A couple of weeks ago a tsunami of delicious fruit and veg came my way. Pottering round the supermarket I found that small hard pears were on special offer – perfect for making pickled pears or chutney. And a bit further along another offer on oranges. On my way home I called on my lovely friends John and Victoria who have a large old Bramley apple tree in their garden – could I use some? Usually Victoria cooks and freezes loads to use when they have visitors. Covid meant no entertaining so there was still a lot of apple in the freezer and, after a fall in the garden, she didn’t feel up to doing more just to stop them going to waste. I brought a huge box of them home. We had a few days of glorious autumn sunshine and each time I walked Roo (my Kelpie x Collie) I took a basket and picked blackberries from the hedgerows. Another friend, Lindy, had been given 2 red and 2 green cabbage plants by her Dad in the spring and they had grown to football size. Like me she lives alone so 4 huge cabbages were rather a lot! I suggested she make pickled red cabbage but it turned out that she had got it into her head that jams, pickles and the like were technically difficult and, if everything wasn’t sterilised to operating theater cleanliness, potentially dangerous.
So Lindy came over with her 2 red cabbages and we pickled them together. It is a 2 day process. Day 1 was to shred the cabbages and layer them with salt before leaving them overnight. We also spiced some vinegar and left it to cool. We had done that by lunchtime so in the afternoon we used some of the apples and the pears I had bought and made some chutney. After she had left to go to choir practice I boiled up the blackberries with some more apples for bramble jelly and left them to drain through muslin overnight.
The next day I was still boiling up the jelly when Lindy arrived so she got a quick impromptu lesson in ‘how to know when jam is at setting point’ and a reminder of ‘how to sterilise jars in the oven’. Then we packed the cabbage into jars and poured the vinegar on top. There was still time to make some pickled orange wedges using the fruit I had bought. A crash course in preserving! But she has some green tomatoes that she needs to use and feels confident enough to turn them into chutney (with some more of Victoria’s apples) without my help.
I turned some more of the blackberries into blackberry vinegar; I like it as a drink diluted with fizzy lemonade, use it in salad dressings and it is my secret ingredient in lots of savoury dishes.
I have been stewing and bottling more of the apples and now have nineteen 1lb jam jars on the shelf. And there are still a large bowlful left. I have plenty of jars but have run out of lids. I bought more but being a numpty I ordered the wrong size! They fit the smaller jars I have so will get used when I make more jam or things like onion marmalade but those jars are too small for bottling fruit. Maybe I will pick some sloes. Or rowan berries – I have never made rowanberry jelly. One thing is for sure – they will not go to waste.
For those of you who remember that I have 2 dogs and are wondering why I only mention one, Orchid, my lurcher, is getting on a bit (at least 11 years old) and has arthritis which is particularly bad at the moment so long walks are out of the question for her.
I deliberately try to grow more food in this garden than I need so I have some to give away. That is prticularly true for low work, high value stuff like soft fruit. I mean what woman can eat all the apricots 2 trees produce or the grapes from 5 vines? The grapes are a bit OTT I have to admit. I have tried making wine and it comes into the ‘drinkable if desperate or too drunk to care’ category so I have given up. Partly I grow the vines to give some shade in the greenhouses, partly because they look so lovely – the fruit is a bonus. But it is easy to give away and the birds enjoy the rest. Bushes like blackcurrants are so easy to reproduce from cuttings – again I give away loads and find spaces for any that are left which add to the bounty. I also go foraging along the lanes in autumn for blackberries and sloes.
As well as eating as much of the fruit and veg as I want and giving away some of the surplus I bottle fruit, fill the freezer, make jams, chutneys, pickles and buy citrus fruit to make marmalade. Those stocks help me through the winter and there are very few people who aren’t grateful for a gift of homemade preserves.
I also belong to a group who buy direct from Suma Wholesale. Suma is a workers co-operative which supplies wholefoods and organic groceries, mostly to shops, through a website. When John and Jean, the organisers of the group tell us that they are planning a delivery we each go online and order what we need. At the checkout we put our name as the reference. The whole lot, together with copies of the orders, is then delivered to John and Jean who spend a couple of hours sorting it into different piles in their home office ready for us to collect. I have discovered (sometimes the hard way) that not everything is worth buying in bulk – some walnuts went rancid before I could use them all up. But flour, dried fruit, tins of tomatoes and things like that last indefinitely.
A few weeks before we were all told to stay home I had to go to Carmarthen. I usually shop in Cardigan where there are more of the small independent shops I prefer but to get my hair cut or to have my NHS hearing aids serviced I have to go to Carmarthen. The supermarkets there are bigger than in Cardigan and realising that Easter would come up before I went there again I decided to stock up my freezer ready for family visiting. I expected my son to collect his son from Swansea University and he usually makes a weekend of it. Lately he has been giving Sean’s housemate, Irfan, a lift home too so that is 3 extra people to feed. I also wondered if my daughter might take the chance to come whilst her daughter was on holiday with her friend’s family.
In the event of course my son made a flying visit just before lockdown began and none of them has been able to visit since. Nor have I been going out to workdays and events so I have been baking less.
I have been so grateful for my ‘pantry’ now! I was able to help my neighbour out with some things she had run short of and she gave me eggs which she gets from a friend of hers. Since it is a dairy farm they can also give me milk when I need some.
After not going out other than to walk the dogs for 2 weeks I went to C&M on Saturday for some fresh veg and this week I will have to go to the Farmers Co-op for some dog food and cat food. Both places have instituted systems where you tell them what you need and they put your order outside for you to pick up. There is no contact between staff and customers and customers are expected to be sensible about staying well apart in the car park. But I think it will be several weeks before I need to brave a supermarket again!