Thursday, February 18, 2021

It's February and we're....frazzled!


We're heading into the last week of February and I have to admit to a degree of ,erm, grumpiness. Lockdown seems endless, winter seems endless and endless just seems endless. Bah Humbug!

So I will get the gripes over with first: Fly tipping and casual littering. Why? When the world is out of control, why not at least take ownership of that which you can control?

Travel the little lanes around my village and you
will find a ditch full of carpet off-cuts (they've been there since Christmas Day. I know, because I reported it), a pile of used tyres on the edge of a field and a mattress in a small lay-by. Not only that, but on one particular lane, there is a trail of Isla Negra Sauvignon Blanc bottles (there are so many that I could identify the brand!), accompanied by the occasional beer can. On another corner, McDonalds wrappers and cups vie for space with energy drink cans.

Why? What makes someone so disrespectful of the countryside and the people who live there, that they would dump their waste in a ditch or on a corner? When someone throws out their Maccie Dee's wrapper, what on earth makes them think that it is better thrown on the side of the road than kept in their car until they find a bin? And as for the wine bottles....well, I can only think that there is a teenager somewhere who is tapping away at a parental supply, or someone has a very guilty drinking problem. The point is - don't dump it! It would take just as much effort to find a bin or take your bigger rubbish to a commercial dump. I would have taken on some tyres (for raised beds) if someone was happy to deliver them (they were happy to dump them....) AND if you're thinking that there's an excuse not to use the municipal tip because it is closed - most are not. AND if you need to get rid of a mattress, councils will remove bulky items for not very much cost.

Why leave your mess for someone else? I don't get it. Especially now that the countryside and open places have become so important and precious.

Rant over (for now...)

As lockdown drags on for what must certainly be the 99th month, I have reflected on how my priorities have changed. With holidays and travel out of the question, I have found that I think very carefully about where I spend my money.

Historically, I am very middle class in my shopping habits. Waitrose, when I had a local, saw a lot of my footfall and then I did the discrete move to Ocado. However, all of that changed in March 2020 when delivery slots suddenly became like hen's teeth. It was then that I discovered more local alternatives such as Ashlyns (, a company that used to supply the hospitality industry, but were forced to move into home delivery to keep afloat. There are dozens of such companies across the country. And there are good reasons to use them : their prices tend to be reasonable and their produce tends to be locally sourced. I don't eat meat, but my husband does and it is important to me that I know where the meat he eats comes from. If you use a local company, they should be able to tell you (try tracing the source of meat in your Tesco shop - not so easy!) By buying from a local company I am also supporting local farmers.

And here I must also mention our fantastic local pub, The Fox. A family-run business, they have done everything to support our little community, including opening a shop to supply essentials, on top of regular takeaways. During the worst days of panic buying, they were, literally, a lifeline for many. Now that things are not quite so dire, they still provide a non-supermarket option (and give my pre-teen a chance to go off by herself to buy a muffin once a week - a very precious outing in a time of no outings!)

Of course, the panic buying and lack of delivery slots of early 2020 have now faded into the past. I never did go back to Ocado. By the time I found a slot, it cost £6.50 for a delivery and that just seemed outrageous. So I tried Iceland. Yes, really. A definite departure from my middle class habits. What I did find was that slots are regularly available and that their fresh produce (albeit a bit limited in variety) is of really good quality. Their frozen veg is fab and they also sell a good bottle of wine. What's not to like? They also deliver free for orders over £35. And their customer service, at least in my neck of the woods, has been great. 

The other solid alternative is Tesco click and collect. You pay a small packing charge, but it is super convenient and it saves going into a store for those things that you cannot get anywhere else but a supermarket.

 I now buy cleaning products in bulk.  I prefer to use eco-friendly products and have found that this is cheaper (and less wasteful) when bought in bigger packs. I like Big Green Smile ( because they have a good range and their delivery is quite quick. Bigger packs mean less plastic, mean less waste. I regularly buy laundry liquid (Ecover), dishwashing soap (Ecover) and hand wash (Bio D) in 5l containers. They also stock a good range of eco-friendly and paraben free personal care products.

And then there's good 'ole Milk and More who have been consistently reliable over the last year. There is something very lovely about opening your door to find a pint of milk on your doorstep.

Going forward, I wonder how much my - and the collective `our' - habits will change. I would hope that we all try to support local (eat local, buy local). Our world has become small over the last year. While that isn't always a good thing, it has been useful to pause and think about what we have and how we can make it better. It is a more profound question than simply where we buy our cauliflower, but I would hope we consider carefully where we put our hard-earned cash and which companies we reward with our business.

Meanwhile, outside, the snowdrops are in bloom and the daffodils are poking through the water-logged grass. Hang in there, everyone, at least Spring is on the way!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

So long, 2020...

 So here we are - December 31st, 2020.

What a year. No exclamation mark, just the statement. Because that is what is has been  - a year of whats and what-ifs and unbelievable possibilities amongst the madness.

What a year.

The pandemic has been an unmistakable water-mark across 2020. Who could have, would have imagined when, way back in January, we heard about a new disease in China. Nobody dreamed a lockdown would ever happen - let alone lockdown two and three. Suddenly flour and cooking oil became impossible to find (and lets not even talk about toilet roll!) Everything we took for granted, from the casual hugging of friends, to the ability to nip into London on a train, disappeared overnight. For a while, we all froze. Afraid. And the first wave in the Spring of 2020 seemed to bring with it wave after wave of bad news.

But this is the curious thing - looking back at the last 12 months, it hasn't all been bad. And I say this with the greatest respect and sympathy to those who have lost loved ones and their livelihoods in the course of this year. I know I have been unbelievably lucky when so many others have suffered and are still suffering. And that's part of what has made this year good - a renewed sense of how fortunate I am. How lucky I am to live in a country where medical care is free. How lucky to live in a country where there are enough other lucky people to help those who need it. 

This year, I have learnt to value my friendships. I'm not necessarily the best friend. Socialising isn't top of my favourite list, but this year I have learnt the value of checking in. The casual chat, whether over messenger or wattsapp or the more organised Zoom. All the small gestures that remind us that there are other people out there who care about us. 

This year, I have learnt to value my garden and nature in a more profound way than I have before. This from someone who has always loved the outdoors. In the long ironic summer, we walked footpaths we hadn't walked before, discovering again how beautiful the world is. This year I have watched each new growth as its own little miracle. I have planned and planted and got to know the birds. I have never been more excited for the coming Spring!

This year, I have learnt again how wonderful and terrible human beings are. I'll leave out the terrible for now (unfortunately, just plain stupid falls into that category!)and let's think about the wonderful. The wonderful people who have stepped up to help friends and neighbours. In our village, the wonderful people of our pub, The Fox Inn, who got up when they kept being hammered down, to open a village shop, to deliver takeaways, to innovate and create, no matter how many times they were battered. The sense of community that came out of supporting the pub. My neighbour, who started the pandemic year alone, having lost his wife in 2019, who was isolated from a family that worked in the care sector for many long lonely months, who persevered. Who hung in there, chatting to neighbours across the hedge, so that, at the close of 2020 he has met someone new and life is again, looking good. And to the almost-miracle which means that we are ending the year with several vaccines at play across the world - an unprecedented medical feat. Proof of how tenacious we are as a species. How we are able to survive.

Which makes us all wonder what the new year will bring.

Have we learned the lessons we should have about our planet? I fear not. The huge amount of litter strewn around the country the moment we ended our first lockdown is testament to a wholescale attitude of `don't care.'

Have we learnt the lesson we should have about animal welfare? I fear not. My news feed reports that the biggest pig farm in the world is opening in China. And who knew how many mink were being farmed in Europe until the shock of hearing about how many million were destroyed?

Have we learnt to be less consumerist?  I don't know. Sales of clothing are down, but the huge piles of packaging left out for recycling after Christmas point to a continued appetite for `stuff'. The television still advertises swathes of rubbish we don't need.

But I am hopeful.

Conspiracy theorists go on about a `global reset'. I'm not an expert, but as far as I know, it boils down to the idea that the current economy of the world is being `reset' to make way for a new one. In the worst of the theories, this is a 1984 doomsday scenario, a Pol Pot version of reducing civilisation.. But I have to admit that I hope for some sort of `reset'. Not a radical wiping out of ideas and innovation, but a rethinking of where happiness and wealth come from.

Here, in my little corner of the edge of Essex, I'm really looking forward to the new year. The hope of new beginnings, new innovations. I look forward to seeing my cherry trees and June berries bud and bloom for the first time. I look forward to being able to visit my daughter in her new home. I look forward to all the many wonderful things that can happen.

Wishing you all a very happy start to 2021 - may the coming year be filled with wonder.

Thursday, December 10, 2020


The Christmas Tree is now up in all it's dishevelled glory, as though some evil fairy has spewed glitter in the corner of the room. 

A few years ago, my eldest daughter tried to colour-coordinate the tree, buying gorgeous blue and silver baubles and matching tinsel. Problem is, I am too tight (erm, sensibly frugal...) to throw out any bauble/tinsel/ bit of glittery stuff in favour of a colour scheme on what is, essentially, a decoration. So our tree is a mish-mash of shiny things bought and made through the years. (The oldest decorations were bought via mail-order catalogue when we lived on a farm in the North of South Africa, 27 years ago!)

Our tree is an aging fake - about 12 years old now - that, in a bid to be a real tree, manages to shed bits of needle-shaped green all over the carpet with alarming zeal. It is already (almost 5 days in) beginning to irk me...

However, despite the massive blob of tree messing with the feng shui, I actually find that I am surprisingly chipper heading into Festive Season 2020. It might be that I have a valid reason to avoid the shops - the Hermes delivery guy now stops for a brief (socially distanced) chat. I also have a VERY good reason not to plan Christmas dinner (what's a girl to do - can't get to the shops!)  and (sorry relatives and lovely friends) a really good reason not to have to fake Christmas cheer through compulsory Christmas visits. Not that I dislike visiting people, but not under the artifice of Christmas. I can also eat as many mince pies as I like in the comfort of my own home and blame my pie-like appearance on lockdown...

Any-way, Christmas is what you make it (like anything). And, after making Christmas wreaths and salt-dough decorations, we have now made our annual gingerbread cookies. We began making gingerbread when we lived in Mozambique. Unable to find chocolate baubles, we made gingerbread cookies to hang on the tree - and our `tradition' has stuck. I have to admit that I am the bringer of ideas and often not the actioner of ideas - so my elder daughters have always made the gingerbread. It has always been great gingerbread! This is actually the first year that I've made it myself....and it wasn't quite as good. Any-way, this is the recipe we use:

350g plain flour

1tsp bicarb of soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

125g butter

175g brown sugar

1 egg

4 tbsp golden syrup

1. Sift (on in my case - throw together) flour, bicarb & spices

2. Add butter and mix until like breadcrumbs

3. Stir in sugar

4. Beat egg and syrup together (sounds impossible - but it actually works)

5. Add egg-syrup mixture to other ingredients and knead until smooth.

6. Rest for 15 minutes.

7. Roll, cut-out & bake at 180 C for 15 mins

8. Ice when cool.


A very tasty, fun way to liven up non-Christmas!

Oh - and do you know that Christmas is now just two weeks away....

And then the Christmas tree can come down!


Sunday, November 29, 2020

Brightening bleak mid-Winter


In truth, it's not quite mid-Winter, but with only three weeks to go until the shortest day here in the Northern hemisphere, it has begun to feel a bit bleak. Not only has Covid done a dirty on family gatherings, but the weather itself has descended into that grey nothingness that so often characterises December (and is only alleviated by fires, mulled wine and the occasional magnificently fierce frosty day)

There are, of course, ups to the season of dormancy. Bare root trees and shrubs can be bought for a fraction of the price of their potted warm weather cousins. I have acquired two cherry trees and two June berries (amelanchier lamarckii). I read about the latter in an article and am really excited to see what happens in the Spring. While my specimens are quite small and twiggy, I am promised a show of white flowers and berries which are like blue berries. It makes the wait for Spring all the more exciting - watch this space!

Bare-root acquisitions are one way to make this time of the year interesting, but there are other ways too, which, while they require some shopping, do more than supermarket offerings to warm the cockles of our hearts. As many of you will know, I am no fan of the festive season. I dislike the rampant consumerism that characterises a UK Christmas and have forged a reputation as a Grinch. But I also have children and, as my Christmas-loving husband keeps reminding me, I shouldn't `spoil it for them' - or him, I suspect. And, while my Grinch-ish nature is inclined to call it ` a dose of reality', the mum in me acknowledges his point. And so, following on the traditions of Grandma Whyman who used to make our Christmas cake and my friend Margaret, who makes preserves as gifts, over the last several years we have begun our own `making' traditions.  

The first of these is making gingerbread biscuits. We began this `tradition' while living in Mozambique. Unable to find chocolate baubles to hang on the tree (too hot), we decided to make gingerbread decorations to hang instead. It was such fun, that the tradition has stuck. So now we get together to bake and decorate gingerbread on one of the first weekends of December. We make a huge batch and take some round to the neighbours. My middle daughter is now living in Wales, but she assures me that she will also be making gingerbread this year. (I have to be honest, there is a fair amount of gingerbread eating that goes on - not a lot lands up on the tree any more).

The second `tradition' is a new one. Last year, we were lucky enough to be invited along to a wreath making session with a bunch of friends. My youngest daughter and I each made a wreath, and enjoyed it so much, that we decided to do it again this year. 

Our 2019 wreaths were moss based and this year we wanted to make wreaths for friends and family, but the Grinch in me baulked at the idea of all those wire frames which would, inevitably, end up chucked out. (Besides, they would be heavy to post). Inspiration struck while cutting back the Virginia Creeper: it occurred to me that the vines were pliable enough to weave. So I did - making the bases for several wreaths quite easily. This last week, my daughters (eldest and youngest) and I transformed them from woody rounds to festive decorations. I am lucky to have a huge rosemary bush and so we used rosemary sprigs as the basic greenery, attached with easily available floristry wire. My eldest daughter visited Wilko (eek! - but she enjoys the shops at this time of the year) and came back with a trove of wreath decorations, from the natural (pinecones with twine attachments) to the tacky (plastic berries and frosted apples).  
(As an aside: as all the tat - and the pinecones - are reusable, I have to admit that I don't mind it too much.)

There is actually a lot of natural decoration out there. I scoured my rose bushes for rosehips (make sure they haven't gone mushy) and raided the edges of the playing field for berries. Left-over ribbon also comes in handy. And - tarra! We made wreaths which we packaged in recycled cardboard boxes and sent off to Wales, Kent , Hertfordshire and a different spot of Essex!

For our own wreaths, we re-used the moss wreaths from last year. just soaking the moss in water to rejuvenate it. Berried ivy is plentiful along most country lanes, but we actually have our own in the garden, and this formed the basic `greenery' of the wreaths. We recycled many of the decorations from last year and I risked life and limb to gather as many rosehips as possible to add the required red ( I really did - still picking thorns out!) We (my youngest daughter and I ) are really quite pleased with the results and the grey of almost-December seems a little less bleak.

Next stop: hauling out the tree and making gingerbread. But that can all wait a week or two. This grinch needs festive cheer in small doses...

PS: if you want a more comprehensive guide, and loads of ideas, to making your own wreath, have a look at this page:

How to make a Christmas wreath - Gardens Illustrated

Friday, November 13, 2020

Beware - the Grinch cometh!


So here we are: mid-November and Kevin the Carrot* has made his grand entrance (with, I have to admit, a very cute hedgehog). The latest lockdown has meant that the Christmas hype has started VERY early. Which has got me started - very early.

If you love Christmas, look away now. No, seriously, you have been warned.

I loathe Christmas and all the Christmas hype on telly is starting to push me over the edge (really, M&S? Gin with gold bits? What if they get stuck in your throat? And what nutritional value could they possibly have? I'm pretty sure you can't taste them!)

Urgh. Christmas.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against the religious ceremony. In fact, I love midnight mass, having had the privilege of first attending in Nazareth as a Rotary exchange student many years ago. My church attendance has flagged over the years, but the spiritual part of Christmas (or mid-Winter) is not on my loathing list. Nor is the `goodwill to mankind', which really should be part of our everyday living. 

What is on my Loathe List is the excess that surrounds this holiday. I have lived in four countries and can honestly say that the UK tops the other three, by a mile, in wanton, excessive capitalism when it comes to Christmas. We all know the story - hours spent trying to find parking at the local supermarket as people shop and shop and shop and shop and shop ad nauseum. This despite the shops only closing for a day (so that we can get out and shop and shop and shop and shop for New Year). On every other day, we are happy to have a meat/meat substitute, a starch and a veg. At Christmas we feel obliged to have two or three of everything. And dessert. And snacks and sides.  And so much gets thrown away. I get it, I do: its that  mid-Winter thing of celebrating that we've made it through the dark days of December (although I have to point out that there are at least two more months of dark days to come...) but really, so much? 

Aside from the food waste, there is also the tat-fest that is Christmas. We are obliged to buy each other all sorts of rubbish that most people don't really want. Every year, thousands of people spend money they don't have on `making Christmas special' and then spend the whole of the next year struggling to pay off their debts. Why? Last year, money guru, Martin Lewis urged people not to buy unnecessary gifts and definitely not to buy gifts that they can't afford. This year, more than ever, with all the uncertainty that surrounds our economy, surely it makes even more sense.

Don't get me wrong - I like presents, but I like them to mean something. When my husband's Grandma was alive, she would make us a Christmas cake each year. I loved that. The idea that she had thought of us. Made something just for us. For me, it exemplified the bonds that should be celebrated at Christmas.

My pragmatic friend, Margaret always gives us marmalade, jams and chutneys at Christmas. I love what has become a tradition. Again, she has put a bit of herself into a gift, making it something no supermarket can sell. (To be fair, she is also the queen of the garden glove and bamboo sock - but they are equally well-considered, useful gifts).

Last year, when my daughters began to ask what I wanted for Christmas (poor things, they should know better by now) I told them that I only wanted something that they had made. And they were brilliant! Daughter One made fudge and infused olive oil with garlic. Daughter Two made soap (not for the faint-hearted) and hand-painted a mug. Daughter Three (not even 11 at the time) turned the caps of my favourite bottled ale into earrings. It was wonderful!

This year, I think I will repeat myself and see what happens. I think of it as a challenge.

As for me: well, I have sloe gin and crab apple gin brewing. I have made pickle and jam and I am a bit artsy on the side... None of which my daughters want for their actual gifts. So I will compromise and get them something they otherwise would not have. I will try to make it practical and it will be wrapped in recyclable brown paper with reusable ribbon.  

While Joan Collins has this week put up her Christmas Tree, mine will go up in early December (and come down on Boxing Day) And here we will go again: the husband (a big fan of Christmas) and I will have the usual meltdown over excess versus generosity. This will result in him doing all the Christmas shopping and cooking (poor thing, you'd think he'd have learned by now) and  I will `happy face' it all through December 25th (even though everyone knows I am lying). 

I suppose you could call it a Christmas tradition...

* Kevin the Carrot is the hero of the Aldi Christmas adverts

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Grey Days

 As I write, the rain is beating against the windows and the view is of a cold and pretty soggy world. I haven't worked up enough `go' to take the dog for a walk and he has had to do with a ball thrown across the lounge (not a brilliant idea, since I now have ball-shaped splodges on the carpet, the wall, the door...) The weather is grim and the country-wide Covid news pretty grim too. It can be tempting to be downright negative! Fortunately, there is always something fantastic out there if you stop long enough to look.

The birds, for one. Despite the rain, my garden is absolutely teeming with birds. I put food out sporadically, but my neighbour has bird feeders (with actual food!), so I suspect I might be benefiting from his collateral. While neither birds nor neighbour seem to mind that I am cashing in, I'm enjoying every moment. There are still wood pigeons about,( mostly sitting mournfully and ridiculously in the rain) but a pair of ring-necked doves have become regular visitors to the lawn. My favourites, the blackbirds are taking full advantage of the fruit-laden crab apple tree, as are the blue tits. And we seem to have a sudden surge in the population of chaffinches. Months ago, I was terrorised by an especially territorial chaffinch who took umbrage whenever he saw his own reflection (car wing mirrors, windows, sliding doors, conservatory, any window...) and threw himself against all surfaces with great gusto. My car had bags over the wing mirrors for days and I spent a large proportion of my time shooing away the feisty little bird. I can only imagine that his territorial ambitions were realised, because I now seem to have more chaffinches about than I can count. I'm not sure what they will do when the weather gets colder, since I've never had the opportunity to notice before. Anyone?

The weather has limited my garden activities (yes, I know, I'm clearly not dedicated enough) but I have decided to try winter-sown crops this year. Despite spinach being a roaring success in previous years, the slugs have stripped every plant back to a few skeletal stalks. I never actually see a slug, so I must assume that these are very particular stealth slugs. No matter - they appear to not like kale, so I have something green and leafy to pick. I also threw in the last of the lettuce seeds and now have three lettuce plants that seem to be happily avoiding slug attention. The miracle butternut (the last survivor of seeds sown from a supermarket butternut) has produced two reasonably sized fruits and I am now just waiting for them to take on butternut colouring before I harvest them. The great excitement has been the planting of onions. I put them in about two weeks ago and there are already some strong stalks peeping up from the trenches  - so cause for optimism. I have also planted leeks, although I must admit to finding leeks a bit of a challenge in the past. They do grow, but are so much slower than I imagined they would be. And then my first crop was so gritty that it barely seemed worth the effort. HOWEVER, by being a lazy gardener and not pulling them out, I discovered that they create the most gorgeous flowers, which look lovely cut, even if they do smell a little oniony. The bees also love them. So I have to admit that the leeks are there more for flowers than eating - although I suppose I will think again when they are actually eating size.

Two chilli plants, grown from seed as a father's day present in June, seem to be doing well in the greenhouse - so maybe there will be some chillies soon. I had one pepper plant in my veg patch that was looking increasing miserable, so I have dug that up and put it in a pot in the greenhouse too. It remains to be seen whether I have killed it or not.

One of the nice things about the approaching winter is that it is the season to order (and plant) bare-root trees. I have cherry ambitions this year, but have been beguiled by advertisements of dwarf fruit trees that can be grown in pots. A lemon tree looks extremely tempting, with many boasting hardiness to -5 degrees. Hmmm - decisions.

So good things to look forward too, even if it is wet and cold.

Talking of good things: one of the positive outcomes of this really strange year is the way that so many communities have come together. I have to admit to not really being a community type. Although I have nothing against participation, I've never really felt inclined to join in, but this year has made me re-evaluate. In my rather small village, I have to give a shout-out to the pub. The Fox has emerged as the hub of our community. In the worst days of lockdown, The Fox took the initiative to open a community shop and has continued to offer online pub-quizzes, takeaways and, more lately, the ability to get out in a safe and regulated environment. In short - somewhere for locals (just family bubbles at the moment) to feel some sense of normality. They are even the initiative behind the socially distanced `pumpkin trail' planned for Halloween this year. 

I am sure that there are pubs, coffee shops and restaurants all over the country (and the world) that have become as important to their communities in ways that we didn't really appreciate before now. I know that right now, here in the UK, the hospitality industry is rising to the challenge of providing low income children with meals over the holidays. I take my hat off to every single establishment which, like the Fox, has held their community together over the last months.

Am I still a solo player? Well, I hope I am on my way to becoming more useful. I attended my local council meeting this month and hope to do so again. Not only could I air my own concerns, but it was good to see what is happening in my community over all. I appreciate that I live in a small rural environment, but I really think that everyone should do the same (at least every now and again). We all want a better world. I think we might need to participate more in the moulding of our communities if this better world is to be achieved.

So how's that for a cold and wet morning? Birds, veg and a soap box too!

And pumpkins!

( As an aside: we got our pumpkins from Hatter's Farm in Takely. They have a pumpkin cannon - fabulous fun!)

Stay safe, everyone!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Green tomatoes and red leaves

 A few days ago, I sent my daughter out to pick all the remaining green tomatoes. The season has ended quite abruptly and it was clear that no more would ripen. I watched her for a while. She stood carefully in the muddy veggie patch and tentatively picked a couple in full view. Irked, I joined her and picked all the ones that drooped on dropped stems and hid behind leaves.

`If we lived 200 hundred years ago, we'd be reliant on every tomato we could pick!' I preached.

My daughter picked another tomato. `We would definitely survive,' she said, in a blatant attempt to make me feel proud of my efforts.

Well, no. If my veggie patch was the difference between surviving and starvation, I don't think the odds would be particularly good. There is, however, something enormously satisfying about growing and eating your own produce. At this time of the year, this satisfaction is augmented by preserving.

A bumper crop of tomatoes have meant that I have been able to bottle several efforts of jam, pickle and chutney, the last of which was made from the afore-mentioned green tomatoes. The green tomatoes are a particular triumph as, without the effort of making them into chutney, they would have gone to waste. And wasting all that summer work in getting them to grow in the first place would have been really irritating!

Recipes for green tomato chutney are easy enough to find and equally easy to adapt. This particular batch is extra hot, because I couldn't find my frozen chopped chilli (don't ask) and so added ground chilli and black pepper. Then I found where I had put the frozen chilli...

Never mind, I am sure it will add some (considerable) warmth to many a winter meal. When it has matured for a bit.... and maybe mellowed.

In the last week, I have also had my usual October skirmish with crab apple jelly. As mentioned before, crab apples are absolutely delicious as jelly, jam and gin, but they are a bit of a faff* to sort out. The making of jelly requires patience, which I am notoriously low on. Which explains why I will shortly be re-boiling my `jelly' in order to have it set. And this is ok - because it has become a sort-of tradition in my Autumn calendar.

Despite the colder days, I love Autumn. I have a soft spot for trees and the change of seasons allows such a gorgeous display. My absolute favourite is when the sun breaks through and the red and gold of Autumn leaves shimmer against a dark cloud background. Beautiful.

My own garden has an Autumn wonder of its own. The previous owners (or maybe the ones previous to them) planted two Virginia Creepers - one that creeps over the workshop and back hedge, and one on a trellis near the conservatory. My gardening-guru friend tut-tutted knowingly when she first saw them, advising me that it might be best to pull them out. And, in many ways, she had a point. The Virginia Creeper must have been the inspiration for the triffid. It grows at an astonishing speed from Spring to late Summer, colonising anything it can get its tendrils on. I spend hours every year pulling off errant tendrils that have invaded the veg patch, crept between boards and tiles and thrown themselves into the water butts.

But in the summer, it creates a dense roof to the trellis - so dense that we have eaten dinner in the rain beneath it - while providing a cool spot and a place for birds to nest. In the Autumn, it is simply stunning.

Come Autumn
And the Virginia Creeper
Turns to flame –
Fire catching and falling
In a sun gone sparse.
It bleeds across trellis
And roof-edges,
Until the gusts
Send leaves sparking, falling.

(From: Virginia Creeper; Fieldsong; Mandy Whyman; 2020)

I don't know why, but I find Autumn extremely optimistic. Its when the preparations are made for the next year of sowing and growing. Its a time when we assess the year that is almost done (thank goodness, in the case of 2020!) and dream of all that we will do when the Spring comes again.

Happy October, everyone!

* faff - a great deal of ineffective activity

It's February and we're....frazzled!

  We're heading into the last week of February and I have to admit to a degree of ,erm, grumpiness. Lockdown seems endless, winter seems...