Our trip to the UK is almost upon us, how the time has flown by these last weeks. It seems ironic that after waiting so long for the new roof to be done, we now have to tear ourselves away from the renovation work but such is life: it will still be here when we return!
There always seems to be so much to do before we go away, much of it outside and relatively last minute. We leave jobs like strimming and weeding as late as we can to give the garden the best chance of not being too overgrown when we get back. However, harvesting what we can before we leave has been top of the list for several days now.
I love the way we move through different phases of the peach season here and it’s interesting how they are so much earlier this year than last. We have frozen many kilos of the fat and juicy yellow peaches (now over), and turned plenty more into preserves. We are not great jam eaters but a simple peach jam made with a good dollop of lemon juice makes an excellent alternative to marmalade. This peach relish Peach and chilli chutney is far and away the best chutney we have ever tasted. The white peaches now coming thick and fast are smaller, firmer and less furry (a bit like apricots) than the yellows so I have been freezing them in their skins. They have the prettiest rose blush inside.
We also have green peaches which look under-ripe but are delicious and there will be apricots ready on our return. It’s a shame they don’t travel well (we tried to transport them last year with little success) but we will certainly be taking plenty of pears with us.
Jairo brought us a jar of the most delicious honey fresh from his hives, something I absolutely love drizzled over my breakfast toast or oats and yogurt. His bees have had a good year but are currently under siege from Asian hornets who lurk around the hive entrance ready to pick off the unsuspecting inhabitants; in Jairo’s words, they are literally too scared to come out. Poor things. Almost every house in the village has a few hives and it is certainly partly thanks to the foraging workers that our fruit blossom has once again been so well pollinated. What I have found fascinating this week is that those honey bees who are managing to run the gauntlet of the hornets are feeding greedily on the rotten peaches around the garden. I’ve never seen honey bees do such a thing. Amazing.
I apologise if I sound like a bean bore in these posts but goodness me, do we have a bountiful crop again this year. As we are freezing them there is no need to let them dry out, it’s simply a case of timing the harvest just right so that they have matured. This was the haul from the tripod of climbing borlotti beans with a few ‘Czar’ runner beans thrown in for good measure.
I must admit, I’m not sure about those runners. To be fair, there are still a few more pods to come and the beans are everything they were said to be in terms of big and buttery; however, in comparison to the climbing borlotti and certainly the Asturian beans still to come, the yield is very disappointing. I’m not sure I’ll bother again.
It’s interesting, too, how much more prolific the bush borlotti beans are than the climbers – the latest row yielded over six times the amount of beans (nope, we won’t be short!). Next year I think we will need to look carefully at just what is worth growing up poles and perhaps changing our planting ideas a little.
Something else we will not be short of are squashes: at the last count, there are at least three ‘Guatemalan Blue’, eight ‘Crown Prince’, almost twenty yellow butternuts (either ‘Hunter’ or ‘Harrier’ or maybe even both) and too many of the green and soon-to-be orange striped ‘Barbara’ to count. No problem with having our first taste of the yellows this week, then!
Another of our autumn and winter staples is leeks. These are without doubt one of my all time favourite vegetables and like the beans and squashes, they seem to thrive in the conditions here. We have grown the ever-reliable ‘Musselburgh’ with a few ‘Blue Solaise’ thrown in, and – even though it seems so early – with over 200 plants galloping away, we couldn’t resist the first picking of those this week, too.
Of course, in the garden it’s not all about what’s ready to eat – there is always one eye on what’s still to come. I love self-set seeds, I always think they deserve the best of chances and tend to thrive where they have chosen to grow. It’s lovely to see little plants popping up all over the garden at the moment: coriander, chervil, parsley, French marigolds, nasturtiums, borage, beans (as if we need those!), Californian poppies, calendula and quite a crop of little pea seedlings. I thought it was worth giving the latter a go so I carefully lifted them into a couple of rows and pushed in hazel stick supports. We might not get too many peas or else they could well run to mildew but at the very least we can eat the shoots in salads.
The sprinkling of komatsuna, golden pak choi and spinach that I planted last week were through the ground in no time and the earlier sowings of ‘Autumn King’ carrots and Florence fennel are looking grand. Mmm, good food to come.
This trip is a little unusual in that we are only driving one way; we are taking our British car to be sold in the UK and then flying home with cabin luggage only. That means I have a single suitcase of dimensions 55cm x 40cm x 20cm weighing no more than 10kg packed, to hold enough clothes for nine days including my running kit. Talk about putting my minimalist money where my mouth is! Clothes are no great problem; I’m not a fashion victim and will be quite happy in jeans, t-shirts and my comfy boots. However, making room for my trainers and several layers of running clothes seemed slightly problematic so I decided to have a bit of a practice pack.
All was going swimmingly until I double checked the airline’s regulations and discovered that my handbag – my one and only handbag, in fact – is bigger than the permitted size, so I can’t carry it on as extra luggage to stow under the seat. At this point I have to confess to a few moments of air rage as it dawned on me that I would have to manage without my trusty bag during the whole trip just for the sake of a 90-minute flight. Nooooo! Obviously, I can’t shrink my bag but I did wonder if it would be possible to squeeze it last minute into the case. Now Roger has long referred to my handbag as the Bag of Doom and steadfastly refuses to go into it unless there is a dire emergency. Mmm, he might mock, but the truth is that bag has saved his bacon on more than one occasion; you know, those ‘Have you got a pen / tissue / euro / safety pin /nail clippers, etc, etc?’ moments. The problem is that rather than having a pen, I have a complete stationery department. Would you like a black biro or a blue fineliner or maybe a fluorescent green highlighter? Alternatively, there’s a handful of pencils, with a sharpener (or two) and eraser, of course. The nail clippers come with complementary use of tweezers and nail file, and I also have a sewing machine screwdriver and a corsage pin, because naturally I could need those things at any time. Tissues? No problem, how many hundreds would you like? Honestly, my bag is like the Tardis. Maybe Roger has a point, after all. So, I took a very deep breath, emptied it completely onto the bed and started to sort the contents on an essentials-only basis.
My goodness, it was so ridiculous! I realised I’ve been carrying several gifts around with me simply for the sake of it: a cosmetics purse without any cosmetics but stuffed with a miscellaneous jumble of bits and pieces ‘just in case’ (of what, I’m not sure); a birthstone keyring without a key; a pretty little ‘bag in a sack’ (some kind soul obviously thought I might need overspill bag accommodation) and several pieces of jewellery I never wear. I’m still trying to work out why in the deep, dark depths I found my engagement ring (now back on my finger), a pack of paracetamol which is something I never take yet alone buy, an ancient turquoise eyeliner possibly dating back to my New Romantic phase circa 1983 and a protractor (?????) along with several unidentifiable objects which might have interested a desperate archaeologist (or pathologist) before I committed them to the bin. Phew!!! Get me and my new super-lightweight bag which will easily slip into the suitcase now, contents and all. The only question is: how long will I last as a not-so-bag lady . . . and what happens in the next safety pin emergency? 🙂