This is perhaps the best time of the year as now all the
labour expended starts to show dividends as we can start to harvest what we
have grown. Even better, it is the time of year when the hedgerows are full of
free produce. Going on a walk at this time of year can be made much more
rewarding by the simple act of carrying a bag with you. Mushrooms, blackberries,
and windfall apples can make a walk very
interesting and add greatly to the pantry on returning home. I am aware my neighbours
are collecting likewise and sometimes you can tell you have been dilatory in going
for a walk as many of the ‘goodies’ have been taken. However, I have
been very aware that many people miss one of the best items to forage; nuts,
especially the hazel nut.
The hazel tree is prolific producer of nuts and for the past month it has been dropping its bounty on the paths and roads in heavy crops. The squirrels are aware of this and will manage to collect copious quantities. Indeed, as they work round the clock, they will manage to collect many more than you unless you are very diligent. One way to circumvent this problem is to collect some nuts even though they are green. You can empty your bag when you get home into a dark dry area, and they will ripen over then next few days.
Now it quite possible to eat hazel nuts raw and the only preparation you need for this is a nutcracker and a bowl for the shells. This can be an excellent accompaniment to a TV drama on dark evening. However, a better strategy, in my opinion, is to roast the nuts. This is simply done and adds to the versatility of your haul.
Simply warm an oven to 140 degrees. While it is getting ready sit and listen to the radio while you crack the nuts and lay them on a baking tray. Once the tray is covered put them in the oven and leave them for 20 minutes. When they come out wrap them in a damp dishcloth. This will steam the nuts and then, when you rub the nuts inside the cloth, help remove the slightly bitter skin that coats the nut. Put the nuts in an airtight jar and use as you wish – snacking, crushing and adding to muesli or yoghurt for breakfast, as a base for a variant of Nutella, or as a component of biscuits or flapjacks.
This is really simple foraging and something that is very rewarding. Indeed, as I think about it, you don’t even need a bag as it is likely that you will have pockets while out walking which will do just as well. And, if you are not wearing trousers on your perambulations through the lanes then collecting hazelnuts is not likely to be high on your priorities)
There what’s seems to be one; someone so eager to get going that they start too early. This time it seems to be our neighbour’s horse chestnut tree. Over the last two weeks, and in the middle of August, it had started to change colour and signalled that it thinks it is autumn.
It is nice to see this flash of auburn and red in a sea of green. It is a pleasant reminder that Autumn is on its way. Though some may disagree, I’d propose that autumn is clearly the best season; a time to enjoy the fruits of the land without the cold of winter or the work of spring and summer. However, there is also some sadness. I think this tree is behaving in this strange way because of changes to the weather, the droughts, and the changed water table in our area. Therefore, while it signals good times ahead it is also an alarm siren that we are damaging our environment
I tend to agree with the Irish Meteorologial Office and think that Autumn (fómhar) has started. They follow the old gaelic tradition that Autumn is comprised of August, September and October. In Welsh the month of July is named Gorffennaf which is literally the end (gorffen) of summer (haf) and I have lived in Britain long enough to know that November is winter. So, however we dress it up, after July, and before November, is Autumn in my book. This, without any shadow of doubt, is my favourite season, the one which surpasses all the others. Summer is too hot, Winter is too cold and Spring is too busy. Autumn has that perfect mix of an ideal climate and productive nature. This is the season when rural life blossoms. Each village and small town will have its local Show where produce and craft can be displayed. Then, following these, the area’s social life will start to resume after the lull of the summer.
These last weeks have started to feel truly autumnal. The temperatures have dropped, the colours have started to change in the trees and the produce following summer is everywhere. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the hedgerows. Dues to the long hot spell in summer the berries have done much better than usual and we will need to start collecting blackberries (Mwyar Duon). The hedges are heavy with berries and they have started to ripen. If we leave it too late we will lose out to the birds who always know when the berries are ready and get up earlier in the morning than we do.
We will have the grandchildren around to help us making the collection and this year there will be a larger educational component. Because of the hot summer the berries have done well. This also means that the honeysuckle berries are also prolific. The children will need to be taught how to tell them apart . Although they are not greatly poisonous, and one would have to eat heroic quantities to come to harm, they are toxic and can cause gastrointestinal upset if eaten. It will be a good lesson to explain that although things may be superficially similar that doesn’t mean they are equally good, or bad.
The blackberries are a welcome free crop and I anticipate a much larger store of jam this year than before. Our other free crop this year came in the form of honey. Our bait-hive attracted a swarm of bees and after a relatively short sojourn there we found they had produced a reasonable stock of honey. This honey, though slightly cloudy, is very pleasant in taste and was a very welcome present from our new visitors. It is the season when the shelves in the pantry start filling up, getting ready for the start of winter.
One task that starts again at this time of year is the chipping of the goat yard. During the spring and summer the goats find plenty of material to eat while out browsing in the meadow. On wet days, that we see during autumn and winter they are not keen on venturing far from the yard and the comfort of their sheds. Unlike sheep, goats do not have lanolin in their wool, and thus are much less tolerant of rainy weather. During this time when I have edging work to do on the fields I cut down the overhanging branches and feed them to the goats. They then strip off every leaf, especially quickly when it is their favourite trees (oak, ash, willow and beech). I then cut the branches into staves or firewood depending on shape and size. The remainder is put through the chipper to create useful animal bedding. The bedding, once it has been mixed with animal urine and faeces and rotted down for a period, is then gradually added to the compost pile. Nothing is wasted if it can be avoided.
One other useful product of this process is the protection of my mental health. You can take all your “stress balls” and relaxation strategies and through them out of the window. If you have something on your mind, something or someone bugging you, or a problem you can’t solve then get out the Earthquake Woodchipper and fire her up. You will now be engulfed in a wall of angry woodchipping noise; if you want to mutter, grumble or swear no-one will hear a word you say. The pleasure there is in throwing branches down the chipper, to hear them splinter into a myriad of chippings, is difficult to describe. You can’t imagine who, and what, I have put through that chipper in my imagination! We are lucky we are still free to think what we like and there are no thought crimes (yet) or I’d be writing this from the computer in the prison library.
Even without its benefits for mental health I’d have to recommend this chipper. Electric chippers and shredders are always too weak and you end up spending more like clearing them than using them. As they say, if it hasn’t got the ability to take your arm off its not strong enough ! You need a petrol engined model. This one uses the four-stroke Briggs and Stratton engine and meets the most vital criterion for petrol driven appliances – it starts on the first pull! It is noisy but you could wear ear-protectors if this was an issue for you. The European version comes with some safety attachments absent on the American model (It is dangerous to put your arm down the cutting chute – who would have guessed?). I guess that Americans are recognised as being able to think unlike we Europeans who need to be protected from such dangerous activities.(*)
As is so often the case in life, the problems of physical and mental health sometimes have their solutions in the world of work and activity. In our steady march towards a world of leisure we might well be marching in the wrong direction.
Sorry about the quality of this video, it hard to work with a camera balanced in the rim of your hat.
(*) I have worries about these safety modifications. I found that the raised bin in the shredder, and other attachments, made the machine harder to use. Also as you spent time trying to bypass the difficulties caused by these safety additions you started to place yourself in danger while operating the machine. I am not sure that these modifications increase operator safety and fear they may even impair it.
I think that Autumn is my favourite season; the hard work of summer is over, the fruits of the spring are ready to be collected and the harshness of winter is still a while away. This is particularly so this year, after what has been a disappointing summer. Mostly warm and wet, it has caused us problems with the sheep and meant we have been unable to take hay. Twice we have had sheep who have had fly strike. Though they have survived, by dint of debridement and Stockholm tar, this was a terrible experience for both them and us. And, barring a miraculous Indian summer (or Haf bach Mihangel as we say around here) in October we will have to buy hay this winter. So, I am keen to see October arrive and know that the damned flies, and risk of fly strike, will soon be gone.
However, perhaps the main reason for enjoying this season is because it is the time you can enjoy the fruits of your labours and sometimes fruits without any labour at all. This time of the year we usually get a good crop of chantrelle mushrooms in the wood and this year has been no exception. They provided us with a few meals which required nothing more than what we can make on our own plot of land. My favourite was the chantrelle soup the recipe for which is below. This is a luxurious soup, warm, smooth and filling and better than any mass produced soup you may buy. Wonderful when its cost is measured in pennies !
Large bag of chantrelle mushrooms
3 Cloves of garlic
Pint Chicken stock
3 tablespoons of butter
Soften the onions and garlic by frying gently for 5 minutes in the butter. Add the mushrooms and continue to fry gently for a further 8 minutes. Add the flour and mix to a smooth consistency. Add the milk and stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.