And so it begins…

First wild fruits…

Somehow I carved out time for my first foraging expedition of the season today, after a hot, busy & chaotic summer when it feels like I achieved absolutely nothing of any lasting importance. I took myself off to the drove roads and forest tracks up behind Badbury Rings, in what might or might not be the last of the summer warmth, to hunt for crab apples from the two big trees down the side of the wood. It’s early yet, but the apples in our garden are coming down thick & fast, and we’re perilously close to running out of chutney; remedial action was required! And there were some down already, possibly enough, and clearly plenty more to come. I was also keeping an eye out for sloes, elderberries, hazelnuts & blackberries, bearing in mind that we’re forecast heavy rain – not before time! – this weekend, which will probably cause ripe berries to rot off.

There’s an early-autumnal feel to the air, the cooler mornings re-inforced by the fact that many of the trees are already turning colour & shedding leaves. But apparently this is caused by the horrendously dry summer we’ve had; they’re ditching excess leaves early because they can’t pump sap up to them. And most of the passers-by who stopped to exchange pleasantries as I was berrying were keen to tell me, “Thin pickings this year!” or “Not worth bothering with, are they? They’re tiny!” I reassured them that though generally quite small, they’re full of flavour this year – not diluted & squishy as they sometimes are after a rainy summer. And a big sigh to the grandparents who tried to tempt their Harib0-clutching grandchildren to try the abundance of the hedgerows; the inevitable squawks of “Yuck, that’s horrible!” were sadly quite predictable!

Thin pickings?

There were not many sloes up there, but I do know where there are, and they won’t rot in the rain, so there will be sloe gin this Christmas. And there were so few elderberries I didn’t bother picking any, just left them for the birds. But I did get a respectable 2½ punnets of blackberries; half are in the freezer already but the other half will be cooked up with windfall apples & bottled, or water-bath canned, as we seem to be calling the process now.

Windfall apples…

Results at the allotment have been very sporadic; I lost two complete plantings of runner beans and squash plants before realising that the well-rotted horse manure I’d carefully dug into a nice trench for them was probably contaminated with a weedkiller. The poor little plants turned pale within a day or two of planting out, and seemed “blind” in that they just didn’t seem to know which way to go; no amount of gentle encouragement helped them to go up the poles. It was only when I noticed that their leaves were curling in & turning brown that I realised what had happened. But the third plantings, although late, are finally coming into full production now, and assorted plantings of French & pole beans have kept us going in the interim. Best of all, healthy runner bean shoots appeared in two places from last year’s roots, a foot away from the manured trench, which I’d left in last autumn to help build healthy soil. They are now producing lots of lovely beans, and the very late “Painted Ladies” I chucked into a spare bed in late July are flowering prolifically too. Just as many of my fellow-allotmenteers are ripping their beans out – “It’s September, they won’t do anything worthwhile now!” as my old allotment neighbour used to say. But I’ve usually been lucky enough to carry on picking decent beans until the end of October; we’re generally very mild down here.

Last year’s runner beans, this year!

We won’t mention corn-on-the-cob; there’s always going to be some disappointment. But I’ve been experimenting with growing some things at home, in 30-litre tree-buckets, and have to report great success with potatoes – mind you, they’re coming up all over the allotment anyway, far more than I actually planted! – courgettes, aubergines & even a cucumber.


And my chilli crop is magnificent, but that’s largely due to our local supermarket reducing plants on their sell-by date to 50p despite the fact that they’re laden with fruit just waiting to ripen up in my garden! 3 chillis in a plastic packet for 85p, or 15 on a slightly-wilted plant with plenty more flowers for 50p…? Don’t mind if I do! I’ll try to nurse the plants through the winter in the greenhouse, too, which I did manage to do with 3 of last years, which are also producing well now.

This year’s chillis from last year’s plants…

So despite the feeling that I’ve not managed to achieve anything worthwhile yet this year, and despite the awful, relentless economic bad news and the fact that our leaders have evidently abdicated all responsibility for us mere voters, never mind the fact they’ve completely lost any shreds of common sense they ever had & are far too busy squabbling amongst themselves to help the sick, the starving and the desperately broke, there are still some reasons to be cheerful…

Full of (very tough) beans!

So, it turns out that if you wander off on holiday for the best part of 3 weeks in September, your runner beans get very, very stringy & tough. The plants are still flowering, and the bees are still dancing round them, so I’m not ripping them up just yet, but I think they were basically under the impression that they’d done their job – loads of rock-hard stringy pods full to bursting of plump pink beans!

I had a “Bag For Life” full of them. I asked one or two experienced gardeners what I could do with them, but they shrugged; once you’ve saved your seed for next year (if you want to bother) all you can do is chuck them on the compost heap, apparently. But I was convinced there must be something I could do… so I brought them home and Googled like mad.

A couple of chutney recipes came up. I’m not a huge fan of chutney, but the household does contain one, so I made a big batch. Which used up nearly a quarter of the bag, and a whole evening; those pods really were very tough and razor sharp.

Three-quarters of a bag of stringy beans!

This morning I woke up with a little revelation running through my mind; the pods might be beyond all sensible use, but the beans themselves might not be… So I spent a merry hour this morning shelling the beans, which was not as hard as I’d expected. If you pull the “strings” off, you’ll see that one of the resulting grooves in the side of the pod is deeper than the other. Sometimes you can split it open just with your fingernails; if not, run a sharp knife down that side & you can pull the pod open and remove the beans. No worse than shelling peas, or broad beans.


I ended up with 2 pints of beans:


I popped these into the slow cooker, along with 4 cloves of garlic, chopped up with two medium onions, half a large sweet potato, a quince, about a quarter of a very large courgette/zucchini, and a pint of vegetable stock. Two teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout, one of salt, a sprinkle of freshly-ground black pepper and a heaped spoonful of coriander leaf/cilantro seemed about right for seasoning.


After two hours on “High” I turned it down to “Low” for the rest of the day. On tasting it, I added some tomato passata, a dash of Worcester Sauce and some more salt; just before serving a sprinkled a little more veggie stock on it, too, as there still seemed to be a little something missing.


I also mashed it a little, which seemed to absorb some of the stock, but left many of the beans intact. I have to report that it went down very well, with at least one “customer” coming back for seconds. I’m hoping there’ll be enough left to freeze some.

The pods have indeed gone into the compost heap, but not all of the beans made it into the casserole. Although I already have some seed saved for next year, and have bought (on offer!) another pack of the same seeds I used this year, it seemed unfair not to save a few more, after all the plants’ hard work!


So hopefully we’ll be off to a flying start next year, and I’m not worried about producing too many now I know there’s something different I can do with them.

And for my next trick: finding something tasty to do with several giant, and I do mean giant, chemical-free pumpkins…