It’s that funny time of year again in the allotment: on the one hand you want to savour every last minute of late summer sun, on the other you know what’s coming as the beds grow bare and weary as the days grow shorter.
In the old days we set about autumn with strident pride, adopting a communal sensibility, delegating roles to gather and harvest. Today, we’re over-burdened with the tedious distractions of modernity that take us away from the wholesome rewards of simple tasks.
To help embrace your inner hunter-gatherer I’ve compiled a list of low frill but highly gratifying tasks to take the new season in hand.
Pick wild berries. There’s a boom of blackberries this year and it’s not too late. Rinse them off and freeze them. Better yet, sprinkle some on what’s left of the ice cream for a dessert, before using the tub to fill the freezer so you’re set for winter crumbles.
Turn over the compost and remove the good stuff ready to cover your beds later in October.
Keep weeding, turn beds and stock up the compost bin – removing woody or blighted stems to burn.
Hoard cardboard boxes (available free at Jempson’s) and crumpled old newspapers to store picked hard fruits.
Keep some brown cardboard and newspaper aside for layering the compost heap like lasagne.
Preserve hard fruits. What you don’t have room to store, give away or preserve. Simmer peeled, seeded and halved hard fruits in as little as just water for a few minutes. Vary the sweetness of syrup depending on the dilution: 1 cup sugar to 2 cups water (dense) up to 1 cup to 6 cups (light). Alternatively use apple juice. Add sweet spices to apples and pears, such as cinnamon, allspice and star anise.
Make jams. Equal parts fruit and sugar. Plums, greengages, anything else you can think of. Add fruits to a pan on a low heat and stir until they break down to liquid. Once boiling, add sugar and stir continuously until it’s dissolved. Keep it bubbling for a good 20 minutes before beginning a series of cold-plate tests to ensure the jam is setting.
For wind falls and bruised fruits, unless you own one, hire an apple press (Bung Ho on Norman Road in Hastings), grab some mates and make cider and juice by the gallon.
If you fancy a tipple beyond cider, you can pretty much add any fruit to vodka and steep it to flavour. Dark berries work well in gin. I am particularly excited about adding blackberries to whisky this year.
Experiment with what you have to gain confidence in what you’re doing. Trial and error makes the whole process more enjoyable. If in doubt follow a few recipes; don’t be put off if something doesn’t work. Then start to make up your own.
Preserving pots and brewing bottles: Rye DIY on Cinque Ports Street; cider press and so much more: Bung Ho, 76 Norman Road, St Leonards on Sea (01424 437045).
Foraging adventures with Timberlina aka Tim Redfern. Photo: Tim Redfern