Tuesday, 9 October 2012

October: Celebration merry berry or sad slip into winter?

Katie's birthday berry cake with fruit fresh from the allotment
October is one of those love-them-or-hate them months. I have a friend who enjoys this time of year above all others, which is unusual but autumn is traditionally a time of celebration when we welcome the harvest and celebrate the year's achievements.

And what a year it has been! We had months of warm rain and grey skies that wiped out our tomatoes and much besides, with everything else coming in late. But the upside of the early summer carnage was a late blooming as the sun finally came out and the sweet peas, runner beans and berries came into their own.

I should report that I came first in the blackberry category again this year, thanks to my allotment neighbour who went to the extraordinary kindness of entering them in my absence. I am afraid I can't tell you the variety as I grew them from a cutting from a now retired fellow allotment holder who didn't know their origin. But they are huge, prodigious and taste like a good claret, the only downside being their flesh tearing, surgically sharp thorns.

With berries a plenty and late squash, pumpkins, beetroot, brassicas and spinach, we have a great deal to help us move on from the worst summer in terms of productivity that I have ever known.

In contrast, I have been watching the party conferences and I am disappointed by the obvious fatigue of our political leaders. I know we remain in the teeth of economic hardship – oh don't I know it – but how are we to move on, out and up if there is nothing to show for the year's hard work? A sense of achievement feeds the human soul just as a well-kept larder feeds the stomach, but have we not got anything right? Have hard-pressed public sector workers sacrificed benefits and pay for a better-run service? Have the private sector employees experienced a year of job insecurity for the greater good and have our young people waited for their chance to make their mark with hope now, that a late sun will bring them opportunity? I jolly well hope so and I want to hear it, I want to hear congratulations and celebration of all that people have relinquished to a hard year with plans for the harvest to come, albeit it a late one.

Tonight I made my redcurrent jelly, enough for the winter as long as I can keep the children from spreading it on their roasts by the tablespoons. I write this listening to the satisfying pop as the lids of the jars, one by one, spring up to accomodate the temperature change and create a seal that will keep the jelly fresh all year. For those interested I use the master's formula – Christopher Lloyds of 500g of sugar to each pint of boiled juice. Regardless of past disappointment, we will be hunkering down for log fires, blackberry jam on toasted teacakes and our family favourite, The Great British Bake Off'(what about last week's gingerbread sculptures!?) and that feeling that all in all, despite everything 2012 was a job well done. My hope is that others can feel that they too have something to celebrate, despite the long wait.

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