I’m pretty sure it was one of “The Merry Pranksters” and, if my memory serves (which it rarely does these days unless it’s a Temptations or Bob Dylan lyric, or how much a pint was in 1967) it may well have been Ken Kesey who coined the phrase “If it’s big enough, nobody will ever see it”. So it is with apple trees. I look out of my shed window most mornings while I break to take my nettle tea and waste a half hour or so “shit-posting”. I think it was the new “For Sale” sign which first caught my eye, but glistening above it, catching the weak autumn sunlight , was a shiny red and green orb. How’s it possible, I ask myself and my loyal reader, to not know there’s a fine, fully laden apple tree in the yard almost directly opposite the farm gate I use to access both my shed and my greenhouse? Any road up and long story short, there is and, as you all well know, I’m not one to look a potential gift horse in the mouth. Taking apples from old Jacks yard, given that nobody ever visits it apart from me is simple, but this tree stands in a communal yard, shared by four houses, three of which are permanently occupied. I took a punt, knocked on Sean’s door and, when he answered asked if the tree was his and if he minded if I “scrumped” it. “It is Brian and you can scrump it to your hearts content”. I didn’t ask the variety, but it’s an old tree and given Sean’s apparent lack of interest in either it, or its fruit, I doubt if he’d have known anyway, so I just got on with helping myself.
Although they have the size of a small Bramley, I wouldn’t describe them as purely a cooking apple, they’re sharp without being overly so and very crisp, the flesh is crunchy to the bite and a creamy white in colour. Having done something I rarely do, and had a look on t’interweb, I’m guessing it’s a “John Hugget”, which is classed as both a cooking and eating apple, but I’m happy to be proved wrong.
There’s only two things to do when fate gives you free English apples in season, that’s eat some of them raw and make some of them into a proper pie. Not a “stewed apples in a dish with a pastry lid” type of pie, but a proper deep shortcrust pastry pie,the base sprinkled with semolina to soak up excess juice (negating the horror of a “soggy bottom”) and filled liberally with several layers of sliced apple, interspersed, every other layer, with a mix of soft light brown and vanilla caster sugars, topped off with a lid of suitable thickness, egg-washed and liberally sprinkled with demerara sugar, then baked in a medium oven for around 40 minutes. I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, but it was, quite possibly, the finest apple pie I’ve eaten since I was a kid.
It’s the time of year when I have to decide how many tomato varieties I’m going to plant and whether or not I’m going to not bother with a couple. I’m giving up on the Mountain Pride, they cook down well enough, but the fruits are very heavy and need careful management. Although I’m becoming much less of a “rough gardener” as the years go by I don’t think I’ll ever be accused of being a “careful manager” of any kind of plant, if they grow they grow and, so far as I’m concerned, apart from a bit of weeding and feeding, they can look after themselves. Anyway, the eight varieties in the picture, plus another yellow one that Dave’s taken a liking to, should do it. I’m thinking about selling some plants next year. I just threw away, into the green bin, twenty or so that I’d germinated and not planted out. A real waste, hopefully I can make sure this doesn’t happen again and maybe make a bit of beer money.
Apropos of nowt, really, I don’t think the root systems of any previous tomato plantings have been as “strong” as this seasons consistently look as I’m lifting them. I’ve been very pleased with the longevity, health and “fecundity” of this years planting and I’m pretty sure that the feeding and watering regime I’ve now settled on, concentrating on the individual plant, rather than a single long trench has paid real dividends. I’ve used less feed and (although I can’t be 100% certain) I think less water. I’m going for the same layout next year, so we’ll see if I just got lucky, or if I’m onto something.
The first real outing for the the eclectic mix from the compost heap. Look closely enough and you can see a bit of red onion skin, some twigs and a couple of bits of egg shell. I’ve no idea how long it takes egg shell to break down, but I’m guessing it’s good for plants because of the calcium. Anyway, I don’t suppose it can do any real harm, either way. I’m still harvesting the odd strawberry, they’ve lost the majority of their succulent sweetness, given the dearth of sunshine, but they’re still perfectly edible and (this is the best part), they’re ‘free’ and I know where they’re from. Sadly, the hard prune of the plum tree hasn’t (so far) had the desired effect, it hasn’t produce a single fruit and although there was no shortage of gooseberries I didn’t make any jam with them, that’ll teach me not to count my chickens!
The compost tray, along with a couple of others, is going to be the over-winter home for around 120 strawberry “runners” and healthy newer plants for the beds next season, some of the plants have seen their best days and I haven’t really put any number of newer ones in for a while now.
I mentioned I’d taken a couple of cuttings from the old vine, something I haven’t tried before, and I’ve planted one out now. I’m guessing it’ll be a year or two until it’s established enough to produce any fruit, if it ever does, but it’s one of those things I thought I had to try and do, both to prove to myself I could do it and to (hopefully) continue the grape growing tradition for many more years to come, assuming, of course, that we can keep the greenhouse standing.
The last of the beetroot’s in, I roasted them off before pickling some and turning the rest into more of the horseradish and beetroot chutney, but this time bulked out with equal quantities of diced apple to beetroot. We’ll see what it’s like around Christmas time, no doubt.
A small, inconvenient but not really unwelcome mishap in the pepper plantation. The weight of the ‘fruit’ combined with the utter pointlessness of the short, spindly cane, which I would have replaced weeks ago if I wasn’t such a rough exponent of this gardening lark, combined to cause a collapse. Thankfully, along with most everything else this year, the root system must be very substantial, as it stayed firmly underground. I’ll be making chilli jam this week and these bad boys are going to be playing more than a bit part in the process.
Originally, it being “Conference” season I’d planned to turn my attention, during one of my quiet moments of reflection, to the increasingly fantastical promises being offered up by The Labour Party. The more outlandish they get, the more they stink of Bliarism, with a (not so) healthy whiff of Mandleson thrown in for good measure. A “New Britain” will be upon us within 12 months, if we haven’t all been blown to kingdom come, boiled alive, or frozen to death first. I can almost hear the strains of “Things Can Only Get Better” every time Keir opens his ever so proper mouth.
As I sit typing this the death toll (at least ‘officially’) in Israel/Gaza stands at around three thousand souls. I’m guessing it’ll be many more before this current round of brutal, pointless murder and calculated, equally as brutal, revenge killing is over. I’m not sure if ‘ironic’ is the right word, but the indiscriminate slaughter, by the Islamic terrorist group Hamas, of over 250 young people enjoying a desert ‘rave’ makes no sense on any level. Whoever fired Hamas up to undertake this despicable act (there is, rightly, much conjecture) and whoever supplied them with the new guns and the copious amounts of ammunition (there’s never any money for food, but, by the same token, there’s never either a shortage of explosives or shiny new automatic rifles and pistols), these youngsters would have been the most vocal (one would assume) in the desire (rightly or wrongly) to find some kind of amicable, peaceful solution (as hard as that may have been). It’s even harder now, because as long as Hamas, the rest of the “radical” Islamic diaspora and their many and various supporters continue to deny the right of Israel to exist and use such terror tactics to further their cause, bullets will continue to fly, bombs will continue to drop and innocents will continue to die. That we have people both here in Britain and the wider western world celebrating terrorism and calling for the annihilation of the Jewish people only further incites. The lack of response from both government and police will only embolden such actions. I don’t have the answers, I wish I did, but bad actors are at work and the last thing any of them care about is the lives of “ordinary” people.
When I worked in Dubai I got to know an Egyptian businessman, we were having a chat over a beer one evening and the subject of the Israel/Palestine ‘conflict’ came up. He said (and I’m certain he wasn’t the first to use these words); “The only people who don’t recognise that the Israelis and Palestinians are brothers, are the Israelis and Palestinians”. A simplistic view, no doubt, but both geographically and genetically it’s true, the only thing that really divides them is quasi-political Religious dogma. Food for thought?
© Colin Cross 2023