There is also an intense sweetness to these days that's accentuated by their dwindling number. A sense that one must make every hour count. Lazy, lie-in mornings no longer seem to be as appealing to my teenage son - the days are not to be cut short by failing to get up until lunchtime and my suggestions for getting out and about, when opportunity presents, meet with less resistance!
Actually, my work has made August a pretty busy old time here, but part of me refuses to be governed by that, and prefers to keep a different kind of clock. This clock may or may not bear much relation to reality, but like a soft metronome, it doggedly ticks under the surface and lends its own colour to the seasons. So now, at the end of August, it is telling a slightly wistful, end-of-summer-holiday time and reminding me that now is the season for gathering wild berries and preserving them in jams, jellies and liqueurs to fill the larder shelves.
This kind of activity always has a dreamy quality to it as well as usefulness. And it's been the most wonderful year for wild berries and fruits in the hedgerows here in the UK. After last year's thin pickings, it's as if the fruit trees and bushes have "gone for broke" this year to compensate.
Inky-blue sloes, damsons and bullaces weigh down the branches that overhang the footpaths.
Blackberries drip from the thorny brambles, that unhelpfully like to keep raffish company with tall, green, stinging nettles and in the mornings are veiled now, with lacy cobwebs.
It says a lot for my devotion to the Blackberry-Picking Cause that I am willing to brave these lacy constructions, in case any are Inhabited. So far I've managed to get away with just nettle-stings and bramble-scratches (which don't worry me) and no close encounters with eight-leggers (which do worry me, big time) A major relief. I am wondering how long my luck will hold though, bearing in mind the number of these critters that have been invading the house recently.
Small wild apples, genuine crab apples or wild, domesticated ones, tumble down banks and gateways and into the lanes. I am not sure how you tell which is which, but my go-to, authoritative source on such matters, Anne of Life In Mud Spattered Boots, tells me there's not much difference culinarily between a genuine crab apple and a wild cultivated one - both produce small, sour fruit, so I am not worrying too much because, quite frankly, what Anne doesn't know about making preserves, is not worth knowing.
Fat, bulbous rose-hips have replaced the scented, magenta flowers on the rugosa roses down the lane and now gaudily deck out the fence where they grow, in scarlet and orange.
Elderberries hang in clusters of swinging, purply-black beads, far above my head.
There is a great peacefulness that comes from being out and about, amid all this bounty. A sense of the land being in good heart and able to withstand what the winter may bring.
I think this is quite a primeval feeling and even though I don't depend on what I gather, to feed myself and my family over the winter, I get enormous satisfaction from squirrelling my jars of amateur preserves away, with that feeling of "just in case".
Some of my preserves have been more successful than others. My first attempt at bramble jelly tastes all right but it's so solid, it could be sold as a commercial aid, to shore up crumbling masonry or fill a few pot-holes. Fortunately, H is consuming the evidence fast, so there won't be much left to remind me of this particular failure, over the winter, and my second batch is better.
Sloe (or damson, I'm not sure which - the fruit seemed big for sloes, but small for damsons) and crab apple jelly did better and it's the most gorgeous, translucent garnet colour.
Very good on toasted English wholemeal muffins which I've had to devise a recipe for myself as Waitrose, where I got them before, no longer seems to stock them.
Rose-hip and crab (or wild) apple jelly is better still and instead of being rock-hard, I've achieved a delightful, trembly wobble in the set which I love.
It's messy to eat though, as it's difficult to keep it from delightfully trembling and wobbling off your scone! I like this on slightly more robust scones than the fluffy white ones I make to accompany strawberry or raspberry jam earlier in the summer. These are made with half wholemeal and half white flour and have a bit of cinnamon in them. You can add butter underneath or thick cream on top but you don't need to, when the preserve is so meltingly sensuous. (So long as you have enough of it, that is!)
The fragile set may mean this jelly won't keep very well, I fear, which slightly defeats the object of the exercise. Also, in the making of this, I managed to cut my hand rather badly - note to self, do not try to answer the 'phone and cut up crab apples at the same time. This did not affect the preserve but has temporarily put paid to a lot of other activities, including my crochet. Not good.
Do you like my autumn-fruit-themed plates by the way? They were my grandmother's and date from the 1930s, I think. Of course Mrs T insists on eating her tea-time muffin or scone on the correctly-themed plate for the preserve in question. Er, what does this presage for the plates that depict acorns and conkers, Mrs T?!
Blackberries have been turned into blackberry ice cream; well, frozen yogurt, I suppose, really, as it contains thick, homemade yoghurt and no cream. I freeze this in little individual plastic tubs to limit greedy consumption! (Yes, H, I am looking at you!) Large quantities of the berries have also been frozen away, soaked, rinsed and dried off, to remove any maggots, but otherwise unprocessed, for cooking later in the autumn and winter.
And I have been buying gin, like a fishwife, to put up big jars of blackberry gin to steep over the coming months, to be strained and bottled in time for Christmas. Small glass bottles of any suitable shape and size are being saved from the recycling bin to be stripped of their labels, de-stickified with Sticky-Stuff-Remover or, if that fails, with industrial white spirit, and washed in readiness. After my little post-holiday recycling foray and now this initiative, I am getting some heavily pointed remarks about "not yet another sticky bottle, Mrs T!" It's frustrating that while some labels soak off easily in plain, hot water, leaving no residue, others require a lot of dedicated elbow-grease and solvent to release the gluey, papery traces of their former life. Of course I could just buy new bottles! But where's the fun in that?!
The recipe for the blackberry gin came from Nikki of Tales of Mrs H which she kindly posted here. I had a go at making a blackberry liqueur some years ago, using eau de vie brought back from France, but I made the mistake of cooking the berries and this was not good news. Something nasty happened when I added the spirit - the mixture formed not a delicious, clear, purply-pink liqueur but an unpleasant, opaque, purple sludge that blocked the drain. Not just, "not good", but "pretty bad"!
Pretty orange sprays of rowan berries and red hawthorn berries are also tempting me to turn them into jelly, but I am running out of jars, so these, slightly less mainstream players in the preserve department, may have to wait for another year.
And as well as all the beauty in the hedgerows, a rosy, harvest moon has been glowing in the dark sky. Fabulous - a moon to wish on, for the coming autumn!