Battens, Hatches and Hurricanes

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We’re still standing… the morning after the hurricane before

Sprawled squarely and perceptibly on the horizon, winter  looms unequivocally large now. Although still registering daytime temperatures of 63 degrees (17 Celsius)- which by all accounts is extremely mild for the time of year– as we enter the last week of October the sense of foreboding that always accompanies Samhain is curiously palpable once again. Summer is definitely fled, and try as it may autumn can no longer camouflage that it too is rapidly losing its grip on seasonal affairs; the sun takes longer to get out of bed each morning, soil saturation levels are back to saturated, and leaf fall speed has increased significantly as we steadily yet unmistakably slide toward first frost.
Last week’s weather heralded a once in a lifetime occurrence on this our little green isle, as a bona fide hurricane swept across our country. News and media outlets played it for all its worth with live on the spot updates and saturation reportage from correspondents right across the country. Ophelia was a category 3 hurricane, downgraded to category 2  before being designated extra-tropical and eventually an ex-tropical storm. Ophelia was also the easternmost major Atlantic hurricane on record, and though sadly lives were lost, thanks to our own met service who tracked this all the way over the previous 5 days, things could have been a whole lot worse. The storm resulted in wide-scale damage and destruction to property over large swathes of the country and, as mentioned,  sadly some deaths too as a result of the high impact weather event.
Having lost most of its destructive power coursing the cooler waters north of the Azores and subsequently along our own western Atlantic coastline Ophelia nonetheless retained enough potency to bring most of our public services to a standstill, before drifting toward Scotland making landfall in Sweden and eventually dissipating over Finland and eastern Russia. However, 5 days after Ophelia left through the backdoor, Brian blew in the front door. A hurricane and North Atlantic Storm all in the same week! We’re a hardy bunch us Irish; a well-weathered people; a wintered people: Hibernians, literally.
Just as with the rest of the country monsterinthecorner took it all in her stride. A quick drive-by visit next morning to assess damage and casualty revealed a fairly shaken and stirred allotment site, but, not too much mayhem. The last of the sunflowers, cosmos and hollyhocks were well and truly obliterated as Ophelia deadheaded in a way that no gardener ever could; miles of green windbreak fencing was shredded and fluttered in furious surrender, wheelbarrows and compost bins had been relocated to neighbouring plots, a shed or two had transferred to neighbouring farmer’s field and even a polytunnel had stripped totally bare, its skeletal remains framing the shambolic misfortune of feeling the sting from Ophelia’s tail.
The last storm of summer meets the first storm of winter. High impact selfie weather events and yet we are still turning down the auto home and office heating settings.

Where the summer’s months saw us acquaint ourselves with and try to adapt to a growing medium with the consistency of set concrete, the last two weeks have revealed that the monster’s autumn terra is yielding to soft to say the least, the recent weather events highlighting spot areas that will require attention over the autumn/winter season with pooling of excess water, thankfully not too much though. This being our first year at the monster’s new location we are still learning how it acts and interacts with nature as we uncover some of our new allotment’s unique peculiarities and anomalies.

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SETTING THE GARLIC

We have begun clearing out the beds, and as they empty we’ll leave them rest. We are now harvesting swede turnips, parsnips and kale, and last weekend we set out some Solent Wight, Vallalado and Iberian garlic. And just as we did at our previous location we’ve also planted some daffodil and allium bulbs that will, hopefully, add a splash of colour and interest early next spring. Compliments of storms Ophelia and Brian we had to undertake some running repairs over the last couple of visits, but we’ll dig and chip away at those other long-fingered tasks over the off season; constructing our planned wooden perimeter fence, finishing the monster’s pathway, perhaps a weeping run-off drain for the wet corner whilst not forgetting to compost, cover and mulch…and in so saying to do realise that we are fast approaching the end of our first year on our new plot.
Yes, the verdant greens at our new location are a distancing memory, and the remaining gold’s and ochre’s are being stripped at lightning speed from the beds and branches. 17 degrees and holding. But casting an eye to the horizon the monster sees winter’s merciless march already begun: time to pinpoint the battens and place them near the hatches…

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We’re Jamming, Jammin’, Jammin’, Jammin’…(De Gustibus)

History abounds with famous and infamous couples alike: Anthony and Cleopatra, Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; Bonnie and Clyde even.
The worlds of literature and legend are equally jam-packed with storied accounts of fate bound duos: Adam and Eve, Tristan und Isolde, Robin & Maid Marion and Romeo & Juliet to mention but a few.
Of course one man’s Romeo and Juliet will often be another’s Tarzan & Jane, just as Romulus and Remus beget someone else’s Jacob and Esau, begets another’s Ronnie and Reggie Kray.
Truth is, there is no accounting for taste. There will be a Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado for every Renee & Renato buff, just as every Holmes & Watson sleuth begets a Batman and Robin junkie, and every Abbot & Costello or Laurel & Hardy fanatic has to contend with the Tom & Jerry, the Bert & Ernie, the Shaggy & Scooby and that’s not forgetting to mention the Mary-Kate & Ashley brigades.
No: there is no accounting for taste, and here we are all about taste, literally.

With that said we will consider some of the other great duos and doublets, especially those taken-for-granted everyday combinations that make one of the basic activities of our inane daily routines a little more worth-the-while.
What would life be without the exquisite gastronomic reference points of Strawberries and Cream say?, or, Bacon and eggs for that matter? Or, how about Maple syrup and Pecan nuts, and Pork Chops in Cider? The mind boggles, and the mouth waters.
Classic combinations acquire classic status because they work. The same can be said of these classic food combos: Cheese & Tomato, Fish & Chips, Bread & Jam, Spaghetti & Meatballs, Chocolate & Orange, and sometimes, when the bread is crusty fresh and the Irish butter is properly chilled, the perfect partnership can be something as simple as plain ol’ Bread & Butter.
Some things just work better, together. In a slight imaginative stretch (and for purposes solely contained herein) let us take for instance that couple, being Irish & Potatoes. I (like every Irish man, woman and child since the mid sixteenth century) have developed a specific genome marker predisposing me to a love of the humble spud. The potato has been a staple of the Irish diet since Sir Walter returned from southern climes and cast his cloak neath those royal pinkies. It has nurtured and sustained countless generations of Hibernians, and sadly, on occasion, was responsible for the demise of millions of them.
The humble spud: boiled, broiled, chipped, fried and roasted. Buttery mash in scooped lumps, golden yellowy paps determining the boundary twix the two veg. and meat of generation gone before us. Then there’s the gratin, and the gnocchi, and the scalloped and hassle-backed. But, throw a few fried pork sausages into the equation and you get one of the all time great taste combos from every Irish child’s childhood, Bangers & Mash. Oh yes, talk about perfect pairings…love and marriage, horse and carriage, and though not necessarily nor fundamentally bound to each other, some things, though good enough in their own right just work better in partnership with something that will accentuate its unique character.
On a summer allotment things are just as tasteful. The advent of summer, especially early summer, sees the first of the gardening year’s gluts and with that comes the need to preserve the excess crop. Jams, chutneys and conserves are made in abundance as every gardener and allotmenteer’s kitchen slips seamlessly into cottage industry mode with the excess early strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries to be jammed.
Commercial jam making is and always will be big business constrained by nothing other than market forces. Product is made to meet the need of supermarket shelves with the overarching and underlying principles being one and the same thing; the bottom line. Orders for the raw fruit material are placed (often years in advance) with commercial growers who have been encouraged to produce one selectively modified cultivar of fruit that can be pulped and macerated on a massive scale, mixed with the cheapest sourced syrup and sugar on the market, only then have all the goodness totally boiled out of it before being jarred, shelved and sold on to the highest bidder in hope of attaining a bigger margin once presented to the eventual retail customer.
That’s the bread and butter of the jam business. That’s the business jam. That every business’s jam.

With the allotmenteer and home-grower however things can be different.
Free from commercial constraints, and limited only by imagination and volume of the treasured harvest from a seasons long effort on their own allotment or small-holding, the final produce of the home Jam and chutney maker is among the finest artisan produce available. Small select batches of organically grown fruits, carefully handpicked, winnowed and cleaned, are then methodically prepared in recipes often handed down from one generation to the next.
And if there is a bottom line to this home and cottage industry it is this: to preserve nature’s hard won prizes for personal use; to help fill the larder for the leaner days of winter and in so doing aid in the remembrance of bright summer days during the coldest and darkest days of the year. Or perhaps it is little more than a personal process to show of nature’s wonderful bounty stored and displayed like jarred trophies along the pantry shelf. Who knows ? Experience has shown us that on many an occasion the bottom line for most genuine home jammers is the simple joy of sharing with a few privileged friends and relatives who truly appreciate all the months of sowing and growing and pruning and feeding that will have gone into the superior jarred product they often find themselves gifted with.
Of course home jammers and cottage conservers are more than just industrious.
At the heart of every jam-making and preserving process (even in the big commercial enterprises) there is a recipe, most likely developed by trial, error and imagination over decades. The ingredients for jam making are simple and the jam-making process is very straight forward; fresh fruit, good sugar and water in varying amounts over a moderately intense heat, et viola! Of course with developments in modern food production science we now have pectin laden sugar which helps the whole process along nicely, but the basics remain the same: for strawberry jam use strawberries, sugar, small amount of water; for raspberry jam use raspberries, sugar and a little less water; and for blackcurrant jam use blackcurrants, plain sugar and slightly more water.
However, home jam makers can take this process to a whole new level, and very often do so with mouth-watering combinations of seasonal fruits: Peach & Blackberry jam, Raspberry & Lime jam, Pear & Lavender jam, Plum and Lemon Verbena jam, Strawberry & roasted Pomegranate jam; and not forgetting a nod to two combinations with which we here on monsterinthecorner are well acquainted, Gooseberry & Elderflower, and Rhubarb& Ginger jam. Yes, rhubarb and ginger. Though in essence jam is a product of boiled fruit with occasional additives, one of our personal favourites (and a renowned fruity and zingy taste of summer both here and across the pond in Great Britain) can be derived from boiled vegetable stalks (Rhubarb) and grated tubers (Ginger).
From mid-summer through to autumn every garden festival and village fete will undoubtedly have a stand at which you will be able to purchase locally grown and prepared homemade jams, and at every farmer’s market and country fair you’ll likely happen on a stall selling locally sourced honey, artisan jams and conserves. These are true seasonal gems. Take some time to see what’s on offer. Pass slowly; ask the questions, and indulge…treat yourself to some of nature’s finest fare, carefully cultivated and personally prepared.

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Jamming, Jamming, Rhubarb & Ginger Jamming

We started jamming many years ago, and long, long before we began growing our own fruit we’d make day0-trips to the city outskirts, children in tow, and spend sunny days picking large punnets of strawberries and raspberries on which all could gorge themselves before heading home to make jam with the remainder:
Our tag has never changed…

J&J Jams
Nurtured by Hand
Nourished by Nature
The taste of summer all year long…

 

Some things just go hand in hand: buckets & spades, and hats & gloves, and sunny summer days in Ireland & 99’s.
Some things perhaps just belong together like John &Yoko; or become synonymous with each other like Ireland & The Eurovision Song Contest; or through birth become inextricably twinned with each other for life and forever like Jimmy & Tommy Swarbrigg; or simply through fond memory will be forever associated with the wide-eyed days of youthful wonder that was the great summer of 1977 & Bob Marley & The Wailers & Jammin’…

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A view from the shed…
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This Year’s Mechanical Basil….The Barrow Bug.

Yes we’re Jammin’, Jammin’, Jammin’, Jammin’
Jammin’ till the jam is through….

and suddenly people, Jam is taken to a whole different level.

Plotting With Hibernia

A full seven weeks behind schedule, and perhaps having grown tired of maintaining an icy grip on central Europe since Christmas, or perhaps settling to spread its brilliant white duvet a little further west, winter’s procession eventually arrived on our shores in late January.
To date we’d experienced one of the mildest and driest early winter periods on record, with daily temperatures 1.5 degrees above Long Term Average and cumulative rainfall a whopping 75-80% down on Long Term Average for the time of year.
Noteworthy also is that there was a full seven week hiatus between Conor’s Christmas Eve snarl and the Doris’ arrival last Saturday.

And such is winter in Ireland where we are well acquainted with such seasonal vagaries. It is not by chance that the ancient roman designation for this tiny little island tethering on Europe’s north-western edge was Hibernia, Place of winter.

In Ireland we do winter relatively well: we’ve learned to make the most of a season which starts at Samhain (Halloween), sometimes does not end till May, and at times will backslide just as we get set for the June summer bank holiday.

In Ireland winter is not so much a season as it is a state of mind, and as Hibernians perhaps we were preconditioned in our ancient conception: prenatally prepared to persist and persevere with those prolonged periods of darkness and dampness we experience annually. And as is the case with all indigenously constrained people we are genetically hardwired with the full knowledge of our ancient state even though an appreciation and understanding of that self same state is often sadly lacking.
We’ve learned to celebrate the darkness and the dampness. We’ve learned to do those interminable wet winter nights and the relentless Atlantic storm fronts; we’ve learned to do the endless days of dark slate greys and naked branches for months on end. We’ve learned the hunger and starvation of history, just as we learned the insatiable thirst for freedom and self determination.

We celebrate the dead, and we’ve learned to consider one good sunburning day in July a reasonable summer.

We do Christmas to. We do it better than most and, if truth be told, we do it longer than anyone else. This may be out of our centuries long adherence to religious rite whence we are willing to journey with startled shepherds one night only to gladly follow in the footsteps of seers and magi 12 nights later; or it may be as a result of our national addiction to the twentieth century’s developing an annual tinsel dressed splurge with all the accompanying jingly and tingly bright-lighted feel-good Ho! Ho! ho’s!; or perhaps it has more to do with our negating the cyclic oppressive and depressive darkness of winter by deciding to celebrate if for no other reason than the celebration itself; or maybe it is a national brew of all of these things.

Yes, in Ireland we know how to do winter. It’s in our genes. We are a chronic race; occasionally oppressive, periodically disordered, cytized, fibrized, haemized and chromazed and always bloody colourful. We are ancient Hibernians, and many a modern nation wouldst stake a claim to our heritage and bloodline, but it’s just not in their genes.
Winter arrived late this year. The unseasonably early grass growth is halted in its tracks. The burgeoning daffodils are slowed, and the remaining remnants of last autumn’s leaf litter is well and truly scattered at last. Temperatures are back to and below normal, whilst rainfall levels are back to and above normal.
Yesterday was our final visit to our old plot, and in winter we learn to plot. We’ve taken everything we needed and intended to take from it during the last 6 weeks and relocated it to our new plot. Our old allotment plot is finally laid bare just as we discover that our new plot is susceptible to water-logging, and we’ve come to realize that winter would be a dreary existence were it not for warm summer memories.

Winter arrived late this year and we’ve no time to hibernate. We learn. We move on.