We have a sort of combination of Samhain, Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes with a bonfire and Jack’O’Lanterns – pumpkin soup, hot dogs and flapjacks.
Timothy the Scarecrow, who has now completed his task keeping the pigeons away from the peas, becomes Guy Fawkes and we make a mask for his face. Logan was particularly creative (and scary!) this year with his handprint skull.
Just have two pumpkins left to carve for our bonfire night – the rest have been made into pumplin soup or given away to good causes. The biggest pumpkin this year went to a children’s nursery – wish I had a video of the excitement in the children’s faces when they saw how big it was! One year there was a really massive pumpkin and it went to a local garden nursery to promote their pumpkin picking patch – they did a ‘guess the weight of the pumpkin’ competition.
When all the fun of Hallowe’en is over, it’s time to put grease bands on the fruit trees – especially the greengage – if you don’t then the plums all get grubs in them, they rot on the branches and the wasps love them which makes picking them quite precarious!
It’s also a good idea to pick holly whilst there are still lots of berries – before the birds pinch them all. I was horrified one year to go out to collect holly to make wreaths to find that the beautifully adorned holly trees were practically bare of berries. Need to store them where the birds can’t get to them as well – as last year I put them in the open barn – only to find that many of the berries had disappeared!
Hallowe’en – the night when the divide between the worlds of the living and the dead is especially thin – my Grandmother used to have a teapot stand that said: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties, and things that go bump in the night, may the good Lord deliver us.” I’ve no idea why it was on a teapot stand but I always think of it at Hallowe’en. (Looking it up I find out that it’s a Scottish prayer.)
Time to pick pumpkins and carve Jack O’lanterns (tip – use an ice cream scoop to scrape out the seeds). Reserve the flesh for pumpkin soup.
The idea of a hollowed-out vegetable with a candle in the middle originated with the Celts – but they didn’t have pumpkins (they came later – from America). They used beets, and turnips, and carved grotesque faces on them – and put them outside their doors to ward off evil spirits.
According to Irish folklore, Jack O’lantern comes from the story of Stingy Jack who tried to outsmart the Devil: Jack invites the Devil for a drink and convinces him to transform into a coin to pay with – as soon as the coin appeared, Jack changed his mind and kept the coin in his pocket with a silver cross – so preventing it turning back into the Devil. Eventually Jack freed the devil, on condition that he would leave Jack alone for a year – and – that he wouldn’t claim Jack’s soul when he died. At the end of the year Jack tricked the devil again by persuading him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit. Whilst the Devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the tree trunk so the Devil couldn’t get down. The Devil had to swear that he would leave Jack alone for another ten years before he was allowed to come down.
Then Jack died – but he had led such a sinful life that God wouldn’t let him into Heaven and, because of his bargain with the Devil, he couldn’t get into hell either, so Jack was sent instead into the eternal night. Jack complained about how dark it was, wandering around earth with no place to go, so someone tossed him a hot coal, which he placed in a hollowed-out turnip – and he has been roaming the earth ever since – with his turnip-lantern to guide him.
The Irish began to refer to this spooky figure as “Jack of the Lantern”, which has since become Jack O’Lantern – and some folks say that Jack comes out on Hallowe’en night looking for someone to take his place… so watch out, if you see him wandering your way!
The Samhain festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year. Time to pick and store the apples for winter puddings – and to add to soups (Squash Apple and Sage Soup) – and to feed to the rabbits and hens when winter sets in. Time to make Wittenham Cider with the windfalls. The recipe says to leave it for a week after its bottled – but it’s usually quite fizzy – and very drinkable – the day after it’s bottled!
At Christmas, we always have a real Christmas tree – and we save it to help get the bonfire going at Samhain. I’m not too keen on fireworks – but we do love sparklers – and no-one is ever too old to draw sparkling shapes in the air on Bonfire night.
We have spicy pumpkin soup, hot dogs – and Wittenham Cider (which is much better before it becomes alcoholic as its much sweeter). And we combine Guy Fawkes with All Hallows Eve and have our own Samhain on the nearest weekend – I always light candles on 31st October – and tealights in our Jack O’Lanterns to keep away Stingy Jack!
The new ex-bats are bigger than the last ones and less timid. They are settling in much quicker and seem less vulnerable, but they are not very adventurous yet – just eating their layers mash – and I think it will be a while before they have grown enough feathers back in order to perch.
The first night I put them all in the little pen (as instructed) but the next morning one of them had got out so I opened up the pen but put a board across the door to discourage them from venturing outside until they had got their bearings.
The next day, Ginger (obviously the ringleader) had circumvented my barricade and was exploring outside, she got quite stroppy when I tried to usher her back in.
Like before, my other hens are ignoring the newcomers – they don’t seem to recognise them as the same species.
I made firelighters – I pruned and cut down the herbs in the herb garden. Sage, thyme, bay, rosemary and lavender contain oils and burn well so I tie them in bundles with other herbs – tarragon, marjoram, lemon mint and hyssop to make firelighters. I hang them up in the barn to dry. They are much more environmentally friendly – and cheaper – than chemical firelighters – and work just as well. It was a beautiful day, the sun was really warm and it was lovely outside – except I kept being plagued with ladybirds landing on me – and occasionally biting too.
I picked the first pumpkins and made spicy pumpkin soup – with chilli powder, allspice, cayenne, – and fresh thyme.
Homegrown carrots, parsnips and potatoes generally suffer from some pests – like wireworm and carrot fly – so when preparing them, I don’t put the scrap bits on the compost heap – I put them in a bucket and give them to the hens to scratch through and devour all the bugs. Same with cabbages – I give the outer leaves – complete with slugs and caterpillars to the ducks and hens to pick through. The ducks love slugs and snails. Every other day I check the polytunnel for snails – collecting them in a bucket and then I tip them into the ducks’ water bowl.
Weeding is much more fun when you can feed the chickweed to the hens and the shepherd’s purse and dandelions to the rabbits. Much more satisfying.
I was wondering what the Spice Girls (our newly arrived ex-battery hens) would make of Dillon – our Dorking cockerel – he’s grown into a really fine specimen. He was a bit small when he arrived and I wasn’t sure if he would grow to full size, but, as you can see, he has. I put an ad on www.preloved.co.uk when I lost my last cockerel and a very kind family from Kent donated him. A friend of theirs was visiting family in Cheshire and she offered to deliver him. We met at Audlem (which is how I came to write about Audlem for Today’s Treasures). It was a baking hot day and she was worried he might get too hot – she was also worried that he might crow all the way there but he was really good and arrived safely. I racked my brains of a way to say thank you – then spied the pumpkins – and thought they might be a good idea (it was September) so swapped Dillon for two pumpkins – one for Dillon’s taxi driver and one for his previous owner.
The Spice Girls have settled in – and are laying eggs! But (as I was warned) have stayed pretty much in their little pen. However, I went out at lunchtime to see how they were getting on and Ginger was ‘gingerly’ exploring the hen house, carefully negotiating around obstacles and looking curiously at the food trough full of corn. Head on one side she studied everything cautiously. Then Doris came in with Dillon to see what I was doing and if there were any titbits. Amazingly they ignored Ginger – even Dillon – who usually jumps on everything that moves – it was like Ginger belonged to a different species – or was invisible. Ginger ignored them too. So I guess it will be a while before they realise they are all chickens and then there will be a bit of a scrap until they have sorted out the pecking order – and the Spice Girls will eventually find out that Dillon’s a cockerel!
Is eating no meat actually doing more harm than good?
“People are trying to eat more sustainably but my worry is that they are turning to diets such as veganism that are not necessarily as sustainable, nor as healthy as they imagine.”
I have always believed that, to be truly sustainable, crop rotation should include a fallow field grazed with animals – and the ideal diet should include some meat. To me, it makes much more sense to use animals to manure grassland. If you drink milk, then, on average, for every calf born there is a male calf that is killed at birth – how much more sensible would it be to raise these calves for meat? Try and buy veal from a butcher’s shop in Britain and you will find it’s practically impossible – although you can buy rosé veal online from Shropshire based www.alternativemeats.co.uk This is, I am told, because we believe it is cruel to raise calves for white veal – but rosé veal is from calves that are raised and killed humanely.
So I was very pleased to read this guest post on the Farmdrop website from Patrick Holden, Dairy Farmer and Founding Director of the Sustainable Food Trust which works to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food and farming systems.
He says: “I am growing increasingly concerned about the large number of people turning to diets that may not necessarily be either healthy or sustainable.
“A healthy diet should work backwards from the most sustainable way to farm, and that ideally means eating the foods produced by mixed farms using crop rotations which include a fertility building phase, usually of grass and clover grazed by cows and sheep, but also pastured pigs and poultry.”
Some years ago, I went to a talk by Charlotte Hollins at Fordhall Organic Farm www.fordhallfarm.com – and she was asked a question about the higher price of organic meat. Her answer has stayed with me. She said: “Organic meat is better for you – and it also tastes so much better.” She suggested that replacing some meat with vegetables at each meal, and having a vegetarian meal once a week would even out the cost, so for the same budget you could include organic meat. So that’s what we do – I now have a selection of dried and tinned beans which I add to dishes like spaghetti bolognese and lasagne, replacing some of the meat – and, amazingly, the family are quite happy with the result – and it’s better for us.
My crop rotation doesn’t include sheep, pigs, cows or goats but it does include hens, ducks and rabbits – and the manure they produce enriches my compost bin, replenishes my soil with nutrients, and grows wonderful pumpkins. This year I have allocated a fallow patch for clover – which the rabbits love to eat –and I am leaving some to flower for the bees when I dig the rest in ready to plant cabbages.
I didn’t intend to grow enormous pumpkins because they are totally unmanageable – I just wanted some large enough to make Jack’o’Lanterns for Halowe’en and some to store for the winter to make spicy pumpkin soup (see recipes) to warm us up on Bonfire Night and to cheer us up for December lunchtimes.
Pumpkins must love rabbit manure because this is the result! I do admit that I did dig quite a bit of manure into the pumpkin patch. Fortunately, not all of the pumpkins are this big but it’s going to take all the boys to lift this, a saw to cut it in two – and probably all day hollowing it out, taking out the seeds and cutting the flesh into manageable chunks for soup!
Last year I dried pumpkin seeds on baking paper in a slow oven and they were really tasty – they made a great substitute for peanuts and I served them in bowls with olives.
Samhain – All Hallows Eve – Carve pumpkins into Jack’o’Lanterns
31st October was once New Year’s Eve in Celtic Ireland. The Druids believed that the mystic veil separating the dead from the living opened and spirits roamed the earth. We celebrate with a bonfire and Wittenham Cider and pumpkins carved into Jack-o’Lanterns – so called because they are named after the phenomenon of strange light flickering over the Irish peat bogs creating Will’o’the’Wisps