding it hard to bend, but the place should be declared a national treasure. There are all the well-known varieties, and some lesser-known trees too, grown from cuttings, interspersed with gooseberries, currant bushes and an enormous row of runner beans. Anyway I helped myself to three huge bags of windfalls, mostly of small yellow apples with little red splashes, which taste a little like Golden Delicious, and he handed me a bag of jars too. I’ve promised him a jar of the results, and some Egremont Russets, too, as his Russet has stopped a-russetting & now bears pretty, delicious red apples that only bear a slight resemblance to an Egremont.

On the way home, I spotted some small red fruits lying on the road into town, and realised there’s a crab apple in a roadside garden there. So I pulled into the nearest car park, plucked up my courage & knocked on the door. The owners professed themselves delighted to let me pick up their windfalls too. So I came home absolutely¬†laden with bounty…

I mixed the little yellow apples & the red crab apples with a couple of damaged quinces from our own garden, which won’t keep until I get round to making the quince marmalade; I’m willing to bet that the crabs & quince will make up for any lack of zing from the yellow ones. The slow-cooker is full to the brim of apples, cranberries, rosemary, onions & garlic turning gently into chutney, and I stuffed both my big preserving pans full to bursting with apples & boiled them up to make lots of pretty pink juice for crab apple jelly. The drippings from 4 muslin bags have now filled the 10-litre pan, and the chickens will dine well on the fruit pulp tomorrow. But I hadn’t thought about sugar… it would take every ounce we currently have, and then some, to turn that lot into jelly. So off to the supermarket I shall hurtle, tomorrow, and trust that they’ll have enough; they don’t always have the big bags.

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We won’t eat all this ourselves. Apart from the jars I’ll return to the donors, I like to make up a basket of home-made things – I hesitate to call them goodies – for various family members at Christmas. Some will get given to produce stalls in support of one organisation or another & some will be inflicted on absent offspring’s flatmates. I will go out & gather more crabs, to try the slow-roast idea, when the weather’s not quite so damp. But I still have rather a lot of apples to process/give away/eat and I haven’t even really started on our own home-grown ones yet!

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Don’t get me wrong; I am actually really grateful for all this & will do my best not to waste any of it. I’m just goggling a bit at the sheer size of the task I have before me! And it triggers some interesting thoughts about life before or without freezers & dehydrators, as the seasons turn. I may have to haul out some demijohns…