late summer

groundsel

This is how late summer feels at the moment – liable to blow away at any time. We veer from warm sunny days to cold rainy days and back again. Shirt sleeves one day, raincoat and wellies the next.

guinea fowl eggs

Even the ducks and guinea fowl seem out of season. One duck has been sitting on a nest that she built higher every day (like the princess and the pea) and finally hatched out two ducklings, both of which perished within a day. The guinea hen disappeared and was eventually located sitting in a patch of thistles on a clutch of eggs that she’s since abandoned, maybe realising that it’s far too late in the year to rear any young or quite possibly just forgetting where she laid her eggs. Having watched her run backwards and forwards alongside a fence for at least five minutes before remembering that she could fly over it to get to the other side, I suspect the latter.

In the fields, the growing cycle continues. The wheat stubble has been cultivated and next year’s oilseed rape crop has been sown, seed heads abound in the margins around the fields and in forgotten corners, ready to burst open. The hedges brim with the autumn colours of hips and haws, unripe hazelnuts that haven’t yet been raided by the squirrels and almost ripe sloes. There are blackberries in every shade between bright unripe green and dull overripe  inky purple and though a lot of the flowers haven’t set this year, there should be enough blackberries around the farm for Beth to pick for her Blackberry Gin.

damson crumble

We climbed the ladder to pick the last greengages from the topmost branches of the tree and then moved seamlessly into damson picking. Perhaps even more than the changing colours of the leaves, it’s the sight of the dusky, deep coloured damsons that signal the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. We stand at the tree and gorge on sweet, juicy greengages but the damsons are too tart for that and are best cooked. Damson crumble is the first thing I make, the fruit exuding a deep purple juice that oozes up around the buttery topping and then there’ll be compotes and fools, maybe ice-cream if we get an Indian summer. The weather forecast is looking as though we may get one. Fingers crossed.

eating greengages

wheat stubble

 

Phew. Harvest has finished. After days of checking every weather forecast and stopping and starting between showers, the wheat was finished at the weekend and the beans yesterday. This morning, while this year’s harvest was loaded onto lorries to go to the central co-operative grain store, next year’s oilseed rape crop was sown in the cleared fields as the cycle starts off again. On a rather smaller scale, Beth and I have been out along the hedgerows picking blackberries for Slamseys Blackberry Gin. There is one field where the blackberries ripen at least a fortnight ahead of the rest of the farm so it’s good to make a start. A rather less frenzied harvest than the wheat harvest.

 

greengages

 

In the garden the plums continue to ripen. The cherry plums have all been eaten, the damsons are almost ready and although there are still Czar plums on the tree, we’ve lost enthusiasm for eating them because the greengages are at their peak.  Who wants to eat a boring plum when the greengages are ready? This has been a bumper year for greengages and looking out from the kitchen window, I’ve noticed that everyone walking from the yard makes a detour to pick and eat a few greengages en route to the back door. I could eat greengages for breakfast, lunch and supper and not tire of them in their short season. Sweet, juicy, delicious little greengages.

I’ve been making loads of greengage compote and greengage crumble; some is eaten straight away and the rest frozen. Sometimes I cook the greengages swiftly on the hob with a little water or roast them in the oven but more often than not I use my mother’s technique for dealing with greengages or plums. Because sometimes mothers know best. Simply put a kilo of very ripe greengages into a bowl, pour over boiling water and leave for a minute. Then tip the fruit into a bowl of cold water and slip the skins off. Cut the fruit in half, pop out the stones and lay the fruit in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with a dessertspoon of sugar, cover and put in the fridge for an hour or two for the sugar to draw out the juices. I vaguely remember Mum’s instructions were to leave them for longer, but I don’t plan far enough ahead for that. Kind of cooked but not cooked.

When I was explaining what I was doing to one of my daughters who’d wandered into the kitchen, I told her it was just like skinning tomatoes. “Who on earth skins tomatoes?” she asked in a scathing tone. Well, sometimes I do. I like sandwiches made with skinned tomatoes, white bread, plenty of butter and a little salt and pepper. Skinned tomatoes are best because when you squash the sandwich, the bread soaks up all the copious juice. What do you mean, you don’t squash your tomato sandwiches? Didn’t you ever take tomato sandwiches on a school trip and pull out a warm, soggy and flattened sandwich? I rather liked them and always thump my fist on a tomato sandwich to recreate the effect.

greengage sandwich

While we were having this conversation, a lemony Madeira loaf cake was cooling on the table and it was but a short step before I’d cut two slices of the loaf  and made a Greengage Sandwich – greengages, crème patisserie and Maderia cake. I thought about cutting off the crusts but decided that was a step too far. Much better than a Victoria Sandwich (mainly because there’s almost as much filling as cake).

Almost as good as a squashed tomato sandwich.

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