Monday, 5 October 2009

The End of the Harvest

Yesterday was the Harvest Service in our village church, and the Harvest Supper celebration. Church and state aren’t separate in England so the secular calendar is often reflected in the religious one - which was probably overlaid on pagan rituals originally. Harvest is a significant season; it starts with the Lammas (Loaf Mass) in the first week of August and ends with the Harvest Mass this first week of October.

After Harvest Mass, everyone in the village celebrates together with a potluck supper, each bringing something from their larder. Getting in the harvest is worth celebrating if your crops have been successful, or worth commiserating over if god or nature has been against you. Conversations were, on the whole, celebratory. Mr Puzey has got his wheat harvest in, and started planting winter wheat and oats already. This last spell of dry weather has been a blessing.

The village church is actually the private chapel attached to the Manor House. I don’t know if I’ve ever explained how tiny our village really is. The heart of the village is the Manor House belonging to Lord and Lady S, who are the patrons of the villagers, many of whom work for the estate. There are 6 houses on the Main Street – we’re no 6. Then there are a few farmhouses with parcels of land lived in and run by tenant farmers, i.e. farmers who work that bit of land on behalf of the Lord and Lady, and pay dues.

These are our local amenities:
A letterbox put in during Queen Victoria’s reign (between 1819-1901) and a Noticeboard.

We do have the village cafe but it's seasonal and closes through the winter months in order to serve shoot lunches to the paying guns.

And we have a Village Hall:
You can rent the hall for £7 a day. The workers meet here to eat their lunch on shoot days. A local music group uses the hall for practice. 18th birthday parties are held here, as well as wedding receptions and village meetings. I’m surprised Starbucks hasn’t opened a shop here yet. Did you know that there’s even a Starbucks in the Forbidden City in China? But not in Mapperton.

The Church is decorated for harvest by the Manor House gardeners with produce from the estate. Lady S gave us bagfuls of the produce after church, so I'm drowning in apples again. I think the horses can share in that bounty as I'm out of preserving jars and freezer space.

The village hall is decorated by Janet and Jo who live in the village. They do a great job with nuts, pinecones, dried flowers in baskets, and candles in jam jars. It makes the hall look festive and bountiful.
The food table was full with homemade dishes. Even the breads were homemade. Our lady vicar is sampling the offerings -

And Oz, our most musical villager, brought a friend and they played wonderful country tunes. Lal joined them to sing. Even Lord S was caught tapping his feet -

I dug into our larder and made a woodcock and venison terrine with woodcock which I technically poached from the estate. The rule is that all woodcock shot on the estate are supposed to be the property of the Lord and Lady and go directly into their larder, but this one found its way into mine. I hoped to reduce my crime to a misdemeanour by serving it at the village supper. Thankfully, Lady S didn’t ask me where it came from. Another blessing.

I also had a harvest of green tomatoes that I wasn’t sure what to do with. I asked for ideas and my Aunt Meg came through for me. Meg is the family cook and everyone goes to her house for home comforts and a good meal. Her Thanksgivings and Christmases are legendary. She sent me a recipe for a Green Tomato and Apple Pie which I thought would be fitting. I even made the crusts from scratch, and added my own decoration, although I forgot to add the raisins to the filling.
I’m amazed how many things you can make from flour-fat-salt. Add sugar-egg-yeast and you’ll never go hungry. Of course I had the little bit of leftover pastry. When I was a child my mother used to give me that bit to roll out and make into a jam pie. By the time I’d played with the dough it was tougher than cowhide, but I always ate the jam pie.

My pie making skills have improved but I filled this little scrap of pastry with my homemade jam and ate it, and it was delicious because of the memories.

And of course I brought a gallon of pressed cider! I’ve also checked on the cider I left to go hard and it’s foaming, which is a good sign. If it doesn’t work I will be looking for recipes that call for a quantity of cider vinegar.

But before the celebration were chores, even on a Sunday. Mike came home with a big net trap that needed mending so I looked up the right knots and used some fishing line to re-work the holes. Add that to my list of duties, and a new skill which will come in handy: bodging nets. Mike's duties include helping with the woodpile again. He split his first wheelbarrow load of wood since the accident, a major achievement. He even stacked it himself.

Now that Harvest is over my posts may become less food oriented and take on a new theme. I’m not sure what follows in the Liturgical year (being a lapsed catholic and all) but in the Agricultural year, the next celebration is Plough Sunday, 12 days after Christmas when the agricultural year begins again.

Between now and then there is still wood to be logged, fires to keep lit, fences needing repair, tools to mend and sharpen, pruning and putting plants to bed, animals to keep warm and fed, and lots to be hunted and hung in the larder. And hopefully some time to enjoy the fruits of our labours. I’ve have a lot of knitting and spinning to get on with now the days are getting noticeably shorter. This coming season will have its own charms.

1 comment:

Poppy Cottage said...

You HAVE got to write that book Jen. You are a fountain of knowledge!!

I went with my folks to Salway Ash Harvest Supper last night. It has change from a gathering of food made by locals to a sit down meal. Very nice but NOT what it is meant to be. Knitting tomorrow night. See you there. Jasper wants to know if he is old enough to come and help beat. (or anything)