Farmer's diary - harvest time
WHAT a busy time of year this is. I am not a dedicated gardener but I do have a small vegetable patch which manages to produce a reasonable amount of home grown veg, despite me.
I have learnt that marrows keep for quite a long time in a wheelbarrow which is where mine are, outside the back door. Unfortunately they were not picked while I was away for 3 weeks in July but they are still edible. Delicious partbaked, filled with bolognese sauce and rebaked with lots of cheese as a topping.
I am still picking runner beans which I slice diagonally and cook with a little water, a tablespoon of olive oil, knob of butter, salt, pepper and 2 sliced cloves of garlic. Cook for 30 minutes making sure it doesn't dry out and about 4 minutes before the end drop whole cherry tomatoes in with the beans. They simply burst with flavour in your mouth.
I am also picking plums which I have boiled with caster sugar and am undecided whether to freeze them or make jam. The pear tree is groaning with the best crop we have ever seen this year so that is next to pick, followed by apples which are also prolific but smaller this year, probably because the trees around t hem are cutting out some of the sunshine. Another job to be done. We will freeze the apples and then defrost and juice them when we have time. Freezing them means that you do not have to macerate them, which is hard work, and we find that we get a clearer juice that way. We then freeze the juice so we have plenty of vitamin C during the winter.
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On my walks I have been picking blackberries which we have had on our morning granola or put in the freezer for crumble with apples. Purdy, my working cocker, eats them straight off the bush. I found a stash of mushrooms up on the downs which we had last night with cream and white wine. Friends have a fig tree and don't like figs so we have been feasting on those, the riper the better. Delicious with blue cheese or Wootton Organics sheep cheese especially the Dumpling.
I have been asking about various harvests at farmers' markets. The common denominator is that the cold spring set everything back this year making the start to the year look grim. However the hot summer has been good and made an excellent flowering time with late but high yields.
Talking to Alex Cooper of Hunny Bears Bee Products at Blandford Farmers' Market in September, his bees have fared better this year. However the queens have not been maturing which is a strange phenomena.
Tim of Fussells Oils said that the rape was better than expected after the cold spring with higher yields than 2012. I was concerned as I saw acres of grey fields of rape but it appears that the rape is ready to harvest when the plants are grey, the seed pod is black but the seeds inside are yellow, hence the striking colour of rape seed oil and our roast potatoes!
Wraxall Vineyard in Somerset is very busy too, again set back by the cold spring, they had a very good flowering in June and July which has resulted in a large but late crop. Their first harvest is of the Madeleine Angivine which is the original 35 year old vine on their vinery, to be followed by Pinot Noir and the remainder will be picked by the end of October. As an aside, did you know that 'wraxall' is a medieval name meaning "a nook of land frequented by buzzards" hence the buzzard on Wraxall's wine label.
North Perrot Fruit Farm was again affected by the cold spring with harvest being 2 weeks later than normal. This means a shorter time span in which to harvest the different varieties so with most varieties having a heavier crop than last year, Jonathan will be very busy. The Bramleys have done especially well this year and picking of these will be finished by the end of this week, as will the Conference Pears to be followed by Coxes.
Congratulations to Mark and Tom of Angel Cottage Organics for winning the Best Dorset Food Product in the Taste of Dorset Awards 2013. Very well deserved.
Food Festivals for October
Following on from the successful weekly farmers' market in Wells, which I have been attending for over 12 years now, a new food festival is being launched in Wells on Sunday 20th October. I think Wells will be an ideal venue for this event being such an attractive cathedral town in the heart of Somerset, with an interesting High Street. A lot of thought has gone into the programme and there is far too much for me to list here but I will make a concerted effort to go to the talk on Truffle Hunting and the Truffle Hunt Dog Display. Perhaps I can persuade Purdy to find truffles instead, or as well as, blackberries. For more information the Wells Food Festival go to www.wellsfoodfestival.co.uk
Screenbites Film & Food Festival is upon us again from 3rd October to 2nd November for the ninth year with five weeks of food and films in new venues, with new films, new speakers, new producers as well as old favourites, new Festival Feasts and new sponsors. We are covering most of Dorset as well as forays into Somerset and Wiltshire so October looks to be a busy month for foodies and our grand finale at The Exchange, Sturminster Newton will be 'steaming'!!. For more information go to www.screenbites.co.uk
We have a pontoon at last on which I had my breakfast last Sunday, (I know how to suffer!) watching the dragonflies patrolling the bank, coots diving for weed and trout rising. The mallard drakes have nearly got their new plumage and the swallows are still with us, probably because of the influx of daddy long legs this last weekend. Strangely there were no bats about last night even though it was a very mild evening. We have been visited by a cormorant who was discouraged but haven't seen the swans for some time now. I expect they will be back when their cygnets have grown. The young herons have perfected their flight and have mastered graceful landings in the oak tree by the lake.
Yesterday we were visited by friends on 3 vintage tractors, 2 Fergies and one miscellaneous, possibly an old David Brown. I could hear them coming a mile off! I suppose these were the tractors that took over from the plough horses so changing farming forever. They are somewhat different from the 'all singing all dancing' tractors of today but I expect they are much easier to maintain and mend.
October Farmers' Markets kick off with Wincanton and Warminster on Friday 4th October, and Salisbury, Devizes, Shaftesbury, Poundbury, Midsomer Norton, and Axbridge on Saturday 5th October.
For up to date information contact the Somerset Market Coordinator on 01373 814646 or www.somersetfarmersmarkets.co.uk or for Dorset Farmers' Markets email email@example.com or phone 01258 818282.