Archive for the ‘plant trees’ Category

Freecycle Chutney…

October 1, 2013

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…

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Home again, home again, jiggety-jig…

September 11, 2013

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Well, sort of. The problem with a wonderful holiday is that sometimes, you’re not quite ready to leave it in your head & get back to reality. It doesn’t help that it’s cold & grey here, and there’s tons of stuff that really needs doing, preferably right now, or before. Usually at the end of a holiday I’m looking forward to getting back to all the things I’d miss about our beautiful & quirky little part of the world, but now I’ve found somewhere equally beautiful & quirky. And warmer… Say no more!

It was very interesting to see how people have lived, and to some extent still live, in a landscape that’s equally as benign as our own, if not more so. I live in a smallish medieval market town just inland from the mild & beautiful South Coast of England, and we stayed in something very much equivalent in the south of France, just where the Pyrenees are sloping down towards the sea. Like here, there are still markets; the bigger ones are partly what we would call “grockle-traps” though we found (and bought!) some excellent, inexpensive regional specialities too. But there’s a tiny weekly market in the village we stayed in, too; just four food stalls selling absolutely top-notch, mouthwatering local produce, that you were encouraged to try before committing yourself to buy. The leftovers are in my fridge or my garlic pot even as I write.

I don’t think I have ever been in such an abundant & beautiful landscape. On closer examination, what looked like acres of verdant wilderness clearly was no such thing. Just about every tree was edible or otherwise useful; down in the villages, fruit trees predominated, with olives, figs, grapes, citrus & cherries everywhere – the area is famous for its cherries, in particular, but the tiny black figs were melt-in-the-mouth, honey-sweet gorgeous too – but higher up the slopes, nuts predominated, with chestnuts, hazels & walnuts dotted amongst the cork oaks. The villages consisted of tall terraced houses (with wooden shutters, all painted in beautiful colours – I do love shutters!) clustered tightly around their town squares, Mairies, little forts or priories, usually with mountain streams running in channels down both sides of the roads. Presumably these were once their main water supplies.

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Outside the villages, usually a little upslope & almost indistinguishable from the forested surroundings, were areas of gardens, possibly allotments, though they seemed much more permanent & not all of them were used just for produce; we saw one which was clearly a family relaxation area, with outdoor oven, swings & an above-ground pool as well as tomatoes, sweetcorn, beans, olives & berry & currant bushes. The water channels ran through these first, with little pipes going into each garden & channels leading the water though to each bed going downwards, all fed by gravity from the river. In the villages, there were lots of little independent shops, which do seem to be well-used by the locals, though there are hypermarkets & estates of villas with pools & sterile gravel gardens springing up nearer the main roads down on the plain. There are ice-pits upslope, where ice was stored (and still could be) each winter, and thermal springs, which the French take very seriously for their health. In short, a landscape that is or has been used to the full, in a beneficial & light-handed way; there seemed to be plenty of wildlife too. It’s a bird & butterfly heaven!

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The coastal towns were delightful; each had its own distinct character and most still seem to have reasons for existing other than as holiday havens or yachtie stopovers. Anchovy warehouses & big local wine domain “outlets” sit alongside the leather goods shops & the soap & candle emporiums; the soaps are a genuine local speciality & our suitcases smelt fantastic on the return trip. I also stocked up on spices as we get through them in much larger quantities than most households, and things like culinary lavender & juniper berries are much cheaper out there.

Needless to say, Elder Daughter & I couldn’t resist a trip to the vide-greniers & marché-aux-puces of Perpignan, the nearest city. And although we couldn’t bring back a lot, as we were flying Ryanair, we did find some irresistible vintage treasures and had a lot of fun, although it almost hurt to leave that beautiful old Kohler industrial treadle unexamined…

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One day, we will drive down & come back with a loaded car… but it’d be touch & go whether it’d be loaded with lovely vintage stock for our stalls, or with edible & potable delights to see us through a grey & dismal British winter! And if ever I persuade my doctor to say that I need to go & live in a warmer climate for the sake of my health, you’ll know where to find me…

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Plant trees…

December 11, 2012

Last week, at our Quaker meeting, out of the gathered silence, a short phrase kept popping into my head. It didn’t insist on being said, as these things sometimes do; it wanted to be written down, and put into action. So here it is: PLANT TREES. Now to work out how; there are already as many trees here as one small urban garden can support. But somehow it seems really, really important, and urgent. So here it is; I’m writing it down for all to see, or at least the few of you who read this!

Pondering it whilst hanging out the washing, other words started to wrap themselves around it, and it’s ended up as a poem. With apologies for inflicting it on you all, here goes:

PLANT TREES…

See the bright flags of our defiance stream against the winter sky,

watch weeds nose through tarmac and reach for the sun.

Taste the food of freedom, nourished by compost and wrapt in eggshells.

Hear blackbirds shatter the dawn and snowflakes hiss through skybound twigs.

Feel the wind lift your hair, the sun on your back, cold sea foam kiss your toes,

Smell the roses, home-baked bread, slow-brewed coffee,

Pick berries, brew beer, plant trees and remember…

Life doesn’t only flourish in the nine-to-five. Money isn’t all.

Dump the daily crush, forget blurry morning rituals,

Leave the dull grey air, the plastic tumbleweed, behind

with the overflowing in-tray and the mumble-jumble talking heads.

Walk away from glittering windows and eye-watering prices.

Leave your cards behind, walk away from this empty game,

and hear the roar of people whispering – enough.

If we won’t play – game over.

Fingers burned by the pie in the sky,

half-baked from illusions and slathered in greed, we turn away,

or fall with it, crushed by the debts of millions, stacked & sliced.

Walk away, turn your back before it pulls you in and sucks you dry; it can’t be saved.

Gather round campfires, sing songs, tell dawntime stories,

plant trees, remember, grow and flourish!

 

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