My Week

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

EAR­LIER this week, I was tramp­ing along be­hind the mow­ing ma­chine for what would, I hoped, be the Fi­nal Mow and think­ing vaguely about No Dig gar­den­ing. Vague thoughts are the best I can get out of mow­ing, which is a pity. Proper walk­ing—lung-fill­ing, arm-swing­ing, hill-and-high -road walk­ing—takes a comb to ev­ery men­tal tan­gle and in­spires new ideas, but, sadly, doesn’t cut the grass. For that, you have to shuf­fle along, snatch­ing at ran­dom thoughts like a dog at a fly.

Or a puppy at a bee. We’ve kept one puppy (COUN­TRY LIFE, July 26, 2017) and he likes to stare at the bees work­ing across a clump of Turk­ish sage. He’ll make a lit­tle snap at one and I won­der if I should stop him or let him learn the hard way. The other five are some­one else’s re­spon­si­bil­ity now.

The first to go turned out to be called Claude: he has vast paws. Next off was a tiger­ish girl to be known as El­fride, af­ter a blue-eyed char­ac­ter in Hardy. An­other bitch went north, to a lurcher house­hold in More­cambe Bay where the dogs are named af­ter an­cient gods: she’ll be Freya. Stan­ley left for Lon­don; he was sick twice in the car, but has set­tled hap­pily. Last to go was a pretty bitch who seemed to have had make-up tat­tooed around her eyes. Her new owner wanted to call her Hilda, but set­tled on Nell.

It’s a great relief to have found good homes and yet it was a bit melan­choly, see­ing them go like Pigling Bland, all their worldly goods tied in a bun­dle and that ea­ger, un­sus­pect­ing look on their faces. Per­haps it had to do with the change in the sea­son.

I’m with Shake­speare on sum­mer’s lease. It hath def­i­nitely all too short a date. I’m filled with nostal­gia for those seem­ingly end­less sum­mers of child­hood, as well as dread of the cold and dark, short days and ev­ery­thing wet from the kitchen floor to the coat rack. To cap it all, the clocks go back and the school run is in the dark.

When it ac­tu­ally comes, au­tumn is never all bad. The cour­gettes go brit­tle, but we’ve had cour­gettes com­ing out of our ears. The bean­poles come down and the last beet­root comes out. I hauled up the basil, which was just hard­en­ing, and made a few jars of slightly bit­ter but per­fectly ad­e­quate pesto.

It’s al­ways a relief to mix a lit­tle leaf mould into the com­post with the grass clip­pings. The trick is to rake the leaves into a long ridge, then run the mower over them. They rot quicker when they’ve been chopped and the ma­chine picks them up, too.

Then there’s all the squeez­ing, bot­tling, fer­ment­ing and squir­relling away, prefer­ably in jars. The warm, dry spring has made it a fab­u­lous year for fruit: even the old pear, its bark cracked like the bed of a driedup lake, is freighted with fruit and wasps were few and far be­tween. It’s a bot­tling year.

We used to store ap­ples, wrap­ping them in a scrap of news­pa­per and ly­ing them care­fully on a slat­ted shelf. It was a slow busi­ness and by the time we came round to eat­ing them, the fruit was ei­ther spoiled or the mice had got in, so now we make juice, which is much more use­ful and def­i­nitely more fun.

We take over the machin­ery at a lo­cal small­hold­ing, where fam­ily and as­sorted friends gather, scrat, squeeze and bot­tle the ap­ples. The scrat­ter is a sort of drum armed with fe­ro­cious teeth, which roars and rips the ap­ples into shreds. It fre­quently jams and would tear your arm into pieces, given half a chance, but it turns out the ap­ple pulp.

We spend a day shov­el­ling splin­tered ap­ple onto can­vas sheets, fold­ing the sides in and start­ing on a new layer, or ‘cheese’. The cheeses are 1ft high and, with two on the press, the juice starts to flow. This is brown and sweet and, as it flows, we pump it into an over­head tank. There’s a bot­tling de­vice that al­lows you to do four bot­tles at a time and the crates be­gin to fill up.

The highlight is slot­ting the long iron shank into the ratchet and bring­ing the plate down in earnest. The juice bubbles and pours and ev­ery­one wants a go, as­sisted by the huge baulk of oak that sits on top of the press and keeps the pres­sure bear­ing down un­til the cheeses are like wafers. Pas­teuris­ing the bot­tled juice is, un­for­tu­nately, less pop­u­lar as it’s hot, slow and sticky and the dark comes down. Younger peo­ple start flak­ing out.

We filled 204 bot­tles! That’s some­thing else to think about, vaguely, as I do the lawn.

‘Pas­teuris­ing is hot, slow and sticky. Younger peo­ple start flak­ing out

Next week Jonathan Self

Ja­son Good­win is the au­thor of the ‘Yashim’ de­tec­tive se­ries, which now has its own cook­book, Yashim Cooks Is­tan­bul (Arg­onaut). He lives in Dorset.

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