harvest 2014

combine harvester in great forest field

combining wheat in Great Forest field


Harvest is now in full swing. The first of the wheat was combined over the weekend and today it’s being loaded into lorries to be taken to the central co-operative grain store. Larger, more efficient machinery means that the combine can cut four times the acreage in a day than we cut ten years ago so that the combine is now working here for days at a time, rather than weeks. These days are spread over a few weeks and in the gap until the rest of the wheat ripens, the hedges and verges around the already harvested fields will be cut back and cultivations will begin for next year’s crops.



If you listen to The Archers, you may be under the impression that during harvest farmers have time to sit in the pub having a pint with their leisurely meal. If only. All too often, lunch and supper are eaten on tractors as drivers wait on the field headland watching for the flashing light on the combine to indicate that the tank is full and signal to them to drive alongside so that it can unload into the trailer. Balanced meals with at least  five a day fruit and vegetables are cast aside in favour of food that can be eaten one-handed while driving across a rough field without making hands sticky and can rattle around in the tractor cab all day without turning to mush. Beautifully presented bento boxes decoratively laid out with delicate fish and salads are definitely not on the menu. Instead, solid, old-fashioned food seems to fit the bill and some days as I pack up pork pies with a tomato and a hard-boiled egg, it seems like stepping back thirty years and needs only a bottle of fizzy pop or ginger beer to complete the picture.



packing raspberry crumble cake for evening cold boxes

packing raspberry crumble cake for evening cold boxes

Soft Essex huffers are more popular than chewy sourdough and while the raspberries are plentiful, I’ve been making Raspberry Crumble cake to slip into evening coldboxes when energy and concentration levels dip. Slightly sharp, juicy raspberries contrast with chunks of white chocolate, flaked almonds and a buttery crumble topping to make a cake that can be cut into sizeable chunks and won’t fall apart like a delicate sponge cake.

Click here for the Raspberry Crumble cake recipe.

Click here to find out how to make Essex Huffers

this week

This week we’ve been …

Smelling the sweet peas. They don’t last long once they’re cut and brought into the house (because I forget to top up the water) but they smell fabulous and look pretty for a day or two.

Swearing about the inaccuracy of the weather forecast. Where did that thunderstorm come from last night? At four this morning I awoke to thunder, lightning, heavy rain and a very grumpy farmer muttering and swearing about his oilseed rape unharvested in the field.

Cutting back some of the plants in the garden to discover that the guinea fowl has been laying eggs under the foliage. Luckily, these three sank to the bottom of the bowl of water so must be reasonably fresh..

Making the most of leisurely meals before harvest starts. Baking little flatbreads to scoop up bean stew or eat with salads of roasted vegetables and little balls of cheese. The cheese is inspired by Elizabeth’s labneh made from a carton of Greek yoghurt, drained for a couple of days in a sieve lined with a J-cloth (muslin or cheesecloth would be so much more romantic sounding and probably more practical) and then shaped and rolled in herbs or petals and stored for a few days in rapeseed oil.

Picking strawberries and raspberries for Slamseys Gin. There’s more to pick this afternoon and it’s going to be hot, hot, hot so waiting in the fridge this evening will be a jug of Peach & Rose Summer Cup, which is based on the Fruit Cups from the mid nineteenth century that mixed spirits, wines, fruit, herbs and aromatics. I imagine them being served at summery garden parties where elegant ladies in smart hats sit in the shade of large trees before a backdrop of fabulous flowers but I’m sure the reality was very different.



peach and rose summer cup

To make a jug of Rose & Peach Summer Cup:

50 g granulated sugar
50 ml boiling water
Rose petals or basil leaves
Three or four peaches
60 ml Slamseys Rose Gin
1 bottle white wine
Soda water


Put the sugar and boiling water into a small bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bruise the rose petals or basil leaves gently and add to the hot liquid, leaving them to infuse for a few minutes.

Now, take your peaches and slice them into a jug (or large Mason jar if you really must). Two or three peaches should be enough; I’ve been using four or five of the little flat peaches because they taste so good at the moment.

Strain the syrup into the jug (discarding the limp leaves or petals) and add the Slamseys Rose Gin and bottle of white wine. Give it a good stir, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours. The longer you leave it, the more the flavour of the peaches will infuse into the liquid, so leave it for twenty four hours if it’s more convenient.

To serve, drop some ice into glasses and half fill with your Rose & Peach Cup. Top up with soda water and garnish with freshly sliced peach and rose petals or basil leaves. Or drink it neat if you prefer.




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