Raise the Song of Harvest Home

With food prices marching ever upward, and concerns about how the government's austerity measures are going to affect us, I can’t be the only one whose trips to the supermarket are becoming more considered. Last week I was about to pick up the fancy French conserve that is thrice the price of the budget version. Then it occurred to me that I buy it only because it tastes “homemade”. So did I really need to pay over the odds for something I could easily make myself?. You see, this is my favourite time of year. The minute it begins to get just that little bit back-endish, I’m off in a flurry of pie baking and soup making. Now, though, it’s also making economic sense.
Nearby, I noticed a huge pile of strawberries, all “reduced to clear”. They may not have been the prettiest, shiniest, shapeliest berries (although experience has taught me that visual perfection has little to do with flavour), but they were fresh enough. What’s more, there were also blackberries. And I hadn’t tasted blackberry jam since childhood.
When I was small, we had ancient wild bramble bushes at the bottom of our garden. Long, late summer days always seemed to end in trips to the brambles, bowl in hand, hunting for the juiciest, ripest berries. Even the necessary thorn pricks and inevitable inky-purple stained fingertips were worth the reward of all things blackberry: pies, crumbles, fools and jam.
Just the sight of them in the supermarket made me yearn for those days and I couldn’t resist. An afternoon in the kitchen filled the pantry with jams and stacked the freezer with fruit pies.
Actually I’m getting scarily domesticated. I’ve even started gardening. Well, growing salad leaves at any rate. I did make several squirrel-spoiled attempts at pumpkins, but this year I was determined to branch out.
I realise that veteran allotment owners out there might not be too impressed by the 122g of short, bendy carrots that I harvested last week, but I thought I did quite well for a first attempt. And mighty nice they tasted too. Next year, of course, I’ll know that if you want six-inch long carrots, you need to give them at least that much depth of soil … but I’ve seen Gardener’s World; even the experts don’t always get it right.
Even for the newbie veggie grower, it can get pretty competitive. As I patted myself on the back for my carrots, a friend texted me with a picture of her bumper potato crop. Well I couldn’t let that go, so I countered with a snap of my carrots (with nothing to measure their size against, they looked rather impressive) and, for good measure, threw in one of the large, juicy, ripe peach that had unexpectedly sprung up on the patio tree. Soon, I suppose, I’ll be getting photographs of bountiful beans and tons of tomatoes. But just wait until next year …
While I can’t imagine myself ever knitting my own muesli, or turning the garden into a set for that wonderful old BBC sitcom of the 70s The Good Life, I’m determined to expand, although my loathing of garden creepy crawlies means my family reckon I’m much more a Margot than a Barbara.
Nevertheless, all that sowing and tending, and waiting for the weather and Mother Nature to do their magic, keeps you in touch with the turning seasons in a way that purchasing packaged, out-of-season produce, not to mention processed foods, never can.
Even buying locally grown in-season fruit and veg will do that. And while I won’t claim that it’s going to save the planet, it’s certainly not doing it any harm.
And, you know, I’ve a hunch that, with cost of living skyrocketing, I’m not going to be the only novice veggie grower, or careful shopper, enjoying a sense of self-satisfaction, come next year’s harvest.