Monday 16 September 2013

Lament for a missed Indian Summer

September is usually a beautiful, busy month. While the sun shines with diminishing warmth I am usually to be found scurrying around hedgerows and my garden, harvesting the last of flowers, fruits and seeds.

This year feels different. After a dry summer which has caused the ground in the Sanctuary to crack and the two minor springs to stop running entirely, the rain has now come to ease our water problems but temperatures have plummeted. Although I’m grateful, this now brings an added worry of whether the tomatoes will ripen or will I lose my significant crop to rot? As it is, I’m now picking every day or alternate days and using any damaged tomatoes in soup.  

Two nettle roots growing next to the tomatoes are constantly sending up new shoots, so these are my autumn bounty for green minerals.

Spiced Tomato and Basil soup
1lb tomatoes (or an amount you have to use)
2 medium potatoes
2 carrots
A large handful of ripped basil leaves
One medium onion
1 red chilli (adding the seeds will produce a fiery soup!)
Peel, dice and sweat the onion with the chopped chill until soft. Peel and slice the potato and carrots and chop the tomatoes. Add vegetables to the cooked onions and cover with 3 pints of cold water. Bring to the boil, adding seasoning and basil (or any other favourite herbs). Simmer for half an hour with the saucepan lid on until everything is cooked. Blend or liquidise, then strain through a sieve to remove tomato skins.

Nettle, sweet potato and tomato soup
1 colander full of fresh young nettles
1 large sweet potato
1lb tomatoes (or any amount you have to use)
2 carrots
4 cloves of garlic
8” length of lovage stem
1 medium onion
1” fresh root ginger
Peel and crush the garlic and leave for fifteen minutes before cooking. Peel and dice the onion and root ginger and sweat in a large saucepan with the crushed garlic for five minutes in your oil of choice.  Peel and slice the sweet potato and carrots. Slice or chop the tomatoes. Wash the nettles if necessary. Add everything to the saucepan and cover with 3 pints cold water. Bring to the boil adding the chopped lovage and seasoning. Simmer for half an hour until everything is cooked. Blend and sieve to remove tomato skins and any stringy bits from the nettles.

September is also the time of year to think about storing anti-virals and vitamin C ready for the winter. My favourite method is elderberry elixir or cordial and gathering as many rosehips as I can find and store.

Fire cider vinegar is another staple in my household. You can follow Rosemary Gladstar’s original recipe of equal parts of fresh garlic, root ginger and horseradish root but add in whatever spice you fancy. I always add rosehips for vitamin C but if you have any fresh chillis they are good to complement the turmeric powder. If you wanted to increase the mineral content of the vinegar you could add nettle seed or fresh young nettle leaves or shoots if you have any.

Don’t forget another autumn harvest, honey. Many beekeepers are collecting their golden treasure this month, so if you have any near you, it is worth asking if they will sell you a few pounds of fresh honey to last you over the winter.

Think what you might want to add to this honey. Elderberries taste divine but make sure you infuse it in the fridge if you don’t want purple overflow everywhere from fermenting berries. Rosehip honey is another favourite but does involve hours of cutting and scooping out the stones and hairs before blending the flesh with the honey. It is worth waiting until after the first frost when the hips become soft so you can squeeze out the centre without ending up with itching thumbs.

Don’t forget your honeyed roots. Angelica and elecampane are two roots which produce an interestingly flavoured infused honey which may be more palatable in this form rather than in tea. You may want to experiment with sweet calamas root in the same way if you have some to harvest. Don’t be surprised if your infused honey is thinner than the original runny honey. This is the result of osmosis whereby the honey pulls liquid from the fresh roots. It should store for several years but keep an eye on it.

It looks as if this year will be another good apple year. Windfalls from my tree are producing many boxes of frozen applesauce and there are new jars of apple and red currant jelly on the larder shelves. If you are looking for something different to add to your complement of bitters, try rowan/mountain ash or crampbark/Guelder rose berry and apple jelly. They will complement any rich meat but also get your digestive juices flowing. Bitter jellies are an acquired taste, so less is more when you try it for the first time.

One of the most exciting things I heard at our festival was Fred Gillam talking about his comfrey bath bombs for serious bruising following accidents and the news that a London herbalist is experimenting with Crampbark flower and berry tinctures to treat muscle cramps on different energetic levels.

Guess what I’m going to be experimenting with this autumn!