I didn't appreciate before I started to grow food on a reasonably large scale - domestic scale still, but lots of it - that there is no stage between the one where you get excited about the three real pears on your little pear tree, bring them inside to a bowl on the kitchen table, feel them gently every day as they ripen (pears ripen much better inside than on the tree), finally eat one in ecstacy, the juice running deliriously down your chin, and the stage where you are bringing them inside in buckets.
How can this be? It was the same with the damsons and the plums so I suspect our gloriously warm and dry spring (do you remember?) was just what the fruit crop wanted. The same holds true for vegetable crops of course. One day you are cutting your first beans and eating them simply dressed with butter and drooling at their deliciousness. The next you are wilting slightly in the face of trugs full of the things marching into the kitchen, each bean as long and thick as your arm and about as appetising.
Oddly, the pears that came inside in buckets have not ripened on the kitchen table but remain stubbornly hard and unyielding. The answer to what to do with a bucket of rock hard pears came, as preserving answers so often do, from Pam Corbin's River Cottage Preserves book. I have all sorts of preserving books: a Women's Institute one which I have had for ever and is good on the basics; one by Marguerite Patten who, at ninety three, has been teaching people how to cook seasonally and frugally since the second world war and who knows everything, and a new, gloriously illustrated, one by Thane Prince with an unusual modern touch. I love them all but if I had to choose only one to keep it would be the River Cottage book. Pam Corbin knows so much and shares all the little tips and touches you only know as a result of years spent over the preserving pan. But the recipes are lively and interesting too and the whole book is beautifully written. It is not possible to flip through the book without coming up with half a dozen things you fancy trying.
I went for the Mulled Spiced Pears.
You peel the pears and keep them in very slightly salted water to stop them browning. Each pear half is studded with two or three cloves. You make a syrup with water, cider and sugar and pack the pears into jars, each jar with a stick of cinnamon in it. Top the jars up with the syrup, lower but don't secure the lids, and let the jars stand in an oven at about 150 degrees for around an hour.
When they come out, secure the lids and leave until they are absolutely cold. You will need to check that the seals are tight the next day before putting them away on a shelf in the larder. They will keep for about a year. We might have some at Christmas with dark chocolate sauce and thick cream.
While I have been doing this in the front kitchen where the cooking now takes place, Ian has been moving on with the back kitchen, soon to become the scullery/utility.
Look, look! The new slate floor! Soon it will meet up with the old slate floor in the front kitchen. The front kitchen is in the old part of the house and each of the well worn slates is around 5 feet long and 3 feet wide. Heaven knows how thick they are and heaven knows how they were lifted into the house but they have been down for hundreds of years and will no doubt stay there for another few hundred. The new slate in the 1980s extension matches the old slate perfectly for colour if not for size!
It's all happening up on the hill.
Whoops. I forgot to tell you about how to make beetroot (hated taste and texture of my childhood) irresistibly delicious.