autumn leaves


swing under the horse chestnut tree with autumn leaves

Autumn has arrived. The sun still shines but the days are cooler and the leaves on the trees and hedges are slowly turning colour. The bramble leaves are tinged with red, the field maples are turning yellow and the horse chestnut trees are almost bare, with a carpet of leaves on the ground underneath them.

crab apples on footpath

Crab apples litter the footpaths.

Old Man's Beard

On the farm, the crops are in the ground so Bill and Jack are making the most of the dry weather to do some hedge cutting, though the Old Man’s Beard still manages to thread its way through the branches. They start to cut the hedges in September, once the nesting birds have flown, working around the farm so that most hedges are trimmed every two or three years. Over the years, they’ve had to adapt as they accommodate Beth’s fruit gin business, which means the hedges laden with blackberries are left until after Old Michaelmas Day (on October 10th) to give her a chance to pick as much fruit as possible and the blackthorn hedges are carefully managed to ensure there are enough sloes each year to make Sloe Gin.

sunset apples and quince

In the garden orchard, the Discovery apples are past their best. We picked the last of them at the weekend, but they’re decidedly woolly inside now and the juicy call of the crisp and juicy Sunset, Cox and Blenheim Orange is too much to resist.

quince poached in syrup

By the pond, the quince have started to drop from the tree so I gather them up and bring them inside where they sit perfuming the kitchen until I get around to dealing with them. At first glance, quince seem an unpromising fruit; they’re hard, astringent and definitely not a fruit to eat raw. But, peel them and poach for a few hours in a simple syrup (1 cup of sugar to 1 litre of water) flavoured with a vanilla pod and bay leaf or perhaps some lemon peel or cinnamon stick and the quince soften and the fruits turn a delicious coral colour. Keep the syrup to poach your next batch of quince or reduce it down to make a sweet, thick syrup to pour over your quince or trickle over ice-cream.

Last weekend we cleared The Barley Barn, made up gallons of apple punch, set up some barrels of beer and held a ceilidh with friends, family and farming neighbours ranging from babes in arms to octogenarians. The word ceilidh comes from the Gaelic for gathering or party so it seemed fitting to way to celebrate the end of summer, a good harvest, the new farming year and the start of autumn.



Michaelmas Day

Today is Michaelmas Day, which is one of the quarter days that feature on the calendar close to the equinox or solstice, the others being Lady Day on 25th March, Midsummer Day on 24th June and Christmas Day.


Christmas tree planting


Historically,  Michaelmas marked the end of harvest and the beginning of the new season. Nowadays, harvest is long finished and the ground already prepared for sowing. Indeed, some crops will already have been sown, though it’s so dry here that we’re waiting to drill our wheat. Instead, Bill and Jack have been planting Christmas trees this Michaelmas Day to replace the trees planted in the spring that didn’t survive the prolonged dry spell that we had this summer.


sale particulars


We still pay farm rents on Lady Day and Michaelmas Day, though thankfully electronic transfer is a lot easier than going cap in hand to the landlord’s agent with a bag full of money and I like the continuing traditions linked to these dates. Looking back at the Sale Particulars for the farm when it was sold in 1895, it’s interesting to see that the sale was to be completed on 29th September. Even more interesting, at the art exhibition in The Barley Barn at the weekend, I was introduced to a 99 year-old lady who lived in our house as a girl and it was her father who bought the farm back in 1895. I wonder if this day 121 years ago, he walked down the same track that I walk every day to survey his new farm.


hawthorn berries

A fortnight ago, it still felt like summer but now autumn seems to be creeping in. Conkers litter the ground under the horse chestnut trees, hawthorn berries make a splash of scarlet and the evenings are drawing in. Last night I dithered about whether to light the fire as it was much cooler but when it was pointed out that I was still in my shirt sleeves, I realised that I just needed to put on a sweater. I keep reading that we should be embracing Danish hygge and lighting candles around the fire, but I’m happy to keep hold of summer for as long as possible.

Somehow, that first lighting of the fire acknowledges that summer really has petered out and that every evening the shutters will be closed and the fire lit as the days get shorter and colder.

Take 3kg of crab apples

crab apple tree

Walk along the footpath around Lakes Field and each wild apple and crab apple tree is marked by a scattering of apples across the path. Each tree produces a slightly different fruit; from tiny conker sized apples to ones the size of a Cox with colours ranging from sour looking green to acidic yellow, some tinged with orange and others speckled with brown. The one thing they have in common is that they are sour, some eye wateringly so. If we make cider, I pick up some of these apples, but mostly I rearrange them into lines and little piles along the pathway. Unfortunately, nobody else realises they’re artistic installations and soon they’re trampled underfoot or kicked aside and gradually rot away.

In the garden, I find it almost impossible to let fruit and vegetables go to waste, though I make an exception for courgettes which I cut off and lob onto the compost heap when they grow to the size of a small airships. Hence, we are still eating raspberries nearly every day, though the end is in sight.

However, I’ve come to accept trees as a wonderfully decorative part of the garden whose fruit are a bonus, not the raison d’être. Indeed, our crab apple tree was planted as a decorative tree long before we came here, with no thought of doing any more than admiring the glorious blossom and orange blushed fruits. Even so, it would be a shame to leave all the fruit to rot, especially as there’s such a thick carpet of crab apples under the tree.

crab apples under the tree

The easiest way to pick crab apples is to scoop them from the ground as they’re certain to be ripe. The trick is to work methodically, so that you don’t tread on the fruit before you get to it. A quick dunk in water gets rid of any grass or leaves.

This year, rather than try to make as many things to eat or drink with the fruits and berries that I pick, I’ve been investigating other uses. After all, there’s only so much jam we can eat in a year.

In just a few minutes, I scooped up 3kg of crab apples and set to work. These crab apples yielded about five litres of crab apple liquid, so you may want to reduce the amount if you don’t plan to try everything.

Make the crab apple liquid base

First of all, put the crab apples into a preserving pan and cover with water. If they’re large crab apples you may need to cut them in half.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until they’re soft. Press the soft apples against the side of the pan to break them down and then tip the whole lot into a suspended jelly bag and leave to strain overnight.


Make Crab Apple Syrup

Dilute this syrup with sparkling water or add hot water and a squeeze of lemon juice for a warming winter drink.

Pour 500ml of strained crab apple liquid into a saucepan with 400g sugar. Add a clove and a small piece of cinnamon stick to make a slightly spiced syrup but remember to extract it before you bottle. Heat slowly to dissolve the sugar and then boil for 3 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly and pour into sterilised bottles.

Make Herb Jelly

Crab apple and herb jelly

Use mint, sage or rosemary to make a herb flecked jelly to serve with meat or leave out the herbs and spread the jelly on bread or scones.

Proceed as for Crab Apple Syrup but add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and boil for 5 minutes.

Stir in 3 – 4 tablespoons of chopped herbs, depending on how herby you want your jelly to be. Boil for another minute. Check for set and pour into clean, hot jars.

Make Crab Apple Pectin

This home-made pectin is a useful alternative to commercial liquid pectin and doesn’t need special recipes with reduced boiling times.  I freeze home-made pectin in 100ml containers as that amount works perfectly with recipes such as Rose Petal Jam, which is what I mostly use it for.

Pour 600 ml strained crab apple liquid into a saucepan and boil for 3 minutes. Check the pectin strength using Celia’s instructions. Boil for longer if you think you need a firmer set.
Put into small containers and freeze when cold.

And still there was some crab apple liquid left…

wool dyed with crab apples


… so I poured it into the dye pot and added some wool; one skein was mordanted with alum and the other bramble. They were simmered for an hour and left to cool. Next day, I had one skein of beige wool and one of apricot beige so I soaked them in a water and vinegar solution to see if that would make them pinker. It made absolutely no difference. I rinsed them and then added them to a wood ash water solution, which turned them yellower. Not perhaps the shade I’d choose to knit a jumper, but useful in patterning or for a striped hat.


And finally …

fabric printed with crab apples


A few crab apples that didn’t make it into the saucepan were used to hand print some fabric. Why go to the hassle of carving lino blocks or drawing stencils when you can just cut a fruit or vegetable, dab on some fabric paint and print away? This fabric will probably be used to make a little zippered bag as that’s my current sewing craze.

Next to make:

Tomato & Chilli Jelly

Sweet Spiced Crab Apples

Probably. Possibly. Depending on the weather. It is unseasonably hot and not the weather for standing at the stove.