Busy holiday

Sun goes down, it's Monday night. I'm rather optimistic that this might follow. And that it might be a touch warmer than it is tonight.

I've been away for a week in Cornwall and it feels like I left in summer and came back in autumn. A busy week, even while I wasn't here. The unplanned biscuit diversion a few blogposts back seems to have started something. Comments, derision, and emails have followed in reasonably equal measure. It seemed to stir up James Alexander-Sinclair to such a degree that he felt moved to do what I hadn't ie stick to the point - so a Biscuit blog has been created. Generously/harshly he has sought to share the acclaim/blame (delete as appropriate with the benefit of hindsight). We hope to publish a new post each day. Remarkably, there are many posts already awaiting, but don't let that stop you submitting to the Commissar or his PA should you feel so inclined.



I managed a visit to both Eden and Heligan, both of which were quietly wonderful at this time of year. I first went to the Eden Project while it was turning from china clay mine to the bones of what is there today. I used to work for the consultancy that did much of the master planning and design - alas I was not one of the creative folk involved, I was arsing about next door with software and eating London's finest tortilla from the Portuguese cafe down the road, but as I left to start my own consultancy business Eden was looking for web and interpretative expertise, so off I went with old friend Stu - the person who could actually do the clever techie stuff.

It was all mist and potential when we arrived, but you got still the idea - this wasn't some hotchpotch green nonsense, but the vision of a very bright mind that had the energy to see it to reality. I've been back once or twice since, but 12 years on it's very much arrived. The covered domes are as impressive as ever, but it's the outside that's come on so much.



All the beds jammed with veg, herb, medicinal and ornamentals looked like they'd always been there flourishing. The tropical and Meditteranean domes may be impressive in reach as well as grasp, but something about the splendidness of how well the 'ordinary' had been pulled off edged it for me, at least on that day.



Too many ideas to fill my confused head with too. Slightly reeling still from the ideas that came from a visit a fortnight back from Jekka McVicar (no relation) it did little for my hope of mental relaxation - endless medicinals that might make for a good lower tier growing in an orchard, and climbers (like the hops below) to add to the beverage possibilities that seem to be dominating my list of potential products.



Early autumn is a good time to visit Heligan - it does the handover of the seasons very well, and a quite reasonable flapjack, which is equally important when trying to keep a 3 year old happy. ('Why are we going to hell-again daddy?')



I'm a little too desirous of me bed to say much more than that about Heligan, except that they too seemed to favour these yellowy flowers in similar profusion to Eden. Very nice they are too - which is about as good as a compliment gets from me for a plant you can't eat.

Night night.

London buses

I'm happy to say I've been all over things like the proverbial badsuit these last few days.

A month back I spent a nicely combative afternoon with Elinor Goodman from Radio 4, who was very happy in the role of devil's advocate, and made it so much more fun than a happy love-in. I'm sure you were all so keen to know what's going on at Otter Farm that you were up first thing his morning, but if not then for a week at least you can listen again to On Your Farm.

After much chat and a photoshoot or two the first of a series of monthly pieces made it to print in The English Garden. Using my photos too, alongside very fine ones taken by Jason Ingram.

And an article about peaches in The Guardian yesterday, which seems to have resulted in dozens of people getting the urge to plant one judging by the emails. Don't forget to try Will Davenport's fantastic sparkler with it too.


Another for the list

A week away, and a week that had the good courtesy to pretend to be summer. Very welcome. And for the most part I didn't think too much about Otter Farm. I could relax, Trent was here, hopefully keeping his clothes on.

A few evenings though, colder as they were, had me thinking long and hard about what's coming here before next spring. I'd already started a few weeks ago, but Mastermind conventions don't apply when it comes to my planning. Lots of ones-and-twos on the list, but no definites on the larger scale - maybe chestnuts though.

I've been trying to keep my mind off any more ones-and-twos, and what do I get, a pic from Stephanie Donaldson. At the risk of exposing my horticultural new-kid-on-the-blockness, I've only recently met Stephanie, at my first Chelsea Flower Show. We talked of apricots, while I tried to offer the antidote to James Alexander Sinclair's rather colourful introduction of me: it certainly included a phrase similar to 'this is Mark, he tries to grow things that aren't supposed to grow in this country, and they mostly die'. My mum always taught me that toffs were polite.



Stephanie's picture is of a strawberry guava that's doing rather nicely. This is a classic of it's type: a picture of something apparently utterly delicious that shouldn't be overly content in our climate that's doing rather well for someone else. And something I've already tried growing once and killed. I'm beginning to see a pattern emerging.

P-p-p-p preserves

It's the start of preserving time and we're so goddam wholesome in this house that we've already made mint syrup and bean chutney. My first attempt at chutney a few years ago was considerably overcooked, but, while unpalatable, continues to provide the appropriate lubrication for the moving parts of the tractor's mower.

The mint syrup, however, is an unqualified success. But then it's from Pam Corbin's Preserves book. I defy anyone to find a rival for it...every recipe I've tried is not only delicious it's also fun to actually do.



Fruit leathers are next on the list. If you're not familiar with fruit leathers, they're made from sweetened fruit puree that once cooked is poured, baked into (usually) rectangular, thin strips. They look a little like they may have been peeled from the flesh of a recovering burns victim. Tastier though, I'm sure.

This is exactly the sort of snack I'm hoping to encourage myself and the family to eat more of - dragging the late summer and autumn harvest into the colder months. They're a great energy boost, obviously much healthier than the usual biscuits. My mind has strayed onto biscuits in the last day or two, partly due to the last post on this blog, and even more so thanks to James A-S comments underneath the post itself.

Snacks used to be different. For a start the Venn diagram of snacks and biscuits looked pretty much like a single circle. Obviously I'm excluding the wonderful world of sweets, which exists more as a form of entertainment than sustenance if you ask me. The trouble with biscuits is that once they enter the conversation you can end up anywhere. I should stop myself writing, but I'm compelled to continue. You may start off pondering what makes something a biscuit and what makes something a cake (at the risk of starting a fire I can't put out, I'd unhumbly suggest a cake goes hard when it's stale, a biscuit goes soft), and then you stray into old-school snackery...what was the best biscuit? Do fancy biscuits (and by fancy biscuits I mean those wrapped individually) have to be considered in a separate category? And how many standard biscuits equal a fancy biscuit? Obviously this has no recourse to nutritive benefit nor volume but it's own exchange rate that is somehow immediately understood. Three Digestives for a Breakaway always seemed about fair, although obviously enough that'd be two half coated Digestives to a Breakaway. If it was dark chocolate providing the half-coating then negotiations were often required. In the same way two Rothmans were required to part company with a single Marlboro. If only the rest of life was based on such immediately and inarguable understandings.

Trios and Uniteds were the pinnacle for me, although the Club deserves a mention - surely everyone's favourite for a while. Which of course opens up 'hilarious' possibilities for club sandwich jokes.



Almost tragically my dad was a fan of the Blue Riband...a biscuit so unworthy of the name 'biscuit' as to be an insult to it. Built of two main ingredients (poor chocolate and coarse wafer) the Blue Riband was often the only thing that would pass for a snack that sat lonely in the cupboard at half term. You'd need getting on for a flaskful of tea to get the wretched thing to form a bolus, never mind actually get it to pass through the alimentary canal. It's only a mild exaggeration to say that when a packet of Penguins magically found it's way into the house it felt as if it was someone's birthday.

There was the occasional packet of Bourbons. The fabulous thing about Bourbons was that as well as providing diversion from the Blue Riband it provided a little sport. Could any of us eat the two outer planks of biscuit leaving the inner chocolate cream intact? The answer was always the same: only my mum. Perhaps she had the witch-cold hands required to hold but not melt the cream. But the challenge was always taken by the rest of us. It was certainly worthy of inclusion in Indoor League, that finest of mid70s lunchtime entertainment, with a theme tune to rival many. This, my friends, was how we used to spend time in the days before the internet.

I digress.



My aim in all this preserving is not only to get every penny's worth out of the £8.99 I would have spent on the book if Pam hadn't given me a copy, but also to try to make sure we've got plenty of delicious snacks through the winter...to keep away the specter of the Blue Riband. I want my daughter to grow up without the torture of having to scrabble around in the cupboards for a terrible morsel that answers to the name 'snack' only to find something that includes wafer.

So, off to pick blackberries, rosehips, apples, raspberries, autumn olives, haws and maybe some sloes for a liquid snack of my own.

My favourite apple 1: (the 1st in an irregular series)

...favourite, at least for today, because of it's name as well as it's flavour. A cross between the James Grieve and Worcester Pearmain apples, both fine in their own right, but their child is possibly even finer. It was crossed by the Laxton Brothers about a hundred years ago - a business originally started by Thomas Laxton in 1830. He worked with Charles Darwin on peas, which may or may not be a painfully clunky way of shoehorning in a plug for Emma Ts new book about Darwin.



The Lord Lambourne seems to be the only apple he crossed that Laxton didnt actually give his name to - Laxton' Superb, Laxton's Peerless, Laxton's Totally Lush etc. It got me thinking how fabulous it would be to have a fruit named after you. Perhaps even with a not-entirely-accurately-bestowed honour at the front. The Emperor Diacono apricot perhaps, the Viscount Diacono plum - the second of which got me thinking about how much better it would be to have a biscuit named after you...the Viscount Diacono Crunch. Up there with the Uniteds, the Breakwaways and the Trios for the discerning midmorning snacker no doubt.

A quarter

About 15% of me loves doing my VAT return - it reminds me of what I was doing a quarter of a year ago, between 1 May and 31 July. Judging from the receipts, it seems as though I spent a lot of time in coffee shops eating pastries. I also required more than the usual maintenance for the tractor and erroneously considered midweek football match watching as a ligitimate business expense.



More notably, I went to Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows, and much fun they were too (once I overcame the feeling of 'imposter').

The sun shone, as I recall, then rain most days since the end of Wimbledon - perhaps to laugh at them having put a roof on centre court.



And today, after a few weird inclings a couple of weeks back, it really does feel like Autumn. The first fruit have appeared on the Autumn olives. A finer hedge I can't imagine - it looks fabulous, grows quickly, the fruit makes a great autumnal preserve and it takes nitrogen from the air to its roots allowing it to grow in less than favourable sites, and if that wasn't enough it then releases that lovely nitrogen over your ground through it's leaves when it drops them for a few short weeks in mid Winter.



So, I'm drawing a (dotted) line between summer and winter. It feels like it, it looks like it, and that way every summery day from now can be a positive and uplifting bonus, rather than treating every day that rains as a dilution of the summer. Plus it ties in with my accounts better that way.

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