The mornings are misty just now. Not a grey, damp mist but a pearly sheen of mist with the sun somewhere behind it, silvering the sky.
It has been a perfect September day. We have been working in the garden, Ian cutting some of the hedges and a lot of grass while I have cut back what feels like thirty wheelbarrows full of the self seeders which we like to have here but which take over the world if you let them seed: campanula, artemisia, alchemilla, feverfew. I love them all but left to seed all over the place they squeeze out practically everything else.
The whole garden is overflowing with harvest. This summer has not been one for the garden as you can probably tell by the way it has not appeared in the blog. But just now it doesn't seem to matter that we lost it under the demands of other things. There has been a fantastic harvest of damsons. There are now twenty six jars of jam on the shelves, waiting for winter. Damson jam is one of my all time favourite jams but it is not the work of a moment. I found myself snorting in a very unladylike way when a magazine article I read recently extolled the virtues of damson jam but claimed that you should leave the stones in "for flavour". If you have ever made damson jam you will know that there are almost more stones than flesh. A jam where you hadn't taken out the stones would be a toothbreaking, infuriating, hopeless experience. I am pretty sure that they left the stones in because taking them out takes for ever. However much you might start the process wearing your pretty pinny and feeling like a domestic goddess, by the time you have spent six hours taking out stones it is likely you will be covered in dark purple goo and slowly losing the will to live. But the jam, once you come out the other side of the pain barrier, is wonderful: deep and dark and with that edge beneath the sweetness which is a truly grown up taste. I need to confess here that Ian spent the hours taking the stones out this year. My contribution was to change the stone free pulp into jars and jars of jam. I also have a huge jar of damson gin steeping gently in the kitchen. This is as easy as the jam is labour intensive. Half a kilo of soft, ripe damsons, 600 grams of sugar and a litre of gin, shaken up from time to time and left until the damsons have transferred their luscious colour to the gin. Perfect for Christmas. It tastes like sloe gin but if anything I prefer the damson variety. It has a deep, complex flavour, the sweetness of the sugar cut through with the edge of the gin and the damsons. Yum.
The apple trees are loaded down with apples. This year our neighbours at the Afonwen Craft Centre are using our apples in their restaurant. You can't get much more local produce than that! The apples are Howgate Wonder, a heavy cropping, good keeping, dual purpose apple which begins as a cooker but sweetens over its long keeping time so that it can be eaten by February. We tend to use it principally as a cooker as the apples are huge!
The hedges are full of rosehips and haws. We won't cut these hedges until February, by which time the birds will have stripped them. Then they will be cut down hard. It is always hard to believe that the bare hedge of winter, around four feet six inches high after cutting, will burgeon to a more than six foot wall of fountaining green but it does. Every year I wonder about making rosehip syrup but I love the look of the hips so much I can't bear to pick them.
The horse chestnuts are full of conkers, not yet ready to fall. If you try to prise open the spiky cases they hold tight to their cargo. Inside the conkers are still pale, not yet hard and glossy brown.
And the crab apples are glowing. These are Red Sentinel and when they are fully ripe they will be shiny, pillar box red. They hang on the tree right through the winter, only beginning to fall when the new leaves come in the spring.
The swallows have gone. We have been away for a couple of days. Last week they were still whizzing and diving and swooping over the pigsties but the sky was empty today. Summer is over with their going. Time for the richness of harvest.