It has been a particularly busy few weeks of picking, peeling, freezing, squeezing and bottling. I will shortly be putting away the preserving pan and my current best friend, an extendable apple-picking pole, and sighing with gentle pleasure as I assess the laden shelves and crammed freezer drawers.
The last batch of crab apple jelly is bubbling somewhat volcanically on the hob; I still bear the burn from the larval eruption of the previous over-heated session but the delicate taste is worth it. The crane flies, or daddy long legs as we more evocatively know them, think so too. This is the worst year for crane flies I can remember – another larval eruption! – and it has been impossible to leave the jelly uncovered as these lanky winged creatures have swarmed about the house. I eventually resorted to sticky fly paper.
Some years ago we lived in a thatched National Trust property. It was an interesting dwelling, especially as we had to open it to the public two days a week. In the late summer when the leatherjackets, which are the thick-skinned larvae of the crane fly, were emerging from the fertile roof, the starlings and rooks came in swarms to feed on them. It was both noisy and messy as the birds drummed on the thatch and threw old straw and moss around.
The children are fed-up with fungi. Rob, their farmer dad, is a not an over-zealous forager but it has been such a productive year for mushrooms that he has at times appeared with a shirt full of field mushrooms or a football-sized puff ball. Beth and Jack wont fall for the ‘they are special mushrooms, Chinese ones, try them’ line any longer.
Nine and ten year olds do however love the process of making apple juice. First, tree-climbing to pick the apples (where, incidentally, and much to their giggling delight, we witnessed an awful lot of crane flies having sex. Well, in their two weeks of adult life that is all they seem to usefully do since they don’t eat.) Second, macerating and squeezing the flesh. Then filling the bottles and finally drinking the oh-so-sweet product of their labours.
We will have to wait until Christmas to see if the runner bean chutney is up to much and if the grandmothers like their hand-crafted lavender dollies. And it will be the Christmas after that before I can vouch for the sloe gin.
Despite the work involved there is something so satisfying about it – so earthy and nourishing of body and soul – that I just love harvest time. Despite the crane flies. They did however have the last laugh when the smoke detector went off in the very early hours of the morning: a solitary daddy long legs had crawled inside and quietly died, somehow triggering the alarm.