Autumn Rituals

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some of this year’s crop

If you are a housewife in Deepest Sussex, however reluctant, there are some rituals associated with this time of year.

The Aga is back on. Obviously, there was an outbreak of very warm weather immediately after it was ceremoniously re-lit but I resisted attempts to have it turned down or off and today is gratifyingly chilly – and it is currently draped with drying knickers and socks.

Then there is the business of turning nature’s bounty into jars of stuff which can be sold to friends in aid of Syrian refugees – a ritual we started at the beginning of the war so it has some years standing – none of this johnny-come-lately refugee crisis activity.

Our crab apple tree had taken a couple of years off and was looking poorly but this year (after some ministrations) it has rewarded us with a big crop.

Too big infact.

Making crab apple jelly is a time consuming faff which involves having bags of dripping mush scattered around the kitchen for many hours, re-boiling and all that sort of stuff.

My recommendation is that you just don’t bother unless it comes with your job description.

The18 jars do look nice – a very pleasing pink and popular with the punters.

But the garden path is generously littered with more of them which I feel bad about going to waste so something more will have to be done with them.
(In case you are interested, yes there will be some elderberry vinegar and blackberry and apple jam and when I get bored with that, I will do some more interesting pickles.)

There are also clouds of pheasants released ready for the shoot and this year the landowner seems to have let out more than the usual number.

They change over a few weeks from hundreds of little brown jobs into magnificently plumed gorgeous looking birds – well, at least the males do.

They are very dim birds, and when they hear a car coming they seem to feel an overwhelming urge to run across the road or gallop off in-front of the on-coming vehicle.

It is hard work not to run them over, and can add quite a bit to your travelling time along our lanes this time of year.

However, just before Christmas the land-owner will bring a brace over – all cleaned and sorted and ready for a very nice supper.

Then there is the upholstery in aid of Syrian refugees which has also been going for a few years.

A friend and I re-upholster some chairs and sell them on Gumtree or Preloved so, obviously, the idea is to get the chairs and fabric cheap, and make a healthy profit.

Being an aficionado of the local tip shop, I got very excited when I saw a pair of G-Plan dinning chairs.

G-Plan being part of the current ‘Mid-Century, darling’ craze and only costing me a fiver, I was very pleased.

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I have been in contact with a very nice woman who is making a film for Oxfam.

I told her about this find and it turns out she is a G-Plan fan and wants the chairs. She also has the fabric she wants them done in.

Good news you may think, and indeed it is, but I feel a bit cheated – selling them so easily, not getting the chance to chose the fabric ( always the best bit of re-upholstery), makes me feel the ritual is not complete.

So I am on the hunt for some more chairs.

I went to an auction but ended up buying an elm ladder-backed rocking chair which we will keep. ( I do like to rescue old elm chairs because we won’t see the like, as my grandmother used to say.)

I will keep looking but time is not on our side – upholstery takes longer than you might think.

But on the upside, this is a chilly Autumn Sunday and there is Antiques Roadshow on tonight – a ritual I always enjoy.

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Refugees & Rabbit Pie

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We feel strongly about the plight of refugees and so, this weekend, my best-beloved went to the march in London to show support. ( I think he looks rather magisterial….)

The reason I didn’t go shows our Sussex life in microcosm – I was dog-sitting for friends who were off to Goodwood Revival ( lots of classic car racing and people dressed up in vintage stuff.) I stayed home and made rabbit pie…..

Anyway, I have been to more marches in support of good causes than I have made rabbit pies, so the best-beloved went off alone and on his very first march.

It was a bit like ( I imagine) sending you child off to first day at big school. I made sure he had a rucksack & water bottle, and told him not to talk to any members of the Socialist Workers’ Party – not to be trusted and mad as hatters.

I was very proud of him and a little worried about letting him go into the big world of marches on his own – but I was pretty sure that kettling was unlikely under the circumstances.

He had the idea a few days ago to get people to wear a yellow lapel ribbon to show their support for refugees.

He wanted me to set up a Twitter and Facebook campaign but as I have all of about 3 followers and friends, this was unlikely to happen – and I have only just worked out that setting up a public page on Facebook would be a start.

( On that, we have a new potential volunteer at the shop who is a Facebook native and so I will be demanding lessons to get me passed the clunky middle-aged-woman-tries-social-media thing.)

Anyway, on the march he managed to get rid of his cache of yellow ribbons and one ‘nice young woman’ has promised to help with the campaign.

So who knows, it might just happen.

Meanwhile, I had tweeted he was off on his first march and got a abuse for the first time – I am not sure how the ‘abuser’  found me or why he was so angry ( I am presuming it was a he, given his comments) but I suppose it is some sort of right of passage on social media.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

It is that time of year again when I get into the whole making preserves thing.

I am sure I have said before, and no doubt will say again, that jam-making is not how I saw the trajectory of my middle age.

I had seen myself more doing something interesting with my life – writing a book, being a smart interim manager bringing light and general good things to despairing organisations, working for the UN and getting some trips to New York where I would broker alliances……not all of those things at once, of course.

Anyway here I am already with ten jars of Povidle. (Look it up – its an interesting Eastern European plum ‘cheese’ which can be used to go along with a cheese board or sweet Hungarian dumplings – not being a Hungarian dumpling-maker even at this stage of my housewifery, I shall substitute eggy bread made with brioche & sprinkled with sugar. And I added cinnamon sticks to the mix in case you are thinking of having a go.)

For the last two years our crab apple tree has not been forthcoming with its fruit and I was sorry – it is lovely tree – and, of course, you cannot buy crab apples in the shops so it was nice to have it in the garden – it gave me a smug feeling of nature’s bounty and all that stuff.

This year it has gone overboard, and so crab apple jelly is on the cards again – and I am alarmed at the extent of nature’s bounty.

For those of you who don’t do the preserve thing, let me say that it is a pain in the arse to make crabapple jelly.

There is no getting round it.

It is not complicated, but it is a long-winded business which starts with picking up the windfalls ( the best beloved did a bucket full today), then you have to get rid of the bruised bits –  but actually I get bored with that cutting up and, after a bit, I throw whole crabapples into the pan, willy-nilly.

Then you have to cook them and then – and this is the real pain bit – you have to strain the juice.

So, you need to imagine my kitchen with broom handles resting between chairs and muslin bags strung on the handles full of crabapple mush which have to drip into containers overnight.

And then you have to start with sugar and boiling points, jam jars which need sterilising and their labels removing, etc etc etc.

By the way there are a few jars of something down in the cellar which I made earlier in the year and cannot for the life of me remember what it is – some pickle or another….but forgot to label them. I will think of some pickle name and then make up some labels – another long-winded process.

And then there are the blackberries.

My best beloved would like a good bramble jelly as made by his mum but that isn’t going to happen for two reasons – one I have tried it and it came out like jellied concrete and the other is that it needs that dripping malarky and I am not doing that twice in a year.

So, I will beg and steal some apple windfalls and then some blackberries and there will be some jam.

Of course, unless you are willing to spend every minute of your life at this time of year making preserves, you have to freeze stuff so that you can do it when you get round to it.

That means clearing out the freezer.

So we are currently eating stuff out of the freezer in strange combinations – who knew fish-fingers could go with roasted peppers, for example.

We have some people coming for meals this weekend and they will be surprised by the unusual combinations – I shall explain it is a Hungarian traditional feast, and pass them the Povidle.

I will say in my defence of preserve making for the reluctant housewife, we sell them at our winter lunch for Syrian refugees. ( Best beloved says they must be bloody fed up with jam by now but I think that this year, brandishing a jar of Hungarian preserves might be useful….)