Famine or Feast: the Joy and Strain of a Seasonal Glut

Bountiful supplies of fruit and veges can be a double edged sword.

© Shutterstock

harvest-food

Bountiful supplies of fruit and veges can be a double edged sword.

© Shutterstock

Is it wrong to rejoice at a late spring frost? As gardeners mournfully survey their shrivelled blossom, a quiet minority heaves a sigh of relief at the sudden lightening of their autumn workload. Days dedicated to peeling, coring, stewing, pickling and drying now stretch ahead as a liberating expanse of unexpected freedom.

No longer will the kitchen resemble an industrial processing plant, where fellow residents must nervously clear a space if they fancy intruding for a sandwich. And that sandwich absolutely must include chutney as pressure mounts to empty last year’s jars so they can be requisitioned for the new harvest.

“You don’t have to use them all,” suggest weary family members. If only they knew how many bulging bags had already been delivered to the nearby stables or passed on to friends deprived of the pleasures and responsibilities that come with an apple glut.

And that’s just the apples. What if plums and pears demand attention too? At least the redcurrants and blackberries can be shoved in the infinitely expanding chest freezer for a quieter moment or that showstopper summer pudding. Elderflower has the decency to appear well before the summer rush, its fragrant cordial thirstily consumed in refreshing pitchers. That wild garlic pesto, pounded in a flurry of excitement at these bright green shoots that herald the arrival of warmer days, has already earned its keep by invigorating countless risottos and bean stews. Even better, you remembered not to freeze it next to the ice cubes this year. Apparently even the most voracious garlic fan draws the line at an accidentally infused G&T.

Do those well-meaning souls who suggest you encourage your children to plant a vegetable garden ever take responsibility for their actions? Fortunately, the carrot seeds mostly ended up on the barren garden path and the broccoli is now nothing more than a caterpillar ravaged biodiversity model, but that still leaves the courgette glut. Of course, the children stubbornly declare they don’t actually like courgette but it’s amazing how much you can slyly grate into their pasta sauce. Then there was the batch you caught early, flower and all, for a stylish, Italian inspired summer feast. But by now the remainder are starting to look suspiciously like marrows and there’s only so much ratatouille one family – and its neighbours – can eat.

As autumn looms, the few apples that did survive spring’s ravages are quickly transformed into crumble (hello blackberries), purée and juice. Then, in a moment of inspiration while cursing the supermarket profit margin on children’s snacks, the final wave is dried slowly in the oven to become fruit leather and apple crisps. The latter, especially when prepared with a squeeze of lime, present a thrillingly convincing, healthier alternative to Haribo Tangfastics.

By now, every dog walk is fraught with tension. Where yesterday there was simply springy pasture or leaf littered woodland, today an army of fungi has mystically mustered. For a while you revel in the superiority of field mushrooms to their pallid shop-bought counterparts and painstakingly slice boletus to dry for future wintery menus. But there’s still a kilo on the counter and other jobs calling, so you panic and cook up a lifetime’s supply of mushroom soup.

But man cannot live on fungi alone. If you’re a sporting household then this time of year brings a feathery glut of partridge, pheasant, duck and pigeon. One wild boar or deer can go a very long way indeed. Once you’ve feasted on all the classic dishes – venison wellington (a perfect vehicle for those wild mushrooms) and myriad interpretations of coq au vin – it’s time to get creative. Kentucky Fried Pheasant is a reliable hit for all ages and levels of game enthusiasm. 

To the casual observer this level of self-sufficiency may look deceptively as though you’re living the lifestyle magazine, Instagram dream. If only they could see the mud, sweat and forgotten trays of charred vegetable matter, not to mention to utter despair that comes when someone accidentally turns off the freezer. Come December, you just want to be taken out for a meal – any meal – that someone else has prepared and cleared up. But deep down, you’re already relishing the prospect of those vivid green wild garlic tips pushing their way through the brown winter mulch.

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