Those of us who consider ourselves to be fruit and vegetable gardeners ultimately only have one aim and that’s to make sure that our harvest is sufficient to allow us to feel smug for the rest of the gardening year. If we can fill our freezers and store cupboards, swap preserving recipes with friends and treat our loved ones to the odd home produced meal, then none of it has been in vain. In the face of a world pandemic, this basic human need to provide food has become even more urgent and there are significantly more people enjoying the fruits of their labours this year than in any recent years. Lockdown came at an auspicious time, in terms of the growing season, allowing thousands to try their hand at sowing all kinds of seeds and nurturing seedlings. I really hope that each and every person has enjoyed some success for their efforts and that next year, they will have another go.
The weather, as already documented, has been odd once again and created it’s own challenges but finally we have arrived at harvest time and although some crops have not looked at all promising, most have come good in the end. The tomatoes, slow to ripen, are abundant, the runner beans, nondescript for weeks are now flourishing and I have harvested to date 42 cucumbers! Now comes the next challenge – the art of dealing with the produce and either eating it, freezing it or preserving it as fast as it appears. This is no mean feat and I always underestimate the amount of time needed to peel, chop, cook, blanch, puree or pickle. A three day weekend, however, recently provided the ideal opportunity, not least because one day was wet, immediately lessening garden-dodging guilt. Frustratingly, the garden harvest also coincides with blackberrying time so that’s even more fruit to deal with, although this year, around us, blackberries have been thinner on the ground. I attribute this to two lockdown related factors, firstly the fact that many are still furloughed and have spare time to go picking but also there seems to be generally more awareness of not relying on supermarket food. I can remember a time in the not too distant past when the idea of blackberrying was considered to be only for the impoverished – whilst now it’s positively de rigueur!
In terms of food preservation, neither of us are jam eaters and it seems perverse to spend a lot of time growing healthy foods, only to combine them with several tonnes of sugar. Jam and jellies are therefore mostly off for us although I make a token bit of crab apple or redcurrent jelly purely to add flavour to other things. Most fruit is therefore either frozen as it comes or cooked into unsweetened compote for freezing. If you want a really smart tip though, a damson or raspberry coulis sieved and frozen in an ice cube tray and inserted into the middle of a chocolate fondant before cooking will win you friends for life (Thanks Simon Rogan). Beans are blanched, tomatoes are souped or skinned and chopped into can size amounts for adding to meals in winter. Another winner is throwing surplus courgette, tomatoes, basil and garlic into a pan and freezing as portions of pasta sauce. Chilli’s can be frozen whole, dried, dried and flaked or made into chilli sauce – all have their uses. I’m still trying to find the best way to preserve kohl rabi! This week sees the arrival of the first of the plums and after the unexpected acquisition of an apple press, I will also be starting on juicing. Suffice it to say that barring any disasters (like builders unplugging the freezer) I am already feeling pretty smug!