It does seem premature to mention Christmas at the beginning of November but Christmas celebrations seem to get earlier every year. Fifteen years ago, our best-selling day for Christmas trees was a mid-December Saturday but that’s moved forward to the first weekend of December. Similarly, our commercial customers now want their trees delivered in the third week of November, which seems incredibly early. The world of Christmas decorations is even worse. This morning, an invitation popped through the door to visit the showrooms of one of our suppliers at the beginning of December. To view the Christmas 2018 range of decorations. Yes, 2018. Before we’ve even had Christmas 2017.
Our Christmas decorations shop opens on Friday, so over the past couple of weeks, The Barley Barn has been transformed from spartan printmaking classroom to a sparkling Christmassy barn. Consequently, I’m quite glittered out. We ordered our stock back in January, so as we’ve worked our way through the pallet loads of cardboard boxes, we’ve sometimes been surprised by the contents. Usually, it’s a good surprise, though occasionally we wonder what possessed us to order such vast quantities of a product. Mainly we wonder why we’re so attracted to snow globes.
My favourite Christmas 2017 decorating trend is the modern take on metallic. The popularity of the traditional Christmas mix of red, green and yellow gold has declined over the years, overtaken by cool whites and bright silvers with a splash of red, perhaps influenced by hygge and Scandi style interiors. But this year, metallic colours are back with a vengeance.
Rose gold, copper, pewter and bronze are bigger than ever this year, perhaps fuelled by the fact they’re popping up in interiors everywhere. Did you see Nigella’s copper coloured mixer on her latest TV show? Apparently, John Lewis sold out of copper Kitchen Aid mixers online within ten minutes of the show finishing.
Christmas 2017 metallic decorations are textured and glittery, ranging from dull to super shiny. I love them mixed with deep blues and greys. This may be because we’ve been picking sloes to make sloe gin and the dusky blue of the sloes have been imprinted on my mind. It’s certainly a welcome relief from the minimalistic white of past trends.
Have you even started to think about your Christmas decorations? What influences your colour scheme?
The brown fields of early October are slowly changing colour. Walk the fields with a farmer and you’ll watch them search the field for the first signs of germination, scrabbling around with their hands to see if there’s still a seed there and if it’s starting to shoot. Soon there’s a slight green tinge to the field as the first green shoots appear and then the rows of tiny wheat plants become clear as you look across the field. This is next year’s harvest.
We’re sloe picking. It’s been a fantastic year for plums of every description and the sloes, forerunners of our modern plums, are no exception. The sloes are picked from the blackthorn hedges on the farm and used for making sloe gin, which seems appropriate as the first record of our farm appears in the Domesday Book, where it’s listed as Slamondesheia, which is thought to originate from the Old English meaning enclosure of the sloe tree hill. We still have plenty of sloe bearing blackthorn on the farm and every new hedge that’s planted here includes a good proportion of blackthorn to keep Slamseys Gin well supplied.
Look at the thorns that we reach across to pick the sloes. They’re vicious and always seem to be right in front of the juiciest looking sloes. Sometimes we prune the blackthorn and pick the sloes from the cuttings. It’s certainly easier for Beth to take a pile of blackthorn branches back to the garden and pick off the sloes while one of her boys sleeps in the pram beside her and the other plays in the sandpit. The two year old is adept at raspberry picking but I think it will be a few years before he can pick sloes.
A high tech measuring stick in the Christmas trees. Orders for large trees are coming in from local churches, businesses and parish councils so the trees are chosen, measured and marked ready for cutting down next month. We sold our first Christmas tree of the year in the middle of September and will cut down several this month; all for photo shoots rather than super-excited house decorating. Well, that’s what they told us.
The sign outside the Yoga Studio in the yard. In the build up to December, it might be an idea if we all took heed of the advice and stepped inside the door. Instead, we hurry past averting our eyes from the bodies within.
There’s also been a little faffing around with berries and leaves. A calming and meditative pastime. Or a useless waste of time. Depending on your point of view.
Collect, inspire and create in October or should I change the title?
We’ve been collecting autumnal things to decorate The Barley Barn and Ruth has been running autumn themed printmaking workshops for which her students bring in things that remind them of autumn to inspire their printmaking. One person got out her great granny’s cookery notes and made some autumnal gingerbread while others have brought in collections of fruits and vegetables, fabrics, ornaments, colour swatches and wonderful sketches. All of these different collections have been used as inspiration for some interesting printmaking and perfectly fulfil the criteria: collect, inspire, create. Continue reading “Collect, Inspire, Create”
The rosehips in the hedgerows and garden are ready to pick.
There are deep red round rosehips on the Rosa Rugosa and large round, orange rosehips on The Generous Gardener bush in the garden.
Brightly coloured oval rosehips grow in various hedges around the farm.
It seems a shame not to use them somehow. Here’s a few ideas to use these pretty autumnal fruits.
Thread a needle with cotton and push it through each rosehip. Use a tiny piece of twig at the bottom to stop the hips falling off and use it as a hanging decoration or make a mini garland to string across a small window.
Twist a few branches of willow into a circle and add rosehips, crab apples and acorns to make an autumn wreath. Use a ready made wreath if you don’t have any suitable whippy branches.
AUTUMN PUDDING of ROSEHIP FOOL
If you look up recipes for using rosehips, they mostly instruct you to boil them up and strain them through a jelly bag to extract their juice to make syrups, jellies and soups (being acidic, you can use them instead of tomatoes). Alternatively, you can slit open every rosehip, extract the seeds and hairs and use the flesh for making teas, jams or tarts.
However, the easiest way to use rosehips is to make rosehip puree. Give the freshly picked rosehips a good wash and then simmer them in an equal quantity of water for an hour until they’re soft and squidgy. Allow them to cool a little and then put them through a food mill to puree the flesh and sieve out the seeds in one go. Pushing the puree through a fine sieve afterwards makes sure that all the seeds and hairs are removed. If you don’t have a food mill, just sieve them. You can use the rosehip puree to make soup or use them as you would any other fruit puree. I find that 500g of rosehips simmered with 500g of water gives me about 400g of puree.
The best pairing for the rosehip puree is a little sugar and cream so the ideal simple and delicious thing to make is an autumnal Rosehip Fool. Vary the quantities according to numbers; the recipe below will make six generous helpings.
240g rosehip puree (see the method above)
3 tablespoons caster sugar
300ml double cream
Whip the cream until it’s soft and floppy. Add the sugar and puree and briefly whip to ensure it’s evenly incorporated. Spoon into six serving dishes.
You can eat this straight away or leave it to settle for a couple of hours in the fridge.
Today is Michaelmas Day, which was once an important quarter day in the farming calendar.
Here in the east of England where arable farms predominate, Michaelmas was the time when farms changed hands and tenancies began or ended. Harvest was finished and the ground was being prepared for planting the new year’s crops so it was a natural time for changeovers and stock taking valuations. Nowadays, harvest is usually finished well before Michaelmas Day and some of next year’s crops are already planted in the ground but traditions are hard to break, so we still pay our farm rents on Michaelmas Day and Lady Day (25th March) and many farm businesses still finish their accounting year at the end of September. Continue reading “Michaelmas Day predictions”
Apart from a few glorious weeks in June, summer 2017 was a bit damp and despite my hopes for an Indian summer, autumn is creeping in at speed. The hedgerows are splashed with the red of rosehips and hawthorn berries and soon the leaves on the trees will change colour and fall to the ground. Continue reading “Was that summer?”
At this time of year, there are blackberries to be found all over the place, from the slightly run down corner of the car park in town, in the country park or in the hedgerows around the farm. Food for free. Who can resist?
There’s a certain nostalgia attached to blackberry picking. I always imagine a picture lifted straight from a 1960s Ladybird book with a happy family, wicker basket in hand wandering along a country lane on a sunny autumnal afternoon. Possibly with the prospect of a picnic at the end, complete with red gingham tablecloth and bottles of pop. Continue reading “Making the most of blackberries”