I’m not sure whether there’s such a thing as ‘Squirrel Syndrome’ but if there is, I’ve got it. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks rummaging about under the nut trees with my collecting bucket like a woman possessed. We have such a bountiful crop of chestnuts and walnuts this year, I just can’t bear to see any going to waste. I’m hoping they’ll store well over winter but I’ve peeled several kilos of chestnuts (and that, believe me, is a labour of love) to freeze whole, just to be on the safe side.
We’re eating nuts in everything, throwing them into trays of roast veg, pasta sauces, risottos, salads and baking them into bread. I’m also experimenting with several recipes for marrons glacés, the candied chestnuts that are a delicious but expensive delicacy out here; it’s an interesting, long-winded and sticky process but so far, so good.
There has been a definite change in the garden this week, a much greater feeling of autumn in the air. The tomatoes have finally given up and we are eating the last of the indoor aubergines and peppers.
Parsnips, leeks, squash, Jerusalem artichokes and kale are now the stars of the veg basket. Not forgetting the carrots, of course. I’ve grown three varieties this year, all going in late: orange ‘Charlemagne’, a French variety, and ‘White Satin’ and ‘Purple Haze’, both from vegetableseeds.net. They are all cropping well, have a good flavour and make a shockingly colourful salad grated together. Despite the late sowing they haven’t totally avoided root fly damage but what fascinates me is how the little beasties are happily boring into the coloured ones but aren’t touching the white carrots at all. Is there a reason for this or is it just coincidence? Whichever, ‘White Satin’ are top of the planting list for next year.
I have managed to drag myself away from nut collecting to have a couple of days in the veg patch. It all seems very quiet now after the busy-ness of spring and summer but there were still a few bits to do. I transplanted a few more of the spring cabbage ‘Pixie’, they are looking just fine (YES, a brassica that’s growing well in my garden at long last – who’d believe it?).
The rows of pink and white garlic are all up and going great guns already.
I dug out the Florence fennel and chicory to make room for a couple of rows of broad beans, it’s a spot which drains well and catches every scrap of winter sunshine so seemed just right for them. The Florence fennel was hopeless this year, it bolted at the first hint of dry weather, but the chicory has grown well. We’ve never grown it before so it’s a huge experiment and what I had to do with it next seemed incredibly mean after it’s spent all summer sitting happily in the sunlight. I chopped the leaves down to 2.5cm and the long, parsnip-like roots to 15cm, then planted them into deep pots of compost.
I then covered each pot with another tall one, hid them in the back of our darkest shed and covered the tops with slates – not the slightest hint of light is allowed near the poor things. Theoretically, they should start to develop blanched ‘chicons’ in 3 to 4 weeks time, several on each plant. Mmm, watch this space…
I’ve made a start on clearing the ground along the side of the tunnel – how great to be back to the joys of couch grass roots after several months’ break!
I’ve cut the Jerusalem artichokes down to ground level as the thuggish stems were threatening to go through the tunnel polythene. The tubers are fat, creamy and delicious but we have far more of them from ten plants than we’ll ever eat so next year I’m planning to plant just five in a different spot. Most of this area has been covered all summer and it’s digging well, despite being a bit on the soggy side: it’s destined to be next year’s potato patch.
We are still picking apples with no idea what varieties any of them are but many of them are dessert types, sweet and juicy straight off the tree. Rolande brought us a bucket of quinces from her orchard, those strange looking fruits with their furry skins and wonderful perfume. I haven’t cooked with them for years so this was a real treat. They are as hard as rocks to cut and taste vile raw but cooked in sugar they become a thing of great beauty, turning a rosy red colour as if by magic. We cooked some in a spicy meat tagine and I made a batch of marmalade with the rest (apparently, our word ‘marmalade’ comes from the Portuguese word for quince) – they are so pectin-rich, there were no worries about a good set and the flavour is like nothing else on earth. Merci, Rolande.
Our cupboards, shelves, freezer and outhouses are starting to heave with stored vegetables, fruits and nuts, pickles and preserves, all good and tasty things for the dark months ahead. It surely must be autumn, then – and yes, I’m one very happy squirrel. 🙂