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The best things in life are free

Food for free – what’s not to love? Foraging is one of life’s great pleasures and now we live in rural France, I’ve been taking full advantage of the numerous hedgerows. When we first arrived in June, there were elderflowers to gather and cordial to make. For the recipe, see here.

elderflower champagne elderflower cordial 2013

elderflower

Throughout the summer, we enjoyed wild mint in salads, raitas and cous cous.

But now autumn is on our doorstep it’s blackberry and rosehip time…

blackberries, rosehips and mint*disclaimer – the flowers are merely a bit of added pretty, I have no idea whether they are in fact suitable for use as a garnish.

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‘Windfall’ – what a wonderful word; unexpected riches. In this case it happened quite literally. An almighty storm, where lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and rain dashed against the windows.

unripe plum and apple chutney The husband and I looked on in glee – oohing and aahing at nature’s fireworks from the shelter of the porch.

The next morning, we woke to calm and a crisp freshness, as if the world had been through the washing machine and was now gently flapping on the line.

A neighbour’s plum tree, its boughs heavy with fruit, had not withstood the battering, and spilled its bounty prematurely all over the road. ‘Chutney,’ thought I, and duly headed out with a colander.

green plums, unripe plums

The two kilos I purloined have barely made an impact on the piles still lining the roadside, but I like to think I have at least saved some of these beauties from going to waste.

Chutney is an exercise in delayed gratification – never my strong point – as you are supposed to leave it to mature for a few months. Hence, I can’t in truth tell you whether this adapted recipe – my first ever chutney – is any good. Roll on the grand unveiling at Christmas.

Spiced green plum and apple chutney

2 kilos unripe plums, stoned and diced

1.2 kilos apples, peeled, cored and diced

150g sultanas

6 small onions, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

A good knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp mustard seeds

A healthy sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg

Ditto black pepper

1.5 tsp salt

1 tsp mixed spice

0.25 tsp ground cloves

3 dried chillies, crushed

1.5 cups cider vinegar

0.5 cup red wine vinegar

3 cups dark brown soft sugar

In a huge pan, soften the onions, ginger and garlic in a teaspoon of water for a couple of minutes, and add the mustard seeds. Once the onions are translucent, pile in the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil.

Simmer, stirring occasionally for a good two hours until the fruit is soft and sticky, thick and gloopy.

In another enormous pan, boil about an inch of water with the lid on, then pop all your jars and lids in to sterilise. Fish them out with tongs, lay them out on a clean teatowel, then fill with chutney, topping with a layer of baking paper before screwing the lids on tight.

Leave to mature in a cool place for three-four months before enjoying with cold meats and cheese.

conkers, horse chestnut

I hereby declare that it is officially autumn. For the first time in months this morning, I didn’t want to leave the warmth of my bed. There was a real bite in the air, I shivered as I pulled on my dressing gown and cast a sideways glance at the heating dial as I passed on by. (Okay, it was actually the husband’s dressing gown – why is it that other people’s cosy clothes are so much better than your own? I always nick my mum’s jumpers too!)

Jogging was too much of a shock to the system. I made Jo walk instead. All the better to take in the fallen leaves, the conkers already spilling from their prickly cases. Their shiny, smooth chestnut shells too enticing to ignore. When did this happen? I’ve been in London too long.

Next, the virginia creeper that engulfs our garden wall will turn a bright, intense red. The prunus leaves will fade to burnt umber, then the leaves will wither and fall, carpeting our little garden as the blossom did in spring.

There’s a wind that whispers new boots, sparklers, woollen gloves and pumpkins. Candlelight, catherine wheels and cosy blankets. Red cheeks and noses but no more roses, autumn’s here. Autumn’s here.

But I shan’t be bowed. I’m with Keats on autumn: it’s the king of seasons. And for the record, the heating’s staying off until October.

To autumn
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
   Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Team GB sweeties

TFL take note, this is the way to tempt people to ‘move down inside the carriage’…

LoveRichCashPoor went to the Stratford last night to watch the Paralympics. It was utterly, fantastically brilliant. Thanks to the most wonderful husband in the world for securing us tickets (and *cough* paying for them *cough*).

Even I, greedy as I am, can’t claim that the best part was when they handed out Team GB sweets on the way home, but it certainly was a highlight!

 

A picnic in Epping Forest, Essex

Okay, so this one didn’t really qualify for the ‘best things in life are free’ section, as a punnet of doughnut nectarines costs £1.50 (we’d scoffed most of them by this point) and we (well, the husband) had to pay for the petrol to get to Epping Forest, but the stroll through the woods was free.

We sprung over spongy, mossy mounds marvelling at the many shades of green and crunched our way over a carpet of brittle beech nut shells. We wove between contorted tree trunks and stopped in our tracks as a fox cub dashed across our path. Then, ahead in the distance, the green glow of a grassy clearing where we could lay down our trusty blanket in dappled sunlight and while away an hour or two with the Saturday papers.

I love weekends. What did you all get up to? X

 

eating outside al fresco dining

Apologies for the radio silence: every spare minute (and I don’t get many) has been devoted to either DIY or the sunshine this week and the camera has been trapped in a drawer behind the bedframe. Normal service will resume very shortly.

eating outside

Still, I have braved a potential avalanche to share this with you… we’re eating outside tonight and I have even laid the table like a civilised person with flowers from the garden. Admittedly I haven’t ironed the tablecloth but hey – no one’s perfect!

eating outside al fresco dining

 

wild strawberries

One of my earliest memories is pilfering wild strawberries from the garden before school. The plants were concealed, nestled under bushes and, being only little, I had the advantage when it came to spotting these tiny jewel-like berries.

A flash of red, a darting hand, a burst of sweet, nectar-like pulp on the tongue and then it melted away; the juicy rush all too quickly replaced by the dry, resinous scent of pencil sharpenings and the growing anxiety as morning break approached and the dreaded carton of lukewarm milk loomed.

Today, my dad may have a different garden but I am still the littlest—all the better for tracking down a smultronstallet…

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