Of course September is an extremely busy time for those that grow food. But I honestly think I go slightly mad at this time of year. There’s a primitive urge in me to pick and preserve, echoing back to the days when a good crop of blackberries really was something that could mean the difference between a family surviving the winter with their health intact or struggling to survive. This year the crop of blackberries has been abundant. It’s been difficult for me to go to our local park and not spend hours picking, and really hard to stop once I start! Alice loves to pick them too, but her crop doesn’t make it home in a bag!
Picking blackberries has not, however, been my sole harvest preoccupation. On three occasions, Shaun and I have spent afternoons mainly harvesting in our allotment. I say mainly, because occasionally we’ve done a bit of tidying up, too. And there were plently of chats with other allotmenters. We have now dug up all our potatoes, which were mainly sarpo mira variety. I’m sorry to say I was disappointed with them as while there were less blight problems, they weren’t very tasty.
Crops we have been harvesting: potatoes; courgettes; red cabbage; savoy cabbage; sprouting calabrese; brussels sprouts; onions; beetroot; swiss chard; turnips (swedes); lettuce; green beans; tomatoes; pumpkins; carrots; raspberries; plums; damsons; blackberries; eating apples; cider apples; pears;
Still to come: some more of some of the above, plus leeks, celery, celeriac and cauliflower
Needless to say, it would be rather difficult to either eat all of this or freeze it. Some will not freeze well, and our freezer is already full of the pig we bought (and Shaun butchered) mid-month. So we’ve learned to bottle.
Bottling, or canning as it is known in America, is a great method for preserving home produce. One added advantage is that we can make whole family dinners in large quantities and preserve a ready-made dinner. In order of the crops listed above, here is a selection of things we have done to preserve them in order to be able to be relatively self-sufficient through the winter:
Potatoes: The potatoes were large and starting to show signs of blight or slug damage and so we needed to dig up the whole lot. Shaun made a potato curry, using yellow split peas and swiss chard/beetroot leaf.
Courgettes: Courgette and chick pea curry. Of course, we didn’t grow the chick peas ourselves, but the green and yellow courgette mix with a tomato based sauce is a staple favourite with the family.
Red cabbage: I chopped and covered the cabbage in salt for 24 hours, then soaked the salt out and packed into jars covered with vinegar. Unfortunately for the first batch I didn’t soak the cabbage enough – the recipe said rinse, while it really needed soaking a few times – and so it was very salty. However, Shaun rescued it by soaking a cooking with a creamy sauce for a nice Chinese pork dinner, it’s still edible!
Savoy cabbage: it’s so yummy we’re just eating it fresh. I didn’t plant many so they’ll keep, covered, in the allotment until we need them. Juble Bunny is helping us out! Same for the sprouting calabrese and Brussels sprouts. The kids love them and fight over who has more…nothing like shop-bought sprouts, when they’re freshly picked they’re gorgeous.
Our onion crop this year was great, though we didn’t plant as many as we should have. We only planted in the spring too, where years before we’ve overwintered them. The summer weather was really kind to onions though. They are being used still, some have been added to the preserved dishes above, the rest are hanging, plaited, in the outhouse.
Beetroot: Some I’ve pickled by roasting the beetroot till soft (about 2 hours!) And then sealing in jars of mixed vinegars and spices. Some have been eaten, boiled or roasted and doused in balsamic vinegar. Some have made it into Bobby’s birthday chocolate beetroot cake. Lots still in the ground! Beetroot leaf can be used like spinach leaf, and gives a lovely tang to stir-fries and other dinners, used without the stalk.
Swiss chard: it’s best used freshly picked so we’ve only been picking what we’ll use. It over-winters very well, unless wildlife get at it. Same goes for carrots, parsnips and green beans; lettuce of course is nearly at the end of its run.
Fruit: raspberries and blackberries I’ve basically been picking and freezing for use as I think of stuff to do, though I found a lovely recipe for a blackberry cake made with almonds…I must try and find it again! I also made a blackberry and apple cordial which is so nice I’ll probably make some more as we have plenty of apples. I also intend to make some blackberry jam.
Jams: I’ve made some damson jam, some plum and apple jam, raspberry jam blackcurrant jam.
Chutneys: I’ve made courgette relish using our own courgettes and onions, and a made up chutney using plums, apples, blackberries and onions which is a lovely deep purple and tastes like ploughman’s pickle, despite the fact that I was rescuing something that was supposed to be spiced pickled apples but the apples started disintegrating!
This afternoon I made a pear and almond cake flavoured with nutmeg, also a family favourite, but unfortunately only uses one pear so I’m going to have to think of something else to do with the pears before the birds or the wind spoil them. The cider apples have been picked but cider-making awaits…watch this space!