As the summer gives way to autumn, the focus of my day seems to have shifted from outdoors to the kitchen. Gathering food from the garden and preparing it for the freezer, canning, making preserves, meals and drinks takes up increasing amounts of time.
I'm not a bad cook, as domestic cooks go. A bit basic maybe, nothing modern or fancy, but as what we want is wholesome, hearty or comfort food, I can do that pretty well. I'm now facing the new challenge of preserving all the vegetables that I've grown for using throughout the winter.
Obviously some will stay in the ground, winter cabbages, parsnips and leaks can be lifted as and when we need them, but others like the softer leafy greens and celery will need to be brought in or they will just turn to mush in the frosts. Because I have grown so many vegetables that I haven't tried growing before, I've had to look up when they need harvesting or whether they can stay in the ground and also find out the best ways to preserve them.
I've frozen a large number of rainbow chard stems, chopped into two to three inch lengths which will be added to stews, roasted or tossed into a stir-fry. Neither Mr J nor I are very keen on the leaves of chard and while I have frozen a few servings of chard leaves, most of them were given to the chickens as I picked the stems.
The celery (Red Soup variety) will be cut this week, then chopped and frozen to add it's warming effect to meals throughout the winter. I don't like celery in salads, but I do like it braised, made into a soup or added in small quantities to dishes that are cooked gently over a long period, but most of all I like it roasted in a tray filled with a mixture of vegetables with fresh herbs and plenty of garlic.
Every day I have managed to prepare and freeze some vegetables and fruit. I've decided that even if I don't get to make syrups and wine immediately as long as the raw produce is frozen I can spend time in the kitchen once everything is gathered and make them at a later date.
The tomato fruits on the plants in the greenhouse continue to ripen and every few of days I've been bringing in a couple of handfuls of semi-ripe tomatoes.They are left in the warmth of the kitchen to ripen more and then I'm cutting them in half and freezing them. These will be a welcome addition to breakfasts in the colder winter months.
The purple French beans from a late sowing of seeds have yielded about 5lbs and there are still more to come. I planted a few seeds on 31st July in the hope that the plants might grow enough to provide a small crop, but it didn't matter if we didn't get any beans as the plants would fix some nitrogen into the soil following the onion crops that were in those particular raised beds. Having such a good crop from this late sowing feels like a bonus blessing.
Earlier in the week I noticed that one bed in which I've recently planted some purple kale also has lots of small purple leaved seedlings popping up all over it. I thought perhaps that it was red orach as there is a plant nearby, but yesterday I realised that these colourful little leaves are actually a purple oak leaf lettuce. I had forgotten that I had broad cast some seeds from a plant that had gone to seed (and now I think about it, I did the same with a tasty green leaf lettuce somewhere in the garden, I will need to go and look for seedlings). I will cover the bed with fleece to keep the warmth in the soil and hopefully we will have some baby lettuce leaf salad before too long.
I have gathered some fresh herbs and frozen the leaves whole, so that during the winter months when the herbs have died back I will still be able to use them in cooking. Each type of herb is in its own bag in the freezer. I keep them all in a small cardboard box so that I don't have to hunt around in the freezer looking for them.
Out in the garden I'm continuing to lay cardboard and make new raised beds, it's become quite slow going as there is so much to do in the kitchen. I've repositioned some strawberry runners that were growing in long grass in a corner behind the stables. They now have plenty of space in a more open position in the food forest and I've planted another blueberry there too.
The Australorp chicks are growing fast now and their petrol black feathers are growing with a delightful sheen. They are so soft to the touch and very friendly. It won't be too long before I need to make the decision about which ones to keep for breeding and which to dispatch for the freezer. There are eight chicks and I am certain that two are pullets and two are cockerels, the other four I am not sure about! So hopefully in the next few weeks it will be become clear what gender they are and I will be able to make a proper decision.
Of the four hybrid chicks that hatched at the same time, two are cockerels and one of the pullets is bantam size. Typically, the two cockerels which we won't be keeping have beautiful colouring while the pullets are white with scruffy black splashes. No matter, they will still provide us with eggs next year.
Yesterday (Sunday) we had sunshine for most of the day and the forecast is for fine weather for the next week. I am delighted to have this last touch of warmth before autumn and winter arrive.
Today we will be taking one more walk along the hedgerows to pick the late ripening blackberries, they have been particularly good this year, not only have there been masses of berries but they have been large, juicy and sweet. We've already enjoyed blackberry and apple crumbles, blackberry Eton mess, I've made jams and frozen pounds of berries to make syrup and wine from. I want to make the most of this foraged harvest as not only is it free food, but there is such an abundance of it this year.
But before we head out to the fields to pick blackberries, I think it must be time for a cuppa!
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