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.