Posts Tagged ‘Summer’

Autumn riches – blackberry heaven!

September 27, 2013

Summer in all its glory, has come and gone. And as if to make sure we understood, the weather turned bad overnight and gave us all a nasty turn. This week though we are back to lovely Autumnal days; cool sunshine, turning leaves and ripening fruit.

Living as we do in the big metropolis with a weeny (but so glad we have it) garden, our fruit-growing abilities are somewhat limited, however we do have a thornless blackberry, which always provides us with heavy crops of delicious blackberries in the late Summer and Autumn.

blackberries in a colander

All you folk who live out of London will be laughing into your tea at the idea of planting a blackberry bush. Is she mad? Just go blackberrying. Well yes I would, but I haven’t found a reliable crop near us and anyway there’s something quite lovely about striding (all of a dozen steps) to the end of our garden and plucking a few ripe juicy fruits to add to my breakfast bowl each morning.

Don’t get me wrong, if we’re in the countryside then I love nothing more than scratching my arms to pieces in order to gather a bowl or bagful of lovely ripe blackberries, but this is our easy urban alternative.

As a fruiting plant to cultivate, a blackberry bush has to be the easiest as it requires barely any maintenance. Each year it puts forth two, or when it’s feeling particularly happy three, new shoots from the base. In their first year these new shoots grow and climb and sprout leaves. They are eager to please and grow vigorously. In their second year these same branches will flower and then bear fruit, while down below another two branches begin sprouting ready for serious growth the following year.

All I do each year in late Autumn is cut down the two or three branches that have just fruited, leaving next year’s growth ready to flower (and then fruit) the following Spring. I also clip the ends of those new branches so that they bush out rather than continuing to fire out longer and longer stems. How easy is that! I have never fed it – well maybe when feeding other nearby plants, but not because it needs it.

branch of blackberries

Of course it’s quite unruly, especially if left completely to its own devices, but I can tie back the branches easily enough and its somewhat random and wild growth suits our somewhat errr random and wild garden.

This year we’ve had a bumper crop; all that Summer sunshine has produced an abundance of plump sweet fruit. In the countryside blackberries can vary from tiny, hard, hairy fellas to sweet, round juicy beauties, and the two can be in brambles right next to each other – overall I think there are around 150 varieties of wild blackberries. Of course the glorious challenge is in reaching the juiciest, which are inevitably the ones that are tantalisingly just out of reach. Those fellas are definitely worth fighting for, but there’s also something very nice and London-ish about being able to pick a bowlful of consistently big and juicy blackberries from our garden without spending time removing small thorns from our forearms afterwards. It’s theraputic as, although we’re in the middle of London, our garden is very quiet and to lose oneself in something so sweet and satisfying is a joy.

bowl of blackberries and a book

The book is a great read: Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

So what have we done with this year’s lush fruit? Well apart from eating them straight off the bush, I have as I mentioned, been scattering them on my summer breakfast oats for the past few weeks. I soak oats and some chia seeds with milk and a squeeze of lemon juice overnight and serve them cold with fruit and yoghurt.

overnight oats with blackberries

The basic recipe is courtesy of my favourite cookery blog: My New Roots written by Sarah-Britton who-is-a-culinary-genius. Her recipes have had greater influence on my diet in recent years than anyone else’s. So if you’re in the mood for a dietary revamp head over to My New Roots and dive in. Highlights for me include her totally addictive kale crisps which are and her best lentil salad ever, which is. Oh and I must mention our most recent find: Flavour Bomb Greens and Noodles. Go on, you won’t regret it!

Alongside the daily blackberry pickings we’ve also had 3 bumper crops so far. With the first, in the heat of summer, I made a blackberry sage water – fruit and sage leaves muddled together (with a muddler – woo hoo!) and topped up with sparkling water.

blackberry sage water

While I sipped on my delicate flavoured water I made a batch of blackberry ripple ice creams that went down a storm with the troops. A simple concoction of custard, condensed milk and of course blackberries, these beauts are based on a recipe for raspberry ripple ice creams. They would be good to make with the children, if any of the mixture made it into the moulds that is. Although we loved them there’s still one left in the fridge because none of us can bear to eat the last one. Maybe we’ll put it out for Father Christmas – it’ll make a nice change from mince pies.

blackberry ripple ice cream

With the last of that crop I made an upside-down blackberry cake, courtesy of Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall. I forgot to take a picture. A nice alternative to a classic apple and blackberry crumble or pie but there’s a reason why those two are classics.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to harvest number two. I’ve made blackberry cordial before and homemade mure – a blackberry liqueur but this time I fancied blackberry jam. A peruse online and I found a recipe for blackberry jam with mint and ginger. End result: delicious but a bit runny and not particularly well-spiced. I couldn’t taste the mint or the ginger, though Danny could tell there were other flavours. Not convinced, I re-boiled the jam with some more ginger and mint. Now it zings and sings!

Crop number three has given us more breakfast berries, as well as an intense smooth blackberry puree for ice cream and finally blackberry five spice sauce to accompany grilled chicken (duck or pork). Delicious. It shall be repeated. Incidentally the recipe requires the sauce to be made in a Vitamix. I made it in a pan and strained it afterwards. Easy peasy.

As an extra special addition we sprinkled on some freshly ground szechuan pepper – our first crop EVER from our very own szechuan pepper tree.

As you chew Szechuan peppercorns (the pink shells actually) they release fascinating flavours known as ‘ma’ and ‘la’. They are a complex taste sensation that left my bottom lip partially numb for half an hour after trying my first one! Try it, it’s amazing. Oh you don’t have a szechuan pepper tree? Really? Oh, right, well my mistake…

szechuan pepper bush

I love our little peppercorn tree – its leaves smell citrusy (because it’s a citrus) and deserve a little rub on the way past. It came from Otter Farm in Devon which is run by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s farming chum Mark Diacono. Mark has a lot to say about szechuan pepper just here. He has made it his mission to grow more unusual crops and fruit trees, especially now that things are hotting up a little in the U.K. Have a look online and see if you can’t be tempted…

blackberries tipped into a bowl

Overall I’ve come to the conclusion, that having a small garden, we are better off growing fruit and veg that aren’t easy to buy. Last year we grew strawberries, but what’s the point when we can buy punnets of English grown strawberries in season? So instead we’ve switched to growing alpine strawberries. We don’t get many but each one is a little powerhouse of intense flavour and a really special treat, especially eaten straight off the plant.

So as we come to the end of this growing season, I am looking forward to the next with eager excitement. Time to consult some books, do some research and buy some seeds. And in the meantime I feel a blackberry and apple crumble coming on. Why don’t you get out there and do some blackberrying too – there’s still time for one of the best seasonal treats there is and it’s totally free! Quick, before it starts raining again.

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Down the rabbit hole. And back again.

July 19, 2013

I met an old friend for coffee the other day and was extolling the joys and virtues of blogging to him. I told him how it stretches my mind and how writing it takes me along pathways I don’t even realise exist, until I put virtual pen to virtual paper.

At its absolute best that’s what blogging does for me – takes me on surprise journeys through my own mind, creating links where I didn’t realise there were links and taking me along avenues of thought I wouldn’t otherwise visit.┬áNothing profound you understand, I’m not smart enough for that, but meandering, ambling strolls that I enjoy and always hope others will too.

tudor canal narrow boat

It’s amazing how the act of writing a few particular words at a certain moment can take me off down a certain little track. And had I written different words at that very moment then the pathway would be completely different. Without getting too deep and meaningless, it makes me think that maybe I should be able to influence how I feel and react to stuff that happens in life by crafting my response to it. But that’s a post for another day…

After I left the coffee shop and my friend Jon, I thought to myself, so if it’s so great why haven’t you written a blog post for ages, missus? I could contemplate my navel here and come up with complex reasons why, and indeed there are some questions in my mind about audience, expectations, hopes and self-doubt, but in the main, life’s just been too busy, so I lost sight of the blogging thread for a while. Anyway I’ve found it now, it was in a corner, peeping out from beneath some must-do paperwork that I still haven’t done.

So what busy-ness is that then? Is that where the word business comes from by the way? Well; husband absent for over 3 weeks, a loooooong weekend at Glastonbury and then friends staying with us for nearly two weeks out of three (they arrived on the doorstep 30 minutes after I downed my Glastonbury backpack!) and now a cling-on ride on the ‘end-of-term-comet’ that we parents board before the Summer holidays.

All this has meant I’ve had my head down for several weeks now, pulled along by everything going on around me. Mostly it’s been okay and sometimes great, but at other times I’ve felt like I’m being dragged along. So I fight against the tide. I’m not sure why really.

It’s true that it has been tricky at times, with all this stuff going on, but it’s also true that I have a tendency sometimes to make life harder for myself (and no doubt others) than it needs to be. I find that if my hopes and (high?) expectations aren’t met I’m crestfallen, dismayed and upset. Not sure why. And of course this takes me back to the first paragraph. Couldn’t I change those moods and influence those feelings by choosing how I interpret events and happenings; choosing which path I follow. Certainly in principle, but in practice…?

In any event it’s been full on and I do feel like I’ve been down the proverbial rabbit hole for a bit too long. So it’s nice to be back in the fresh air, especially as I can see that with all this sunshine, the lettuces are doing rather well up here. Mmmm…

Glastonbury sign

Before the crowds!

At Glastonbury we were literally down a rabbit hole, well not literally, literally you understand, but in a weenie club called the Rabbit Hole where we witnessed one of my aforementioned wished for festival highlights. In this instance Keith Allen and his famous-actor-y mates performing “Hit me with your Rhythm Stick” in Japanese and Welsh, though not at the same time. They made a fine job of it and such is Keith Allen’s charisma and joie de vivre that the tiny audience of about 40 (out of 170,000 Glasto punters) enjoyed themselves very much indeed.

Rabbit hole club with Keith Allen singing

Down the rabbit hole with Keith Allen and friends

I could talk about Glastonbury for a loooooong time, but I’ve been so remiss in filing my report that it is most definitely yesterday’s news. In fact that particular newspaper has been used for chips and recycled into toilet paper by now.

But while I don’t feel a blow by blow account is in order, I will give you a taste of my Glastonbury Festival; which was bigger, bolder and brighter than I imagined it could be. As it’s 13 years since I last went (B.C.), the sheer scale of it now is mind-blowing. And yet while there are missions and must-see moments to pursue and long journeys to make across field and hill, there’s also (if you allow yourself) plenty of opportunity to hang out and just be; watching the Glastonbury World go by; dipping in and out of the madness as you see fit.

Board man at glasto

Board man

I think so long as you don’t try and see it all then you won’t be disappointed. Danny for one refused to go to the John Peel stage because it was just too far away, but with about 99 other stages to visit, stumble upon or avoid it’s probably good that we struck one off our list!

I daresay we missed some cracking music there but we had our own musical highlights including Alt-J (twice), the Hives (with a frontman who knows how to play a festival), daily breakfast with our friends Foghorn Leghorn on stage, the glory of Nick Cave on the Pyramid stage (who needs the Rolling Stones) and our finest musical moment of all: Nile Rodgers and Chic.

If I could write ‘Chic’ in sparkling, glittering, shimmering colours right here and now, I would, but I can’t, so instead I’ll just tell you: Chic were amazing and fabulous and wonderful and had the whole crowd dancing and singing to their parade of endless hits.

Glastonbury sign post at night

This long weekend was peppered with weird and wonderful sights, sounds, tastes and experiences to behold, but for me the bestest part of all was Shangri-la – a mind boggling world of fantastic clubs set in a post-apocalyptic World. Each club was crazier than the last: try the Horse Meat Disco with obligatory ‘taches for all and a transvestite catwalk show in which half the contestants looked like they’d spent all day creating their look while the other half looked like they’d backed out of their tents and were wearing whatever got attached on the way out.

Day of the Dead dancers at Glasto

Danny taught them the bus driver dance. Their repotoire is complete.

Then there was the Copper Dollar club with Day of the Dead dancing skelis whooping it up to fine electro-swing tunes. Of course obligatory in any post-apocalyptic World there was also Heaven, Hell and Purgatory to visit. We spent Saturday afternoon in Hell, except it was heaven: dancing to Norman Jay tunes in the sun. That was the first real day of scorching sunshine, it felt amazing and special – little did we know!

Heaven (you had to win to get in) was entirely white inside! Wellies off at the door please! And the piece de resistance: a row of white porcelain toilets right in the centre of the club. Heaven indeed in the middle of Glastonbury!

Underground club Glastonbury

The London Underground club in Block 9. Glad we missed the last train home.

And after another dance, some tea and a cheese toastie at the House of Ideas (Jules Verne rusting submarine-ish club complete with tunnel to the bar and leather wing-backed chairs should you want a nice sit down!), guess what? Non-drinking, non-smoking, non-anything me was the one still dancing and whooping it up at 4.30 a.m… Woo hoo!

Glasto Peely's dog_4241

And I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to wake up each day knowing I wasn’t going to have a hangover. Do you know that moment? The one when you first come to, where you first check out the state of your body and mind, before you actually wake up. Too often in the past, that moment has been defined for me with ‘oh no, I’m going to have a hangover’. Well not any more!┬áI can so recommend it. I know I’m getting all evangelical here, but I hope not preachy – it wouldn’t do any good to preach anyhow, would it. All I can just say is that for me life after drink is a lot easier and better than life with it.

Cloud 9 sign at Glasto

Cloud 9 indeed

Ironically what one might do here is offer a toast, a ‘cheers’ to that! Because that’s what we do of course, celebrate everything with a drink! Ee gads. Well instead I shall celebrate with cake.

This is a ‘cake’ I invented, that you can EASILY reproduce, providing you have access to a watermelon. It’s perfect for this beautiful summer weather and best of all it requires NO BAKING whatsoever. Who wants to bake in this heat? Me sir. I want to bake myself, but I don’t want to bake cakes. No sir.

Watermelon cake

What could be easier!

So get making, not baking and allow your creation to cool in the fridge before you cut yourself a large slice, pour yourself a glass of lemonade and enjoy this wonderful sunshine. Cheers!

Slice of watermelon cake

Happy sunny weekend one and all!


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