The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space


sunflowerThis monsoon weather is finally getting me down. I am beginning to feel like a character from a W. Somerset Maughan short story that one knows will be slowly driven mad by the rain the moment they clap their hands and order another G and T.

The cottage is pretty damp in places and usually dries out in the summer. This morning, I was gloomily dressing downstairs in our musty sitting room and by chance looked up. This sunflower, in a vase in the kitchen was facing me. Vibrant, sunny and so full of hope that I had to smile.

So many fruit trees in the garden are loving the rain. The newer ones suffered last year without enough water. The pears and the quinces split and spoilt on the branch. This year the small pear tree, planted on Titus’ circular grave, is so heavy with fruit that it has almost formed a natural arch. Titus, my sister’s black pug and a dear friend, died about nine years ago. This year is the first decent crop from Titus’ tree. I will be making a large batch of Belgian Pears, this recipe is dazzling, delicious and the jars of pears keep for at least a year.

Our plums are nearly ready to harvest and the branches are laden with fruit. We have our own plum trees, helpfully planted by mice who buried the stones in the front garden and then moved on to greater things. We didn’t realise that this mini copse was a grove of plum trees until last year, when I examined them and discovered five plums. Like my mother, the plum trees in our neighbour’s garden overhang our south facing back garden fence. These are the ancestors of our plum grove. Dark purple plums – an unknown but now popular variety in these parts. These are the plums that inspired D to suggest that we made chutney. In fact the I believe that wild plums are best for chutney. They are more tart and are packed with flavour.

The autumn raspberries are beginning to ripen. I want to try making raspberry jellies (tiny dessert jellies – packed with fruit) as well as the usual raspberry gin and hopefully there will be enough left over to make raspberry wine. I have read that this wine is exceptionally good. We are in our third year of raspberry growing and the canes are beginning to shine. We will also have a bumper blackberry harvest. I have already started picking and freezing them to make a batch of blackberry wine.

The scented geraniums are loving the monsoon. I couldn’t find any on the garden centre shelves in May and then found a couple knocking about on the floor. Rather small and tatty. I bought them anyway. They have shot up and are now at least two feet tall and have had to be staked. They are planted in a giant pot that stands beside the cottage back door so we brush against them when we step out into the garden and their leaves release a heady rose and citrus scent. Just magical, even in the rain.

This morning on the way to Saffron Walden a flickering wave of swallows suddenly swooped over a hedge and were darting along the road, barely a foot from the ground, hunting for low flying insects. They whirled swiftly out of the range of Jalopy’s thundering wheels but returned to hover and flick around the car for a good minute or so. It was heartening to see swallows so close although they must be suffering too. Flying insects cannot venture out in the rain. And what happens to them when they can’t forage?

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Pat,

    Yes we are lucky. But your figs look delicious. Nurture your mice, they will plant trees for you!

    Thanks for the award. I am so pleased, it’s an honour!

    Hi Joanna,

    We bought a sizeable collection of winemaking equipment on eBay, a good place to start looking for equipment. Also ask friends, loads of people that we know read the post and then telephoned.
    “If only we had known. We have kept aunt Mary™s stuff in the attic for years…”

    The site that I use for the yeasts and the stuff that got lost is Efficient and good.

    Let™s hope there will be enough raspberries I the garden for wine this year.

    Hi Richard,

    It™s supposed to be a sunny day today!

    There are fallen leaves in the street of Saffron Walden.

    We have found that blackberry vodka is best not matured for a year as it seems to develop a woody taste. We now drink it within three months, hic.

    Hi Not a Proper Farmer,

    Let™s hope that we have a sunny weekend and that it dries your hay. There is nothing like the smell of fresh hay!

    Lucky you finding an ancient bullace tree. I love bullaces.

    Hi Kate,

    The blackberries are wild ones. We nurture the best fruiting canes and hack down the rest. They are expensive over here in the shops.

    Your peach plum crisp sounds mouthwatering.

  2. I would love to taste raspberry jellies and wine! What I would really love too, is having some blackberries in my garden. I love them … they are really costly here. No one seems to grow them.

    It is so cool that you have your neighbour’s plums to enjoy as well – plus your own. I made a peach plum crisp and it was delicious.

  3. Catherine

    How nice that you make your own jelly and wine, raspberry wine..sounds divine!! 🙂 beautiful sunflower!~~that would cheer anybody up!!

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sara,

    Yes, I love making our preserves and wine. These are good produce and we can swap them for stuff the we haven’t made. These are coins for us and, if we shine, they are gold coins.

    It is also great having a store of small presents to leave for friends.

  5. Fiona, I have just awarded you the Creative Blogger award, you can check it out over on my food blog.

  6. Richard

    I too am getting depressed at the weather… it’s just so miserable and October-like – but without the fallen leaves and autumn colours. I’m amazed that anything is ripening at all, but I have seen local plum trees laden with fruit and there’s a damson nearby that I am planning a raid on. The thing is, it’s protected by six feet of brambles all the way around.
    I haven’t made any wine, but I am currently infusing vodka with blackberries as an experiment – they’ve been in for two weeks now and will get their first tasting at the weekend. If it tastes like it’s going to be successful, there’s going to be plenty more made to keep me going through the winter.

  7. Not A Proper Farmer

    Don’t despair – this weekend is going to be the best weather for weeks…it has to be, we had the hay cut yesterday.

    We have just discovered an ancient bullace tree hidden in a thicket at the back of our cottage – we spent yesterday evening half way up it harvesting pounds & pounds of wild plums.

  8. Years ago, before I was married, I used to make raspberry wine. I remember, after we were married, I produced the last batch, my new husband’s heart visibly sank (he’d never tasted any of my homemade wine) – until he drank it. It was delicious, and such a beautiful colour. But I’ve never made it since. This year I was thinking of starting again, only now I don’t have any equipment, and not a clue where to buy it, because the shop I used to go to is now demolished to make way for a huge shopping mall, the Oracle in Reading, which only has fashion shops and restaurants. Do you know anywhere? Or have a good method?


  9. Ohhhhhhh I am so jealous!!! Would love to have all that fruit in my garden. We did get a fig or two off our little fig tree this year! Thanks for the pic of the lovely sunflower have also been missing the sun here.

  10. farmingfriends

    You paint a wonderful picture or your garden laden with fruit. You obviously enjoy making all your preserves and wines.
    Sara from farmingfriends

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