We’re into “proper” autumn now and there’s little left to do in the greenhouse, apart from occasionally water the last of the tomatoes, keep an eye on the pepper and chilli plot, do a bit of weeding here and there, marvel at just how big the yellow courgette plant has got and squash the odd green caterpillar as it merrily decimates what little there’s left of my sprouts and cavalo nero plants. The late potatoes I planted, although putting out some nice strong greenery are showing a reluctance to flower, so maybe it wasn’t such a good plan after all. I take the opening of any flowers as a sign that the spuds are ready to lift, it’s easier than trying to remember just how long they’ve been in the ground. Any road up, I reckon the first stitch’s been in for ten or eleven weeks, so I’ll probably lift a head next weekend and see what we’ve got, my own potatoes at Christmas (from the second stitch) may be nothing more than a pipe dream. We’ll see, but it was worth a try. I’ve taken the last of the broad bean plants out of the ground and recycled them, the second sowing was only a partial success, as was the second sowing of peas, if we don’t get the outside plot sorted I’m going to have to make do with one sowing of each, although I think I’ll start them a bit later. Of the thirty four tomato plants that survived and went on to crop really well I’m still harvesting from 25 or so, the others having gone the way of the broad beans. I’ll start taking seed this coming week.
Although the birds made merry with the grapes they didn’t really make that much of a dent in the final pick, there was some “drying out” amongst the bunches nearest the glass and tight bunches do tend to have a bit of mould, often from where a bird or insect may have broken the skin on a grape, but all in all I had a decent final harvest, having taken quite a few earlier ripening bunches for eating. By the time I’d given a decent bagful to a nephew I ended up with around forty pounds of grapes, from which I extracted IRO twenty five pints of juice. I’ve bottled eight pints for drinking over the next two weeks and frozen the rest, so I should have a couple of small glasses a week for a good few weeks.
Although not the best picture of produce I’ve ever taken, this gives some idea of the colour (I’ve decanted off the fine must). Apart from being a very nice and refreshing drink, unsweetened pure grape juice has a good amount of vitamin C and (according to some) has similar health benefits to red wine, in that it’s good for the heart and the digestive system, boosts the immune system, and also contains the antioxidant “resveratrol” which can help stop cancers forming in the liver, stomach, lymph glands and breasts. I do know I’d rather take my daily grape juice, beetroot juice, cider vinegar and nettle tea than throw myself on the mercy of Big Pharma. Patient, heal thyself (fingers always crossed).
I’ve made green tomato chutney before, but not for a good few years. It became apparent that several of the more prolific cherry tomato plants had an abundance of fruits that were clearly very unlikely to ripen, leaving green fruits aplenty to either use or throw away. I’m still considering trying fried green tomatoes, but that’s another story. I found a recipe easily enough and decided to adapt it a little to make as much use as possible of the things I had to hand. The apples are scrumped, not from Jack’s, from another neighbour who just leaves them on the tree until they fall to the ground, so I doubt he’ll even know I’ve taken them (I did wait until he wasn’t in, that’s part of the fun of scrumping). I’ll probably have one last walk around the village, in search of free fruit, but freezer space is becoming somewhat limited, I’ve done the first batch of leek and potato this week.
I’d already removed the two red jalapenos from the bush, so, in total, this pan contains two green peppers, a large red onion, three fat cloves of garlic, three pounds of green cherry tomatoes, two pounds of apples, a diced yellow courgette, seven jalapenos and an pound and a half of soft brown sugar, dissolved in one and a half pints of cider vinegar, there’s also a small red pepper in there, which I had to buy in, along with the garlic. I softened the onions peppers and chilies in olive oil flavoured with mustard and coriander seed, before adding a heaped teaspoon of turmeric and some fresh oregano from the garden, then the rest of the veg, along with the sugar/vinegar mix. It took just under an hour and three quarters to cook down. I did put in a teaspoon of sea salt too.
Although the kitchen stank of vinegar, even with the windows open and the extractor going full belt, I’m pretty happy with the end result, although Mrs. C wasn’t best pleased with the aroma, when she got in from the footie. As with most pickles and chutneys the real test will come in six to eight weeks, as the vinegar taste mellows and the sweet spiciness develops, but I did have a little taste, to check I hadn’t over seasoned (it’d have been too late if I had). It seems to have turned out exactly as I’d hoped, the chili flavour’s there, as is the sweetness all decent chutney needs, but they aren’t overpowering and although it is a little sharp at the moment, it’s pretty much what I expected. I’m hoping it goes well with both cheese and cold meats, time, I’m sure, will tell.
I may have mentioned the hip and back problems in the past, they’ve been ongoing for around five years now and I’d all but given up on the “National Treasure” that’s the NHS ever coming up with an answer that doesn’t require taking lots of pills or going under the knife. The pain, a constant dull ache interspersed with sharp (breath in-taking) stabbing sensations in my lower back and upper left buttock is manageable most of the time, so I generally just get on with it. In recent weeks I’ve had two nasty back spasms, just going about my daily routine. The second one was so painful I made an appointment with a local private physio to see what (if anything) could be done to stop a re-occurrence. Long story short, she referred me back to the NHS, as there really wasn’t anything she could do. I’ve had another x-ray and I’m waiting to hear the results. One of the things I haven’t done much of, as much to do with the pain as much as anything else (and the fact an NHS physio had cautioned against it) is fell walking. I’d been advised that it wasn’t the “right kind” of exercise, so the recent family jaunts up some of the finest hills in the area have seen me stuck at home or in the greenhouse, while the rest of them “bagged” a Wainwright or three.
Mrs. C was about to reach something of a milestone by “bagging” her 100th and, much to both her consternation and against the advice of my youngest, I decided to tag along, pain or no pain, hoping we wouldn’t need the services of the Mountain Rescue, or even, heaven forbid, the Air Ambulance. Holme Fell is 213th (out of 214) on the Wainwright list and stands 1040 feet above sea level, but, for all its lack of stature, it’s no easy hike. From Tarn Hows, there’s a descent alongside Tom Gill Waterfalls of a couple of hundred feet, on a rocky path, before you cross a road and pass over the beck which runs from Yew Tree Tarn. The first part of the climb, through a wooded area, is steady enough, but the path soon becomes steeper and more rocky, offering a decent enough workout for the out of practice, occasional hiker.
There’s a winding path as you approach the summit, with the last fifty or so feet (at least on the route we took) being a bit of a scramble, but it’s more than worth it. The views are excellent, for such a low hill and the countryside in this area of Lakeland (close to Coniston) is more rugged than that closer to home. We picnicked by the cairn as the sun broke through on what had been, up until then, a fairly dull day and reflected on just how great it is to get out in the fresh air. A great moment in time for Mrs. C and (and this is the point of the whole story) a defining moment for me. Although not everyone can say the same, we are, for the most part, masters of our own bodies and, as I know to my own cost, medical professionals, both NHS and private, aren’t always the best judges of what both the body and mind need to sustain them. I’ll take note of the x-ray results, I’d be a fool not to, but the pain in my hip following the walk, with two ascents and two descents, both steep in places, was no better or worse than it had been before I set off. A salutary reminder that life’s for living.
I have something of a sneaking admiration for the dwindling band of Remainiacs and Rejoiners who took their cause to London this weekend. Everybody can get caught up in a moment, but it can’t be easy the following day, reviewing what a complete prat you made of yourself by dancing around in the street, wearing a star covered beret and a yellow cape, chanting things like: “They stole our future”, “Diversity is our strength”, “Brexit is a racist construct” and “Europe’s economy is stronger than ours” when you’re a bunch of hideously white Senior Citizens who, when questioned, can’t come up with a single “tangible benefit” of EU membership! Ironically, and I’ve said this since the time Cameron resigned, these same people, given we’re likely to have a Starmer fronted, Bliar/Mandleson led government some time next year, are more likely to have their “Brexit” wish come true than I am.
© Colin Cross 2023