It is a busy time on the smallholding at the moment with the harvest of fruit and vegetables that are ripe for picking as we approach the Autumn Equinox. It is a time to gather the fruits of our efforts earlier in the year when we sowed seeds and tended to the plants that have now reached the end of their growing life. The kitchen is a hive of activity right now as the abundant produce needs to be either bottled for the pantry or cooked/packed for the freezer.
I have been busy gathering courgettes, peppers, beans and tomatoes on a daily basis and cooking them into delicious dishes that we can enjoy throughout the year. I have made several batches of ratatouille that I have bottled into jars. There are many ways of making ratatouille and my preferred recipe is one that recommends browning the vegetables separately beforehand to help keep their individual flavours when the dish comes together. For some batches, I have used aubergines that I bought because I sowed ours too late and they have not come to anything yet! So in a frying pan, I brown batches of onions, garlic, courgettes, aubergines and peppers separately and I layer them in an oven roasting tin as I go along. When all this is done, I add uncooked tomatoes on top with seasoning and fresh herbs and oven roast it all. The result is a very tasty dish of mixed vegetables that have kept their shape and taste. I bottle it all into jars that I keep in the pantry until needed. This ratatouille is so versatile and very tasty served with rice, pasta or jacket potatoes.
So far, we have picked 15 kg of tomatoes so as well as ratatouille, I have made several bottles of passata and portions of tomato soup which will come in very handy in the winter. We often have soup on a Saturday lunchtime in the colder months: I can let the soup warm up on the wood-fired stove whilst we are doing other things and when we are ready, we have a warming and nutritious meal to enjoy with a bread roll.
We have had a good crop of crab apples too and I have made several jars of jelly. I have experimented a little by adding some elderberries to a batch of jelly and rosemary to another. We have been given some delicious Victoria plums that I have turned into chutneys and jams. I am always fascinated by the beautiful colours of jams and jellies as they cook and I love to decorate the jars with pretty labels and covers, all looking lovely on the pantry shelves! Those who know me well know that I love experimenting with combining the practical and the beautiful! Isn’t a stylish pantry the most exquisite thing?! I have a story about our pantry but telling it now would be a digression so I will save it for another blog post.
The next thing to harvest is going to be the apples and we have several trees and varieties. I have picked some of the windfalls already and made some crumbles for the freezer. The apples are delicious to eat but instead of storing them, we will stew some of them and press the others for juice, cider and wine.
So, here we are, right in the middle of a labour intensive period that marks the end of the growing season and heralds the beginning of another, the more mellow and subdued Autumn.