Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Scarlet and the Black

We just aren't keeping up - that's all there is to it.
First of all it was the strawberries.
A row by row pick yielded what can only be called a glut (not to mention so many personalities that we had to stop and introduce ourselves as we went along).
First name terms notwithstanding, the jam pan came out immediately, and - of course - the actual strawberry bed went straight out of my head.

We're on quite familiar name terms with our strawberries

It's not surprising that I forgot about the garden end of things. Jam-making is a time-consuming enterprise.
Pleasant, but there isn't a whole heap of day left over by the time you're done.
I don't know about you, but it's not the actual jam-making as much as the cleaning up afterwards that's the biggest challenge.
It's probably just me. Everything is hunky dory until I've filled the first pot, but then things go a bit pear-shaped, and by the last pot there seems to be as much jam on the baking tray as there is in the jars. (That's why I have my jars on a baking tray.)

It's the same with nail-painting, which is why no one who knows me will ever recall seeing me with painted nails.
Nail one: painstaking care. Ten minutes on the clock. Not a drop spilled, or splashed or over the edge.
Nail two: Reasonable care. Two and a half minutes on the clock. Large splurge of nail polish up side of nail.
Nail three: Exasperated. 30 seconds on the clock. Nail polish on top of finger and down both sides of nail.
Nail four: I think you're getting my drift here...

But I'm digressing, as usual.
Jam cools to an unbelievably sticky mess with incredible osmotic and reproductive properties. Have you ever noticed that? Perhaps jam is actually a type of fungus - turn your back and it just starts appearing everywhere.
So heaving the old jam-pan, the wooden spoons, the pouring-out jug et al into the back sink and filling them with water is such a relief that it's done immediately, but that is about it. I've had enough by then.
Two weeks on and the jars are still sitting on the tray on the kitchen counter. The lids are on all right, but there's not a label in sight, and I've almost managed to forget that they exist. I have discovered that - the jars being all conveniently the same size and height - they make a sort of conveniently higher surface for putting things on close to the cooker, which is very useful.

We have so far eaten two of the jars, given one away and sold another one at the market, so balance is going to become an issue before too long, at which point the In-Charge will rap out a demand that they be re-located immediately.

In the meantime, we have just been so busy. Strawberries and jam are yesterday's news. Since then we've had to toil and titivate, trying to render the garden fit for the open weekend.  Heaven forfend that our box hedges might not be keeping up with the latest trend in footballer's hair cuts.

The In-Look for Summer 2014

And that's just the garden. There have been a million other jobs, not to mention the roof. The In-Charge has almost taken up residence on the roof (but let's not forget there are real boy's toys involved). Down at ground level there's been less exalted work and meetings and poor Wellington, and who knows what.

The In-Charge lives on the roof these days

And as you can see, I'm getting a whole heap of help from some of the other residents in this place.

Hobbes. Exhausted

The Models. Wiped out

Even so, I had ticked the strawberries off with a nice, fat, self-satisfied, licked finger.
So it came as something of a surprise to glimpse flashes of scarlet as I passed the strawberry bed a few days ago. The on-going-ness of production had somehow slipped my mind.
'I thought we'd done that', was my knee-jerk reaction, but of course, that was a ten days ago.
Time has moved on.

Climber-boy went out with a bowl.
He came back awhile later for a larger bowl.
Shortly afterwards he reappeared and got the big cake storage box - the Christmas-cake sized one.

'But we used all the jars,' I wailed when he finally staggered in, hidden behind a red mountain.

'There's loads of raspberries too,' he said. 'But luckily I can't get at them.'
I must have looked slightly puzzled.
'There's too many blackcurrants in the way,' he explained.

We now have strawberry compote for breakfast and pudding every day.
With raspberries shaken over the top. 

Strawberry compote - delicious with yoghurt. Delicious with raspberries. Delicious with blackcurrants?

But it doesn't end there.
I've ten pounds of blackcurrants in the fridge, looking at me reproachfully every time I reach for the milk.

Oh joy

We used the Bob Flowerdew method of harvesting for the currants: you cut the branch, retreat to a sunny place, sit and string while chatting in comfort. We only managed to pick the front branches overhanging the paths, but even so, the blackbirds were outraged at our theft. They have eaten so many, they can't actually get off the ground, so they were outraged from ground-level.

In the kitchen, I have rowed up the sugar, lemons, wooden spoon and the spotless jam pan.
But after surveying the hastily convened and sadly inadequate splinter of jars (the official collective), I have now issued a diktat: the rest of the blackcurrants are to be made over to the blackbirds, on a strict  PYO basis.
It is quite a generous gesture, but a necessary one.
Not just for my own sanity and space on the kitchen counter.
Having witnessed the extreme effort required for the even the fittest blackbird to get off the ground, let alone the young, inexperienced novice flyers, I feel it is necessary to keep them supplied with food in situ, until they learn to handle their expanded undercarriages in flight.

Well that's my excuse anyway.
And meanwhile, I'd better find another, larger, baking tray.


  1. Just reading this makes me feel exhausted. No wonder Hobbes and the dogs are stretched out. But fruit compote every day for breakfast - how wonderful.

    1. They are lazy toads, the lot of them! Yes, I could get all too used to sumptuous fruit every day!

  2. Good luck with your jam-making. I remember 'topping and tailing' gooseberries for my Mum as she made jam but unfortunately I didn't like the end product.

    1. Strictly between you and me, Mairead, I loathe gooseberries. I refuse to have them in the garden, so at least that's one chore we won't have to grit our teeth over! And the other fruits are really a chore, it's just when they arrive, they arrive en masse!


Ah, go on! Make my day - leave a comment!