Enjoying the Days of Late Summer

Enjoying the Days of Late Summer

It’s late summer and every day is a little shorter than the previous one; a change that was almost imperceptible a month ago, is now noticeable. There seems a need to enjoy these summer days before they slip away. To notice the colours and the smells. To gather up all the fruit to preserve in sugar or vinegar. This is what late summer looks like at Slamseys this week.

 

Essex arable fields of wheat stubble and ploughed land in late summer

The dusty haze of high summer in the fields has been replaced by more earthy hues. The landscape changes field by field as the plough turns over the pale yellow wheat stubble to leave a rippled field of brown, scattered with white gulls that scavenge the furrows.  Standing on a late summer’s day breathing in the smell of freshly turned soil is a life affirming moment.

late summer artichoke
The bright colours of summer flowers are gradually being replaced by the washed-out colours of the developing seeds. In the fields, the seed heads push above the dying foliage and float away in the breeze though I don’t think these artichokes in the garden are likely to float off anywhere.

 

Crab apples growing on tree in late summer with colours picked out
The orchard is filling with colour as the fruit of each tree ripens; coral coloured crab apples on one tree and yellow on another; bright red Discovery apples contrast with the green leaves looking like a child’s naïve painting of an apple tree; Bramley apples slowly develop streaks of red, quite unlike the unripe green Bramleys in the supermarket.

 

Freshly picked late summer plums, damsons and greengages with colours picked out
In this bumper year for plums, it’s hard to keep up. The tiny yellow plums are just coming to the end and the deep violet coloured Czar plums hang forlornly as they’re ignored in favour of green orbs of deliciousness that are greengages. The damsons on the earliest tree are just ripening. How I long to be an artist who could capture the dusty blues and purples of damsons in a still life painting. Instead, I make damson jam and damson gin that might not be quite so romantic or permanent, but can be a powerful reminder of summer days in the depths of winter.

In late summer we are poised between the growing years. All the wheat is harvested though there is still barley to cut when it dries out enough. The wheat is in the co-operative store, from where it will be sent for milling into flour or used in animal feeds. The raspberries are slowly infusing the gin with their vivid pink colour and taste. Jars of jam and chutney line the pantry shelves. Courgettes in the garden are being ignored as they grow into mini zeppelins. The mobile seed cleaners have been at the farm today preparing the seed wheat for next year’s crop and before long that will be sown. And the growing cycle begins again.

 

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Essex Huffers for Food on the Move

wheat stubble

Harvest started last week. Then it rained and harvest stopped. As usual, it looks as though it will be a stop start affair.

During harvest, food is eaten on the move; throughout the day and into the night, empty cold boxes are dumped on the shelf in the grain store and fresh ones grabbed (though sometimes quite often I get a phone call because the shelf is bare).

Each year I try to find something new to fill the harvest cold boxes and search magazines and the internet for picnic food ideas. Alas, the beautiful looking feather-light sponge cakes and jelly filled glasses set out on checked tablecloths wouldn’t last two minutes being jolted down the fields in a tractor cab.

Food on the move, whether for harvest workers or a day’s walking needs to be robust and filling. Continue reading “Essex Huffers for Food on the Move”

A Holiday at Home

A Holiday at Home

 

We’ve been playing the waiting game at Slamseys. Waiting for the wheat to fully ripen. Waiting for the rain to stop. Then waiting for the sun to shine. Waiting for the wheat to dry. Waiting for harvest to start. But this afternoon, the wheat had been declared fit to combine and soon the yard will be busy with tractors and trailers as Harvest 2017 gets underway.

 

pages from Country Living magazine

There are still raspberries to pick for making raspberry gin but the bulk of the picking has been done, so the pressure is off. Incidentally, if you open the September issue of Country Living, you’ll find an article about Beth and her gin.

Meanwhile, other life at Slamseys has slowed down a little. The classes in the Yoga Studio and The Barley Barn are on a reduced summer holiday timetable and it feels as though everybody else is away on holiday.

For those of us staying at home for the summer, it’s easy to just carry on the same as normal. If we’re away then we change our routine and relax but doing that at home can make us feel guilty. Even more so when harvest is in full swing.

Luckily (for me and everybody else) I’m not called to jump on tractors to corn cart these days and my harvest job is to provide food and calm people down when tempers get frayed by mechanical or weather breakdowns. This summer I’ve decided that if I do the bare minimum in the office, I can keep the harvest workers fed and do all the running about that’s needed with time to ‘holiday at home’ as well.

When the children were young, we used to try new handicrafts and make art throughout the summer holidays and as I rather miss that, I’m hoping to have a creative summer holiday at home. In preparation, I’ve already made a new Gelatine plate for making monoprints with the summer plants and flowers as the old plates had been melted down and reformed so many times that I began to wonder if they were getting a little unhygienic. You can buy a ready-made plastic plate, but making your own is simple and you can make it in any shape or size using this recipe, which just involves a bit of heating, stirring and pouring. Ruth is also going to teach me how to make drypoint prints and I’m keen to experiment with some small scale screen printing.

 

Rebus postcard

Also in the Holiday at Home plan are some local walks and visits to nearby places that I haven’t visited for years. I think it will be rather fun to be a tourist in my home town.

STOP PRESS  Two hours into harvest and a tractor and trailer have sunk into the ground where a water main was laid earlier in the year.  Thankfully, they’ve been towed out now but I fear it will be the first of several stressful incidents.

Home Made Tonic Water

Home Made Tonic Water

Gin is the drink of the moment with new distilleries popping up across the country and it was inevitable that a plethora of premium tonic waters would follow. Saccharine laden tonic water, served warm and slightly flat is so last century.

Given the appearance of these new tonic waters, it might therefore seem odd to make your own tonic water. But, like everything you make yourself, you’re in control and you choose what to put in and what to leave out. If commercial tonic water is too sweet for you, then reduce the sweetness; add flavour with spices like cardamom or coriander or use herbs such as rosemary and thyme; if you fancy something citrussy then add plenty of lemon, orange or grapefruit peel. You could mix the spices and flavourings to complement your gin or leave them out altogether to make a plain tonic water that lets the flavour of your gin shine through.

Home made raspberry tonic water with fresh raspberries

Home Made v Commercial Tonic Water

There are two main differences between home-made tonic water and that which you buy – apart from the taste. Firstly, home-made tonic water is concentrated so before drinking should be diluted at about one part tonic to four parts water. The obvious choice is to dilute with sparkling or soda water, but try it with still water too. Whenever I have a conventional gin and tonic, I’m miserly with commercial tonic water but add a splash of water because I think it emphasises the taste of the gin. Secondly, the cinchona bark gives the tonic water an amber hue, though depending on what flavourings you add, this might not be apparent as you can see from the vibrant colour of the raspberry tonic water above.

Finding the right recipe

When Elizabeth  first told me it was possible to make tonic water at home (with a reminder of the possible toxicity of cinchona) she suggested using the recipe from Jennifer McLagan’s book Bitter. It was simple to make – a bit of zesting, juicing and simmering before straining and mixing with a simple sugar syrup. It was OK, though I needed almost three times the amount of sugar syrup that the recipe suggested and it tasted a bit stewed. At the time, I was going through a bit of a Cold Brew Coffee phase and so it wasn’t a huge jump to wonder if I could make tonic water without heating. After all, we don’t heat the fruit to make fruit gins. A little internet searching proved that others were using a cold infusion so I halved the original recipe, tweaked the flavourings and had another go. Much better.

Seasonal Flavours

I tweaked some more as the roses flowered and then the raspberries and blackcurrants ripened so that I now have bottles of each flavour in the fridge. If you want to have a go at making your own tonic water, the recipe for Homemade Raspberry Tonic Water is at the bottom of the page. It’s no more than putting a few flavourings into a jar with some water, giving it a good shake and leaving it in the fridge for three days before straining and mixing with a simple sugar syrup. The hardest part is finding cinchona bark, but there are plenty of online suppliers.

Needless to say, Raspberry Tonic Water paired with Raspberry Gin is a deliciously fruity combination. Adding it to normal gin will turn it a beautiful colour and give it a raspberry edge. I also think that the slightly bitter note of raspberry tonic water diluted with still or sparkling water (and no gin!) makes a refreshing change from oversweet soft drinks.

Raspberry Lush Gin Slush cocktail

Raspberry Gin Lush Slush

If you want to make a slightly more interesting drink with your raspberry tonic water, then can I recommend a Raspberry Gin Lush Slush. Follow this Gin Slush recipe but reduce the water by ¼ cup and replace with home-made Raspberry Tonic Water.

Chin Chin!

 

Home Made Raspberry Tonic Water

Make your own raspberry tonic water

 

340ml water
Zest only of ½ orange, 2 lemons and 1 lime (use a vegetable peeler)
20g citric acid
10g cinchona bark
¼ teasp Maldon sea salt
1 teasp lightly crushed coriander seeds
50g lightly crushed raspberries

Put everything into a jar. Shake well and leave in the fridge for 3 days, shaking every day.

Make a simple syrup by adding 250g sugar to 250g of water in a saucepan. Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring to the boil and remove from the heat. Leave to cool.

Take the jar from the fridge, strain the contents through your finest sieve (I use a coffee sieve) and throw away the bits.

Now strain the liquid through a coffee filter paper, which is a bit of a pain but it will give you a bright and clear liquid. I find it easiest to do this in two batches, replacing the filter paper after the first batch. Using cinchona bark and not powder makes this easier.

Mix with the cold syrup and bottle.

Keep in the fridge and dilute 1 part tonic syrup to 4 parts still or sparkling water. Don’t shake as you don’t want to drink the sediment.