I’ve mentioned “Old Jack” and his abandoned (now becoming ramshackle) old house before, on more than one occasion. If it were just about anywhere else in the UK which isn’t a tiny rural hamlet, I’m sure all the windows would by now be smashed, the doors kicked in and what little of any value there is left inside would be long gone. I walk past it most days, the greenhouses are damaged beyond repair, the padlocked barn retains its secrets for now and the three garden areas are nothing more than overgrown weed beds. Three apple trees stand halfway along what was once a gravel drive, a Bramley, which this year’s covered in fruit, and two eating apple, breeds unknown. I had an understanding with Jack and helped myself (within reason) from the larger of the eating apple trees, Jack reserved the fruits from the smaller tree for himself, he told me they kept longer, wrapped in newspaper and stored in an empty bedroom. It surprises me that so few people “scrump” anymore. I’ve had a decent pick, but there are only so many apples one can either eat, make into crumble or freeze. Oddly enough, the fruit Jack preferred isn’t that special in my opinion, but if I don’t pick it, it’s unlikely anyone else will, and the fruit will rot on the ground, or be eaten by birds, rodents and insects. Shame, really.
Although my soup recipe does the job for us, I’m not averse to trying something new, every now and again, especially given that this year I’ve grown lots of larger tomatoes and two plants of the excellent, very prolific, San Marzano plum variety. Roasted tomato and red pepper soup, as it turns out, is excellent, if you don’t mind the faff involved in the preparation. I left out garlic, in deference to Mrs. C’s tastes, but did use some Greek oregano during both the roasting and “cooking down” of the pulp. It makes for an slightly more intense flavoured and naturally “sweeter” finished product, but, for now at least, it’s a one off.
If you make large batches of soup, then you naturally have to find a way of both storing it without taking up too much space and in manageable amounts. Plastic boxes take up too much room, as I found out some time ago and I’ve been using tie handle freezer bags, without any issue, for some years now. Without name dropping, I normally use Morrison’s own brand “medium” size. Each bag holds two portions quite comfortably and they sit nicely together in a freezer drawer. Any road up, I ran out of Morrison’s bags, but had some I’d bought, on a bit of a whim, from B&M. Big mistake! I should have recognised how flimsy they were on opening, but I didn’t and the result is plain to see. Over 3 hours from turning the oven on, to bagging the results, only for the one cheap bag I used to burst on the way to the garage freezer. Lessons learned in more ways than one, because, if you’re ever tempted to engage with B&M Customer Service my advice would be not to bother, they’ll run you around the houses, before blithely telling you “tough luck”, what a shower. Maybe they’d benefit from having a “mission statement”, who knows?
We’ve tidied the shed up a bit, but (and I’m sure most men are the same) there’s still lots of stuff in there that’ll never get used, but we’ve kept anyway “just in case it might come in handy one day”. Amongst all the old kelter, alongside the tubs of rusty nails, turnip hooks, sickles, pitchforks, tool shafts, galvanised “bottomless” buckets, coils of pipe, yards of perished, rubber covered electrical wire and the odd carrier bag we found a bottle of lubricant (with handy extended nozzle) which Norm used to assist him during the lamb birthing process. Needless to say, that’s staying too, “just in case”.
Having some “Roosters” left in the bag, and seeing how healthy the first little stitch is looking (ignore the weeds, they’re gone now) I decided to put some more in, hopefully be ready by early December and I’m looking forward to eating some of them over the Christmas period. I can’t ever remember planting seed potatoes this late in the piece. If I have they’ve never been any good, or I would have (remembered) I’m sure. “Chitted” the seed and bedded them on my own (well soaked) compost, mixed with a good handful of organic chicken manure. What will be, will be.
Not much new happening in the greenhouse, but I continue to be satisfied with the small pepper and chili plot. If I’m perfectly honest with myself, it’s a bit crowded and I’ll rectify that next year, I actually removed the three bushes running through the centre of the plot, as they were getting no light and didn’t seem likely to produce any fruit. The single “Havana Gold” plant has taken on a distinct lean, which needs rectifying, but although they aren’t apparent in this photo, there are also a good number of “bell” peppers, Jalapenos and pointed peppers coming along. I think I may take some leaves out, to aid with ripening (it’s worked with the tomato plants) and see where we end up. I set off with five tomato plants in pots, mostly as reserves if needed, and I still have four, which continue to produce decent fruit. Given we’ll probably have an outside growing area next year, I’ll probably put another half dozen or so tomato plants in the ground and do away with pot growing altogether. I’m also considering selling young plants, we’ll have to see what happens.
The late burst of summer weather (or Katastrophic, Kalamitous, Klimate Kollapse, as it’s known in media and Met Office circles) we’ve recently experienced has given a new lease of life to the strawberry beds and brought the grapes on really well (more of which next time). A nice healthy morning snack to go with the nettle tea never goes amiss. The grapes (or so it seems to me) have never tasted sweeter. The blackbirds, if the amount they’ve taken is anything to go by,would appear to agree with me.
Of course, it isn’t all about cleaning up spilled soup, worrying whether or not potatoes will grow under glass in the winter or anticipating how much (if any) chilli jam I’ll be making, come the middle of October. Occasionally I get out and about for a little walk with the camera and a visit to a cafe for coffee, cake and a little gossip about nothing in particular, beyond whatever we’ve been taking pictures of. We’d visited Castlerigg Stone Circle, but I’d wandered off on my own, there being far too many tourists about to take picture in peace and I’d joined up with the others at “Basecamp”, a cafe and farm shop https://basecampnorthlakes.co.uk/about-us/ which stands in a prime position, just off the A66 between Penrith and Keswick. I know the chap who previously owned it but although the layout is similar, the ethos and the decor are changed quite markedly. The food I’ve tried has mostly been very good and the shop sells everything the visitor might need, especially if you aren’t watching the pennies. There’s also Llama “trekking” available, if you like that sort of thing, which, apparently, a great many people do. The Borrowdale tea bread is exceptional, as is the coffee to wash it down with. The range of cakes and pastries (sweet and savoury) is cracking, the “Full Northern” breakfast’s more than decent, without being great (IMHO) and the lunch menu offers a bit of something for everyone, mostly all prepared in house. I like it and, judging by how busy it is, so do a great many other people, but one addition, which I’m sure the previous owner would never have considered making public (even if he had such a thing) is the ubiquitous “Mission Statement”. I’m happy to know local suppliers are being championed, although the bacon (anomalously) comes from Yorkshire, that local people are being “ethically” employed and that the Llamas are looked after once they’re retired, but I don’t understand why that needs to be part of a “mission”. Did Mr. Aldersley have a “mission” to sustainably sell two ounce bags of jelly babies in recyclable paper bags or ethically employ Mrs Wilkinson to serve the snot-nosed local kids on his half day? I think not.
Maybe I’m old fashioned, cynical, or a bit of both, but if what you offer’s good, your staff are happy, welcoming and friendly, your premises are clean and you appreciate your surroundings and the bounty Cumbria has to offer, then your “mission” will surely speak for itself, without needing to be written in letters six inches high and fixed to the wall. Other considerations aside, if you’re ever passing “Basecamp” I do highly recommend it as being as good, if not better, than similar establishments in the wider locality. I suppose, in the end, that means it’d have achieved its “mission” without even telling us it had one?
© Colin Cross 2023