It’s at precisely the point at which autumn’s consolations of vivid colour begin to appear that I become prepared to accept that the game’s up: the growing season is all but over, all but a dream.
Here at Hawkwood, the Sumach and American Hawthorn are the first to slip into the shades of sunset; the leaves of our subtropical guests – squashes, melons, basil – are shrinking to ashen without such joyful ceremony; my spirits could go either way.
It’s a good time to be enjoying beetroot, I think. We’re growing “Bulls Blood” and “Golden Detroit”, both names accurately reflecting the hues of root and branch, and reflecting the proud tree leaves before The Fall. I’m pleased to say that the local appetite for this generally underrated vegetable has been such that we will have little or no need to elaborate on winter storage for them. However, no authentic seasonal food project is worth its salted cabbage without making some attempt to keep summer’s abundance through the lean months of winter.
The leeks, kale and winter salads will stand out stoically in the ground. We’ll squeeze the last drops of sunshine out to dry the chilli peppers and cure the squash skins, so that both can hibernate until awakened by the fire of the cooking pot. At the Hornbeam café last week, my friend Ida was demonstrating traditional Italian methods of preservation – passata for tomatoes and sott’olio for vegetables such as French beans, courgettes, aubergines and mushrooms. At our Open Day last week Hornbeam chef Juannan led a team cutting a sizeable swathe through our basil jungle, making as much pesto as we had jam jars. Most have sold straight away, and to be honest I’m not sure how many jars will see in the winter, if the rate at which I have consumed mine is anything approaching average.
We are pasteurizing fresh pressed apple juice; making cyder vinegar; Marlene is no doubt racking up the chutneys as we speak; whilst my wine rack is brimming over with summer homebrew and my celery sauerkraut micro-project is surely heart-warmingly optimistic, if nothing else. Like nothing else, those jars and bottles of captured summer bring comfort as we head downhill, totems of a season not wasted but relished lingeringly. First, make things last.