When I was at school The Harvest Festival was my very favourite school festival. I was rather partial to singing songs about nature’s bounty, carving pumpkins and being ever so slightly smug about the fact I was giving away chutney that I had MADE to the senior citizens down the road. Of course it also meant that my birthday was just around the corner, which, when you’re seven, is something that needs endless discussion.
I’m less keen to shout about my birthdays these days, but my enthusiasm for this time of the year; its colours, its crisp blue mornings and of course the harvest remains.
As I started to write this, the sun was shining brightly through the window and we’d just started to enjoy our mini heat wave! This week has been quite different of course, but despite us not having a great summer, the lovely weather in April and May has meant a bumper harvest this year.
Despite my lack of garden, I’m lucky enough to have parents who have a ginormous garden and am bombarded with bags and bags of apples, blackberries, courgettes, tomatoes, onions and all sorts of lovely things. This year, for the first time ever, my father thinks he will have picked all the apples by the end of the month – has anyone else had the same experience?
It’s always a challenge to work out what exactly I’m going to do with all the apples – there is only so much puree and custard we can eat – but this year I’m happy say I’ve got through quite a lot already!
There’s a country park really near our house which I visited a couple of weeks ago with some friends to go sloe picking – if you’ve never made sloe gin, I’d urge you to give it go, it’s so simple and makes a great Christmas gift. Sloes are plentiful this year, and you’ve still just about got enough time – but get your sloes quickly! The plants look like hawthorn bushes and the berries a bit like blueberries. They are incredibly sour and are full of tannin, so please, for the sake of your taste buds, don’t bother eating them!
I never bother buying expensive gin for this, just a supermarket own brand is perfectly fine. I have bottles from Lakeland, which are the ones I used here but there are some lovely ones in Ikea this year too (the taller ones with the snowflake pattern below)– I bought a few and will be making limoncello for Christmas shortly.
Once you’ve picked your sloes and washed them, you need to prick them to let the juice run out, which give the flavour and lovely pink colour to the gin. I use cocktail sticks, but you could just use a fork or even the tip of a sharp knife (mind your fingers!)
Then I pop a few berries into a bottle, like so:
Cover with sugar, about this much:
…and then fill up the bottle with gin. I then give it a good shake once a day for a week, then pop in the cupboard and shake once a week until Christmas, when I open the bottles, sieve it through a muslin cloth to get the berries out and re-bottle ready to drink. Yum! After just a few weeks, the gin is already looking good, as you can see:
I had about 500 grams of sloes left, so I used them to make this sloe gin and apple jelly recipe, which I think will be delicious with turkey and make a nice change to cranberry jelly, and from the same site I’ve found a great new recipe for using up some of those apples – a beautiful looking apple and chilli jelly, which was so easy to make and again will be lovely served with meat.
I used a mix of cookers and eaters rather than crab apples, but I think you’ll agree it looks really pretty with all the little jewel-like chopped chilli suspended in the amber-coloured jelly
Give it a go – there are so many British apples in shops at the moment and a homemade gift is always appreciated.
Oh and I’m not the only one who’s inspired by autumn, I just had to include a couple of pictures I took of Betty’s autumnal window display, so sweet!
Happy autumn folks, I’d love you to share your seasonal recipes with us here…….