So my hanging baskets have been looking pretty sorry for themselves for a while. I tried reviving them but now the weather has started cooling (how can it possibly be Autumn already?) there is not as much of the heat and sunlight that they require to ripen well. So I decided to cut my losses and pick the remaining tomatoes. The hanging baskets were starting to look rather unattractive and so they are better off down and out the way emptied and ready to use next year.
As you can see we still have a significant number of unripened tomatoes. So what do you do with them? Well I have removed them and brought them inside to sit on a warm sunny windowsill. Here we should get some more of them ripening and reaching that lovely deep red colour that indicates a lovely sweetness. In fact most of the tomatoes I’ve picked this year I’ve put on the windowsill for a day or so to get that last bit of ripening.
Any that remain green can become a green tomato chutney, which is a winter favourite of mine with cheese.
Chatting to my grandmother the other week she said that October half term used to be called Blackberry Week as that was when the wild blackberries used to be ripe and you could go foraging. Now she is from Northumberland but I wouldn’t imagine the seasons to be vastly different from where we are based in the South West. However, we started having blackberries here from about mid August. It was the same time of year last year that they began and by the first couple of weeks of September we were overrun with them. Our blackberries are all wild and are spread about the land which is nice as we get to have a good wander, but we do tend to occasionally miss a patch. Last year the field was our best blackberry hunting ground and I would end up going round it every other day and picking two to three kilograms every time. And that was only the ones we could reach as there were many more that were too high up and so we left them for the birds. We had the field hedges cut back massively in January and they haven’t really got back to full strength yet so the field hasn’t been the best harvest this year. Last year C had blackberries pretty much everyday as her snack and she has enjoyed them again as a snack this year, especially picking them and then eating them straight away.
What I have noticed about soft fruits from the garden is that they just don’t last that long. Not just beacause they are eaten, which of course with C around they rarely make it back into the house. But also as they go soft fairly quickly after picking. Now this has made me realise several things. Firstly, the supermarket ones tend to last for a couple of days, at least, after purchase and presumably they are not in the shop the day they are picked. So what on earth do they do to get them to last that long, and how can that be good for you? Secondly, our homegrown soft fruits taste so much better than shop bought (in my humble opinion), much sweeter and juicier. I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that they are eaten so much sooner after picking or just that some part of the production process for supermarket ones tends to mask their true flavour, but I just can’t find the supermarket ones as satisfying anymore.
So what do we do with all those blackberries? Well aside from eating a good portion of them, I tend to freeze those not being eaten immediately to preserve that wonderful natural goodness. I am lucky to have a tray at the top of one of my freezers so I can open freeze them. What this means is that I can lay them out flat and freeze and then bag once frozen. This means that the individual berries are kept separate and so it is easy to take out a few at a time. I always try to label the bags with the prefrozen weight if I remember! What do I use these frozen berries for? Well defrosted they tend to go a bit squishy so I have tended to use them for smoothies or yogurt toppings, fruit crumbles and of course jams and chutneys (I made about 20+ jars of blackberry and apple jam last year that were amazing). This year with the hedges having been cut right back we haven’t had quite so many but C was still able to have a couple of friends over for some blackberry picking and eating and I’ve still added to my freezer collection for the winter. What do other people do with their blackberries? Does anyone else do any foraging?
So whilst I enjoy beetroot, I wouldn’t exactly descibe myself as a beetroot lover. We had planted two rows of beetroot (boltardy variety) using seed tape and I was initially very critical of it. The theory behind the seed tape is that you don’t need to thin, the beetroot is perfectly spaced and the tape should ensure that every seed sprouts. This has not proven to be the case for us as we’ve had a good portion where no seeds have sprouted and they seem to have come up very unevenly. Not what I was hoping for. That said now they’ve had time to really grow they do seem to have flourished. When harvesting beetroot it is a good idea to try to pick out alternate roots to give the remaining ones time and room to grow. Our first harvest J’s dad took and cooked in the pressure cooker for us. Our second harvest I roasted in olive oil with just some salt and pepper. This weekend I took out our third harvest to make chutney. As I was making chutney I actually weighed the beetroot, a whopping 2.8kg! And we still have plenty more to pick. I tend to play about a lot with my chutney recipes and I thought I would include my version of beetroot chutney below. The recipe could be easily scaled up or down depending on your quantity of beetroot. I got about 6 and a half jars from this, jars all about 454g size, ish.
Beetroot Chutney recipe:
- 2.8kg raw beetroot (if directly from the garden then cut the stalks off close to the base, rinse off any soil and cut the long winding root close back to the main bulb)
- 2 pints vinegar (approximately one pint per 1.5kg). I used cider vinegar but white wine vinegar would also be good, avoid anything with too much colour.
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar (for cooking the beetroot, exclude if you like quite a tart chutney)
- 4 large onions, peeled and diced.
- 900g granulated sugar (again you can adapt to preferences and use soft brown if you like a more caramelised taste)
- Spices: I prefer not to just use a traditional pickling spice muslin bag and instead add spices to leave in. I used 4 bay leaves (which I removed when putting into jars), a teaspoon of mustard seeds, a teaspoon of nigella seeds, a teaspoon of coriander seeds and a good grind or two of black pepper. These can be ground if preferred or just kept whole.
- Put the beetroot whole into a large saucepan or preserving pan and cover with boiling water. Bring back up to the boil and simmer until the beetroot is cooked through (this can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of your beetroot, check it with a knife the same way as you would check potatoes).
- Whilst this is cooking then prepare your jars, I just put mine into the dishwasher to sterilise, but you can also use the oven.
- Drain and leave until cool enough to handle (cold water can speed up this step).
- Peel the beetroot (washing up gloves can prevent any colour run) and dice.
- In your washed out preserving pan add the onions and vinegar and soften on a low heat for about 10 minutes.
- Add the beetroot, sugar and spices and stir well.
- Keep the mixture on a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved then bring it up to the boil.
- The chutney then needs to stay at a rolling boil for the liquid to reduce and the chutney to thicken (this took about and hour and a half for me as I turned the temperature down a couple of times to pop out to the garden and do chores and I didn’t want it to burn).
- Once it has reached the desired consistency then fill and seal your jars (remember to put hot chutney into hot jars to avoid a disaster and aim to push it down with a spoon to avoid as many air bubbles as possible). You should hear the lids pop down as it cools and seals. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves as you find them now, if used.
- It will taste best if left for at least one month before using and once opened should be stored in the fridge. Unopened it should be good for a couple of years or longer.