The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

I’m sure I was a peas­ant in an ear­lier life, as there is noth­ing I like bet­ter than spend­ing a day pick­ing fruit and veg with a friend or two, all of us har­vest­ing, then stor­ing away the pro­duce we’ve picked – a few hours of chat­ting, stir­ring, steam­ing, bot­tling and freez­ing. Within a cou­ple of hours, the green­house ta­ble looks like a har­vest fes­ti­val, with fresh food pil­ing up through the morn­ing, bas­ket af­ter bas­ket com­ing in. That’s the way I like to do it – in one great pre­serv­ing day, not in dribs and drabs but a few steamy hours packed with bot­tles, jars, pots and pans, and the cup­boards quickly fill­ing. Veg­etable gar­dens and al­lot­ments around Bri­tain are awash with food this au­tumn. With the un­usual num­ber of sunny days we’ve had since June, it’s a bumper har­vest, and af­ter the cold of last win­ter and spring, most pro­duce is at least three weeks be­hind, so we’re now hit­ting the peak. Run­ner beans are elon­gat­ing over their frames, grow­ing Jack and the Beanstalk-like at 2ft a week – mine are now at least twice as tall as me. Cour­gettes are bal­loon­ing to mar­rows and toma­toes are go­ing at full tilt, some ripen­ing and drop­ping off the vine be­fore I get to them. Most of the herbs are be­gin­ning to look tired, with stems run­ning up to flower. The tas­sels of sweet­corn are browned; squash skins are start­ing to harden and turn that deeper colour so they’re safe to store; and I have plums, figs, ap­ples, pears and rasp­ber­ries wait­ing to be picked off their bushes and trees. That’s in the cul­ti­vated patch, and then there are the rowans, bram­bles, crab ap­ples and, if you’re lucky, damsons in the hedgerows and woods. So it is time to stash pro­duce away to eat in the leaner months when the weather is cold and grey. You can make chut­neys, jams (savoury and sweet), jel­lies, flavoured oils, vine­gars and cor­dials, as well as blanch­ing for the freezer. With the nights now quite cold (I could see my breath last night when I locked the chick­ens away), it’s get­ting ur­gent. Growth curves are flat­ten­ing and plants such as basil and toma­toes will go black overnight if tem­per­a­tures fall much more. As a basil grower once told me, if you’re no longer happy to have sup­per in the gar­den be­cause it’s too cold, then basil and toma­toes won’t be happy out there ei­ther. That’s the mo­ment when you know you have to get your pro­duce in. If you don’t have a veg gar­den, visit your lo­cal pick-your-own. It will be drip­ping with pro­duce right now too.

Many hands: Sarah Raven, left, gets to­gether with friends and fam­ily at this time of year to pick, pre­pare and pre­serve her gar­den’s pro­duce; corn, be­low left, is sweet­est as soon as it’s been har­vested

Pick of the crop: Sarah, with the help of a friend, raids the hedgerow for rowan berries, ready to be jarred and stored

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