By Harriet Kent.
With the evenings rapidly drawing in at an ever-increasing rate, autumn gives us an excellent excuse to stock our larders and cupboards with preserves made from the bountiful crops of hedge berries and fruit from our gardens.
The abundance of berries and hips amongst the hedgerows this year is incredible, with vast colourful swathes of red, purple, orange and black.
One particularly popular and versatile fruit is the blackberry with its dark green, brambly foliage and berries in varying degrees of ripeness, from the vivid green to the shiny black. The sweet smell of blackberries and apples stewing with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg conjures up the colder, darker days and preparation to hunker down in readiness for winter. There are sloes with their purple-blue matt appearance, which can be used to create the gloriously syrupy sloe gin for Christmas time, and rosehips with their hard red lantern-like skins, provide a landscape of incredible colour and can no doubt be utilised in some form or another.
Our larder at the farm was always stocked with any amount of preserves; blackberries picked from the hedgerows, with hands stained to a wonderful shade of pink-purple. Crab apples were a firm favourite with mum as our trees repeatedly heaved each season with the colourful orange and yellow miniature apples. Large pots on the stove would stew the fruits, and then muslin cloths would drain the juices to provide enough jars of crab apple jelly to see us through till springtime.
On one occasion, crab apples seemed to be a firm favourite of one of our particularly characterful Guernsey cows. Being over-inquisitive, she broke through the fence overnight into our orchard and made her way to the crab apple trees. She must have spent the entire night eating windfalls. When we found her the following morning, she was hardly able to stand. In fact, she was as drunk as a lord! She spent the rest of the day recovering in one of the loose boxes until she had sobered up. She was none the worse for her escapade, apart from suffering from a hangover and having an exceptionally rotund appearance!
Preserving the berries, whether by freezing them, making them into jams or adding them to crumbles, pies and cakes, gives a huge sense of satisfaction that you can enjoy the fruits of your labour long into the New Year and beyond.