A Tale of Winter Solstice

A winter scene

A change of season always feels as if it is infused with a kind of magic.

Certainly in dear old England where seasons are vivid and where historically each came with its own guiding principles for doing life for that small portion of time.

The seasons reflected the journey of the land, with our lives (traditionally) mirroring each seasons story. In that way they depicted a rhythm for life, with winter being one for retreating and resting, just as the land does.

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Autumn Days

Across to Poole Harbour

‘A wind has blown the rain away and blown
the sky away and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand. I think I too have known
autumn too long’

E.E Cummings

I can say with some legitimacy that E.E Cummings is one of the handful of men who have my heart. Well, handful is a bit much- we’re basically talking my Dad, my Man and then E.E. Cummings. But he is up there.

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The Farm | River Cottage, Devon

Down to River Cottage

Park Farm sits in a valley and on 100 (organic) acres neatly split by the Devon/Dorset border. You’d think it was a ready made set created just for the River Cottage show with the way that it so perfectly (even in- and probably because of- its wonkiness) ticks the ‘good life’ box.

It is one of those happily English cottages sat next to a few pimped out barns with a polytunnel, walled kitchen garden and of course rolling fields to boot. Shrouded in mist as it often is being in a valley was a pretty sweet way to get my first autumnal view of the iconic farm, setting the tone for a night of seasonal goodness I got lucky with thanks to This is Your Kingdom.

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Autumn Apple Picking

Autumn apple harvesting

I wasn’t quite sure what constituted the grand title of ‘orchard’… till I googled it.

Turns out its ‘a group of fruit or nut tree’s in an enclosed space’, rendering the term orchard a bit more loose and less grandiose than we are first inclined to assume. AND SO, I spent a portion of the weekend picking apples from my friends very own grand spanking- three tree strong- orchard.

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Rose Hip Syrup

Rose hipsGathering rose hipsPreparing rose hips to make a syrupStraining the rose hipsRose hip syrup - best served over breakfast

Rose hips are great. I’ll tell you why.

1. They have more vitamin c in them than you can shake a stick at. In fact, they are said to have 50% more vitamin c in them than oranges.

2. Because of said vitamin c content they could stop you getting scurvy and as much as I’m sure we have all day dreamed about being pirates, scurvy is best avoided.

3. They can help you make a natural itching powder. The hips contain fine hairs which are GREAT for causing irritation to anyone you might well want to.

4. They taste ruddy good; lightly fruity- when made in to a syrup they are a sweet addition to pretty much any breakfast/dessert.

Rose hips are the fruit of our native and common roses, the dog rose and field rose. They can be found easily as the reddish orange hips are scattered across both urban and countryside landscapes in great numbers from now until November-ish.

They are mildly precarious however. They have mega thorns for one so it’s worth wearing gloves and using scissors when gathering them, unless you enjoy foraging wounds. Secondly, inside the hips you will find irritant hairs which need to be removed before you make your syrup.

The first job to getting your rose hip syrup is to cut the hips in half. With this, for every 150g of hips use 250ml of water and put this combo on the hob to boil. Mash them gently as they simmer away- you’ll soon start to smell their unique citrus favour. After simmering the hips for 15 minutes or so, strain the juice through a double layer of muslin twice, cleaning the muslin in between. Put this, what should be orange coloured juice, back on to the hob with 150g of sugar and stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and then take off the heat. Once cooled, put this in a sterilised bottle or jar and you have yourself a syrup.

I know this one feels a bit of a labour, but the best things are. This unique sweet flavouring poured over your porridge/muesli/pancakes/panna cotta is a CRACKING use of one of Britain’s best autumn fruits. And I mean, how good is something than can give you a sweet nectar and itching powder?

*Recipe taken from John Wright’s brilliant ‘Hedgerow’ book for River Cottage