Monday, 8 September 2014

September sunshine

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.

22 comments:

  1. our pair of swallow have returned to the nest they built. First year we've had swallows nesting!

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    1. I love having swallows nesting. They are such beautiful birds and for some reason they move me. I can't quite get settled into spring until they come!

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  2. Reading this post was like taking a little holiday from my everyday. I can imagine how lovely your kitchen must smell at the end of jam and gin making. There's something about making jam that causes one's world to slow down. There's just no hurrying it.

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  3. Beautiful. I love damsons and if I can get hold of any I make cheese rather than jam as you don't need to remove the stones since the fruit is sieved when cooked before adding the sugar. It gives a lovely preserve which has more texture than jelly but all the taste of jam. But jam is wonderful of course.

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  4. Oh I wish we were nearer and I'm come and relieve you of some of your self seeders! Funnily enough, this morning I picked up three conkers from the path - the first ripe ones I've noticed, although a good look around showed a lot of empty shells - the squirrels are out in force!

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  5. Ah, damsons ~ a quintessential fruit of a British Autumn. They were the fruit of my first foray into wine making {something not done for years now} and I remember driving back from the Worcester area with two big boxes of damsons on the back seat of the car. Locally, I know of a {secret location} wild bullace tree ~ but so do the birds! Enjoy your damsons! ~~~waving~~~

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  6. Lovely to see your post pop up in my sidebar today, thank you :)

    I love damson jam and my damson jam blog is one of my most popular posts ever, so there must be loads of fans of that particular jam out there to make it so.

    It's a good apple year (3rd in a row) and marvellous for plums - they're dripping off the trees, whereas I only had a miserly single plum last year. I love the bounty that September brings, but yes, it's so said not to have the swallows and swifts wheeling overhead chattering away to each other. It's good to have Diana's reminder that our loss is Africa's gain.

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  7. Your tree harvest is wonderful.. I can almost taste your Damson Jam.. Preserving summers abundance. I made rosehip jam once but I wasn't crazy about it so I would rather leave the hips on the bushes too.
    Loved seeing your conkers hanging there.

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  8. I am envious of your apple crop; our tree is very old and coming near the end of decent fruit production I fear. On the other had we have had so much bounty with the blackberries this year that I have run out of storage space for jam, and we now use them as a bed for ice-cream for dessert! The swallows have departed, but we have linnets aplenty.

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  9. We have had two pairs of swallows raise 3 broods each, they were here yesterday but today they've gone.
    Our cooking apples are very poor quality this year, looks as if there will be none to store in boxes, they will all have to go in the freezer.

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  10. It's been a fantastic year for fruit. I've made some damson jam too (minus the stones - hate stony jam). I read a useful little tip about fishing the stones out using a potato masher. It does seem to work a treat once the jam has started to boil. Managed to remove 99% of the stones in not too long a time.

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  11. Good to hear you are back out in the garden, enjoying the weather and the harvest!

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  12. A good year for damsons here too. I've made jelly in the past as I dread the thought of breaking a toth on a stray stone. Remember lining up the stones on the side of your plate after a school pudding of stewed damsons? I guess they were plentiful and cheap and suitable child food! I wonder if today's youngsters would relish a bowl of damsons and custard...or semolina.

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  13. Good morning from New York to you, Elizabeth, and many, many thanks for this truly beautiful post.

    When I saw that first photograph with the branches in the foreground with the glimpse of hills in the background, I was completely captivated.

    And then I began to read and to see your other beautiful photographs. It's times such as this that make me wonder why on earth I am living in city apartment. (Drilling continues on the building's facade.)

    I would gladly help you with the damson de-stoning, the hedge clipping, the apple picking and so forth. Those rose hips and crab apples are gorgeous. I can imagine squirrels eagerly awaiting the conkers...we do have some of those over in Central Park.

    This is a post that I am going to return to again and again. You've really taken me to such a lovely part of the world. xo

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  14. Lovely! So rich, your autumn garden, even after a summer of relative neglect. Thanks for sharing!

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  15. Yes, me too with the jam though on the other side of the ocean. Different jams. But wonderful. Love your pics and post :)

    XO
    WWW

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  16. Good grief, how many jars?! Delicious though. And the damson gin sounds right up my street...

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  17. Early Autumn is such a comforting time . All that squirreled away goodness !

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  18. De-stoning a small bag of soft, ripe, fragrant damsons (for Quince Tree Sue's fridge jam) was more than enough for me! Ian must be a saint....

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  19. Autumn has come round so quickly this year but is beautiful to see and you have much colourful produce to enjoy. My memory of making damson jam is of picking the stones out after boiling the fruit as they come away easily then and you are so right about the delicious flavour.

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  20. I always look forward to your posts Elizabeth. Thank you.

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  21. Envious of your chestnut's green leaves Elizabeth - ours have sadly been hit by disease and the leaves are already brown and dessicated. We planted a 'Red Sentinel' earlier this year. Looking forward to blossoms, fruit and how great that they hang on.

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