With the Harvest moon lingering bright and resonant in the October skies, the bountiful season of gathering-in is drawing to a close, and the shortening of the days is becoming more obvious with every passing morning. Thoughts are turning, as the leaves turn, to battening the hatches for winter. On the allotment we are taking stock, scheming and planning, and preparing the plot for winter. The first touch of frost came at the end of this week, just in thin patches where the temperatures dropped under the clear skies. Not enough to touch the tender plans, but a film of freeze that hesitated before it was fully formed, a warning that the balmy golden Autumn will not last much longer.
On a walk through Stedham woods earlier in the week, I found that the leaf litter was deepening, and producing strange bulbous forms from the rich earth; earth ball fungi are bizarre living things, neither plant nor animal. Their rounded swollen fruits that spring up across woodland floors throughout the country at this time of year seem strange and grotesque, the leathery skin bursting under pressure to release millions of dust-like spores before rotting back into the dark soil.
The jays have been more raucous than ever, and they have a lot to shout about. The acorn crop is heavy on the patch this year, and acorns are favourite forage of the jays.
Acorn season is well underway but blackberry season has long since finished. Some fruit remains on the briars, but it is shrivelled and unappetising. The bullfinches are one of the few birds that relish picking the hard seeds from these remaining berries; rodents will finish off the rest.
The harvest season may be reaching its end, but what better way to mark this transition than with a vibrant fair and market; one last celebration saturated with the glorious sights, scents and sounds of a traditional Autumn in the English countryside?
The The annual Autumn Countryside Show at the Weald and Downland Living Museum (Singleton, West Sussex) is a highlight of the October calendar.
Between the trade stands and the display ring, within scent and sound of the plough fields where horse and machine compete with loam and flint, sits the Horticultural Show tent. Comparable in size to the refreshments marque, of equal importance, the Hort. Show is one of the anchor points of any countryside fair. At the museum’s autumn show it is no different.
I have always had a penchant for a traditional village show or horticultural competition: the tent or marque with its rows of white tablecloths supporting carefully curated collections of vegetables, perfectly primped flower blooms, plates of delicious looking scones or cakes, and of course, jar upon jar of jams, chutneys, pickles, curds, and preserves. There is a joy to be had to browse the displays, commenting on the judges choices and selections, and measuring your own known home-efforts up against those you see on the tables before you. “Maybe next year I’ll enter something!” you’ll probably say. Well this year I did.
“A relaxed competition with only a few rules” the entry forms said, but the tension was still high. We arrived shortly after 11am, and headed across the already busy show ground to the tent where we had delivered my entries early that morning. I was inexplicably nervous and excited, and couldn’t bear to dawdle brought the rest of the show until I had checked the results of the classes in the tent first.
I was delighted… stunned, to discover that out of the five classes I entered, I had won four rosettes! My cheese scones had a yellow 3rd place ribbon, and my wildlife themed photograph had a blue rosette for second place. Best of all, my ‘single bloom’ (a yellow and red Dahlia named ‘Pooh’), and my lemon drizzle cake had both one first prize in their classes! I had also entered a jar of chutney, and this class was hotly contested. Apparently the judges had great difficulty deciding on the final winners for the chutney class, and in the end awarded 1st, 2nd & 3rd rosettes, but also marked 5 entries as ‘highly commended’, and two more entries, including my own, as ‘commended’. The hard work on both the allotment and the kitchen certainly paid off…and I have already been mulling over what to enter in next years show!
The rest of the day was filled with joy and contentment, despite the grey clouds that turned to drizzle, and the chilly wind. I found a big pile of the crunchiest, crispiest, rustle-iest fallen leaves in the most vibrant combination of gold, russets, and ambers, and had to kick and dance my way through them just for the pleasure of their colour and sound. We peered over fences into veg gardens, tucked into bubble and squeak in takeaway cartons whilst perched on a stone wall, and chuckled at chickens in the stable yard. By mid-afternoon our feet ached and the slow-cooker-stew waiting for us back at the flat had begun to call our names, but tired as we were, even though we were windblown and damp, we were still smiling long after we had collapsed onto the sofa at home.
Hot chocolate was sipped and we indulged in the cosy daydreaming of an autumn afternoon, and I was asleep before 10pm.
After work today we popped back to the show to collect the entries, and bring home the rosettes. And then we had cheese scones and chutney, followed by lemon drizzle cake, for tea. Happy days.