Final harvest

Who ever said making preserves was an Autumn occupation? This year we started in July with the first batch of Plum jam and continued through to mid November. 

For the last few months our kitchen has been on a seemingly endless cycle of coring, peeling and slicing apples: spicy apple jam; pickled apples; frozen apples; stewed apples; apple and tomato chutney, apple and tomato soup. Apple strudel, apple crumble, apple juice and just plain, fresh apples have added a desert course to our evening meal, unusual at the Sticks as the chef, who also doubles as the Webmaster, refuses to make desert and won't let anyone else into "his kitchen" when he is "creating".

I knew we should have invested in the cider press last year.

This year, with a range of types and varieties which ripened across a longer period, we avoided the huge tomato glut of last year and managed to use a larger proportion of them fresh but inevitably, towards the late summer and early Autumn, eating them fresh became more of a challenge. The surplus and the final harvest green tomatoes went into our favourite spicy tomato and chilli jam and the odd sounding but delicious green tomato and lemon marmalade.  Other end of season produce found its way into the delicious ratatouille chutney and eventually our own variable recipe "all sorts" chutney.

The pears were excellent this season. It is the first time for many years we collected a full harvest from both our small, very elderly trees. We bottled some in apple juice (no need for peeling and coring when they go through the juicer), preserved some in syrup and ate some fresh. I am worried that it was the final flush of the trees. I read somewhere that trees reaching the end can have a final bumper year. I hope not. 

With a wider range of produce from the garden and some larger crops we extended our preserving repertoire. We wanted a change from pickles, chutney and jam and also a way to preserve other produce besides freezing so we decided to try bottling, or canning as the Americans call it. 

Bottling with a pressure canner is new to us. Sourcing the canner was more difficult and more expensive than we anticipated. There were plenty available in the US but the shipping and import charges were high, in many cases more than doubling the price. Eventually we found a small canner at a reasonable price, apparently available from the UK. Unfortunately it failed to arrive and after emails back and forth with a support centre in India our money was refunded and we were back to square one.  With produce piling up in anticipation of the canner, and with the jars having already arrived we took the plunge and ordered an American model. We were able to buy it through a UK based company for about the same price it would have cost us to import it ourselves. Now we are hoping we will get our money's worth.

We have had some successes and, how shall I put it? Teething problems. We bottled pears in apple juice (one jar didn't seal, one leaked and the other was fine), red cabbage (one jar leaked) and apple pieces which disintegrated and floated to the top of the jar. They should be safe and edible for use in a pie but not suitable as desert! 

It was easy enough using the canner as a water bath to seal the lids on the pickles, chutneys and jams which should extend their shelf life. All told we are pleased that we took the plunge and purchased it and we think that with a little more practice and experience we will have a higher success rate next season, especially as we have now bought a set of variable weights (which we did have to import from the US). Using the variable weight means we no longer need vigilantly to watch the pressure gauge or try to maintain the correct pressure by adjusting the heat which, on our old oil fired cooker, is difficult.

When I first retired I joked about living the Good Life and linked it to the imminent Brexit in my now abandoned Rooted to the Spot blog. This year with the pandemic and lockdown and the reckless approach of Boris Johnson to - well, everything but especially - food poverty and Brexit, it didn't seem so much like a joke: Recall the clamour for families in food poverty to grow their own or scan the list of How to Survive Brexit articles offering grow your own advice. It may well be a national trait that in uncertain times we look for sometihg to make us laugh but when you turn your country into a joke it descends to farce and then tragedy. 

As I trudge through my garden to hunt down the slugs which get first dibs on my cabbages and make tunnels through my celariac I can imagine our inept PM punching the air and enthusiastically assuring us that food supplies rotting in lorry queues as they wait to clear customs offer a great, once in a life time, world beating opportunity for us to adopt a winter diet of home grown cabbage, beetroot, potatoes and leeks.

A quick Google will find you classic soviet era recipes for these seasonal veg. Who needs fresh tomatoes in January anyway?