September is here, when kids go back to school and the long days of summer start to shorten in time for autumn. For many, this is the "back to business" month; back to the old grind, with holidays and fun all but done and a time for buckling down, working hard and saving up for that interminable countdown to Christmas.
Personally, I’ve always loved September. It feels like nature’s grand finale, when twelve long months of nature and nurture finally come to fruition and everywhere you look there’s a bounty of free gifts just waiting to be enjoyed. For me this is never more apparent than in my dad’s garden where I have spent most of the last week, reaping the benefits of all his wonderful fruit trees.
The first and most plentiful are the Bramley apples which by now are so ripe and heavy they’re literally dropping off the branches with every gust of wind or slightest movement from a scurrying squirrel or browsing blackbird. I even had my very own “eureka” moment during the week, as I was sitting under a tree, minding my own business, when an apple landed right on my head and nearly knocked me for six. Unfortunately gravity had already been discovered, but I did have my own moment of clarity at the situation: “Note to self: Never sit under an apple tree in late August.”
In the far end of dad’s garden, where all the trees are, we’ve intentionally left the grass to grow long, interspersed with wild flowers, to make an overgrown haven for wildlife. This has proved very useful in many ways, for the birds, bees and butterflies and for us too, because where the apples fall they are cushioned from the drop and rarely end up bruised. Unless they encounter a hard head, that is.
This week alone I’ve filled two wicker baskets so that they’re creaking and groaning with the sheer weight. Peeling, coring and chopping is only halfway through, as are a year’s supply of apple pies and crumbles, but I’m leaving the other half for my four sisters to do between them. It’d be rude not to! Meanwhile, intertwined amongst and around the Bramley apple trees are two Cox’s apple trees that are still ripening towards their finished ruby red colour and not quite ready to fall freely.
Once these are picked they can last for months in dad’s cellar, so long as they are carefully stacked and stored in such a way that they’re not touching each other, allowing fungus or rot to set in.
For me, though, the most fantastic harvest comes from Dad’s two fig trees.
I gave these to him as a gift for his 70th birthday and when they arrived in the post they looked like barren twigs sticking up from a pot, without so much as a leaf — let alone a fig — to take the bad look off them. But he planted them in the most perfect spot to catch the full afternoon sun, but protected from wind and frost by a gable wall. His knowledge and effort paid off and now, fifteen years later, we get more figs every September than we know what to do with. Not bad, considering that they’re two for £1 in Marksies!
Needless to say, I’ve become a fig afficionado in the kitchen, making jams, chutneys, liqueurs, puddings and even an indulgent Italian antipasto, Prosciutto con fichi ripieni di formaggio (oven baked figs stuffed with goats cheese wrapped in prosciutto) which is like a Mediterranean holiday on a plate.
Meanwhile, dad’s neglected greenhouse continues to outgrow itself, with a vine plant the size of a Triffid, bearing thousands of purple grapes in weighty bunches.
Unfortunately, these are a bit too sour to eat and they are full of pips, too. Dad can’t remember the name of the variety, so until I can read up on them and see how to make use of the crop, I’m going to simply throw open the glass doors and leave them to the insects to enjoy.
I’ll leave you with this beautiful poem which I often recite to myself when I’m foraging in early autumn:
“The golden-rod is yellow, The corn is turning brown,
The trees in apple orchards, With fruit are bending down,
The sedges flaunt their harvest, In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side, Make asters in the brook,
From dewy lanes at morning, The grapes’ sweet scents arise,
At noon the roads all flutter, With yellow butterflies,
By all these lovely tokens, September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather, And autumn’s best of cheer.”