The Seasonal Supplement: Issue 1, Mid-Autumn
squirreling apples | sausage rolls | wizard beans
A warm and cosy welcome to the very first issue of The Seasonal Supplement, brought to you right at the heart of this scrunchy leafed, softly lit, appley autumn.
We are in full squirrel mode this month. It’s the final push to bring in the last of the crops before colder temperatures take over and darkness tucks itself around the short days like a heavy duvet. Seeds have been shaken into paper envelopes for sowing next year. Strings of drying flint corn and strawflowers hang from the ceilings. The last tomatoes have been brought inside to ripen on the kitchen windowsill. There are bowls of gathered walnuts, a shelf of squashes (butternuts and hubbards), trays of bletting medlars, and two terracotta pots of colourful chillies. The larder is full of jars, hastily labelled in chalk pen - everything from jam to passata. And the dehydrator has been working overtime to gently dry tray after tray of apple rings, pear slices, and penny bun mushrooms. We feel like the mice in the Bramley Hedge books, carefully bringing everything into the store stump for winter.
October sees the biggest harvest of the year on our smallholding: the apples. We are self-sufficient in apples, but only if we manage them carefully. The trees start cropping around the beginning of August - the Discovery kicks things off - and the final few Bramley windfalls disappear from the orchard floor in late November. This leaves eight months to supply with stored apples in various forms. Juice. Cider. Vinegar. Compote. Jelly. Dried. Or, for the varieties that are happy to be stored on wooden racks in the shed, fresh(ish). This extensive amount of preservation takes many hours, but it’s worth it. We’ll appreciate it when we unscrew a jar of compote to rustle up a crumble on a frosty winter night, or scoop a handful of apple crisps into a lunchbox one spring morning.
And so, to last week: juicing time. Over the years we’ve upgraded our equipment and method to make things as speedy as possible, but it still takes a full day, especially now we have two apple-loving tots who are keen to help in their own joyful, chaotic way. We pick the day before we press, weaving through the orchard, systematically shaking each tree, then collecting and barrowing the apples onto a pile. Early next morning, we retrieve the press and electric mill from the depths of the shed and get all the rest of the kit ready. Then away we go. Apples - a mix of cookers for tang and eaters for sweetness – are handwashed then tumbled into the mill by the bucketload. The dripping shreds of apple are then poured into the press and squished until dry. The juice is transferred to a plastic tank, then bottled and taken into the kitchen for pasteurising. We slowly work our way through the apple pile, fuelled by plenty of tea breaks and piping hot sausage rolls. The light always runs out before the apples do. We tidy up, goose pimpled and juice sodden, under a night sky. The evening is spent wrapped in thick dressing gowns, padding backwards and forwards from the comfort of the sofa to the pasteuriser, until past midnight.
This year was no different. And it’s done. Hooray! Fifty-six swing-top litre bottles of juice line a kitchen cupboard (enough for one bottle a week plus a little spare). Two hefty ceramic pots - bought at a flea market and infuriatingly leaking just a smidgen - sit full of juice; they have been seeded with a glug of last year’s cider vinegar in a bid to spur on fermentation into this year’s acidic offering. And three demijohns are gently bubbling by the wood burner (one left to wild ferment, one sprinkled with sparkling wine yeast, and one with cider yeast - a little taste experiment to see which makes the best cider). Now just where did we put that dusty box of empty cider bottles?
A seasonal recipe
Our apple pressing day is always, always accompanied by sausage rolls. But not just any sausage rolls. These ones are rustic and messy, and filled to bursting with teeny pieces of ripe pear, a crumbling of blue stilton, plus a few silver-green leaves of sage. And they are quite delicious. We make them once a year – our apple day equivalent of a Christmas turkey. There’s no time to stop juicing and cook, so we make them first thing in the morning and warm them through in the oven when we’re ready to break for lunch.
A perfect accompaniment, to cut through the flakes of buttery pastry and puddles of blue cheese, is some kind of pickle, ferment, or chutney. This year, thanks to some enthusiastic preserving, we were able to pop the jar lids on some pickled walnuts, tomato chutney, pickled beetroot, and a ration (because we’re on track to nibble our way through our whole supply before autumn’s waved a leafy farewell) of fermented French beans with fennel. But, in less abundant years, a dollop of brown sauce has always done an excellent job.
Sausage Rolls with Pear, Stilton and Sage
350g pork sausages, removed from casing
2 firm pears, peeled, cored and chopped into very small cubes
6 sage leaves, finely chopped
75g blue Stilton cheese
375g ready-rolled all-butter puff pastry sheet (approx.40cm x 25cm)
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ tbsp poppy seeds
Put the sausage meat, pear and sage in a large bowl, crumble in the Stilton, and use your hands to mix and squash everything together until combined.
Open out the pastry sheet on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and cut it in half lengthways. Divide the sausage mixture in half and arrange it on top of the pastry so that it runs down the centre of each pastry half, shaping it into a rough sausage shape as you do so. Brush one side of each of the pastry sheet halves with beaten egg. Then, for one half of the pastry, fold one side of the pastry over the top of the sausage mix, join it to the opposite side and press down to seal. Press a fork along the edge to pattern and to strengthen the seal. Repeat for the second pastry half. Brush the tops and sides of sausage rolls with beaten egg and sprinkle over the poppy seeds.
Pop the filled pastry in the oven at 200°C for 20-30 minutes until puffed up, golden brown, and the Stilton and pear juices have pooled and caramelised. Slice the rolls into eight evenly sized portions and serve hot.
A seed to plant
While much of the veg patch is winding down for winter, there is only one thing that we’ll be nipping out to sow this month: the Wizard beans. These hardy little cousins of the broad bean are a prolific variety of field bean that are well-suited to popping into the ground in autumn. The intrepid plants seem unfazed by frosts, a few days of snow, or even a sound buffeting from the south westerly wind - we give them the odd stick here and there for support, but they can and do manage without if needed. The beans will silently sprout in the chilly winter soil, claiming their place in the raised beds way ahead of the busy spring sowing period. Come April the plants will be adorned with soft mauve and chocolate splodged flowers that hum with bees and gently scent the air with sweet pea-like fragrance. And by the end of May they will be laden with swelling pods of beans that produce into July. We usually plant three short double rows of five plants, giving us thirty plants in total, which normally produce more beans than we can eat in one season, leaving plenty spare to blanch and freeze in tubs for another time. Magic.
A book to read
Orchard: A Year in England’s Eden by Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Yates.
We reviewed this book for BBC Countryfile magazine when it was first released, and it has been a favourite on our bookshelves ever since. It’s just as well really, as we have three copies now - it is, of course, the perfect gift for anyone with an apple tree, an orchard, or a yearning to plant one. The book intertwines stories of the multitude of wildlife that live in a secret orchard located in Herefordshire. The old orchard has never been touched by modern, chemical farming and as such it is a haven for flora and fauna. As well as explaining the history of apples (did you know that all apples originate from ancient wild apple forests in Kazakhstan?), the authors take it in turns to tell wonderfully written stories and observations from the orchard over the course of a calendar year. A flip through to October leads to descriptions of a motorbike-powered perry pear harvest; enlightening discussions of apple-related farming policy; and a particularly lovely account of a damp, windfall littered, autumn evening. One to read, glass of cider in hand, by the fireside.
A few snippets from our October task list:
Finish the last bits of apple preservation:
cinnamon-spiced jelly to top porridge and buttered toast
another jar of dried apple rings (because despite the abundance of fresh apples, we have already eaten half a jar from the store cupboard)
fill the apple racks
Make one more batch of rosehip syrup. There are eight bottles in the cupboard already, but it is currently our favourite tipple, and we don’t want to run out before next year’s rosehips appear. It is wonderful diluted with boiling water and drunk from steaming mugs to soothe autumn snuffles, or topped with ice and sparking water as a refreshing thirst quencher. It is also excellent as a sweetener for the fruit in crumbles and pies. And, if feeling under the weather, poured Mary Poppins style, into an old silver spoon and taken as a sugar-filled, vitamin C boosting ‘medicine’.
Order a tractor delivery of hay for the sheep.
Book in the hedge-cutter for the paddock.
Fix the paddock gate. Properly this time. We cannot have the sheep embarking on another adventure.
Go daily caterpillar collecting amongst the brassicas. The cabbage moths and butterflies had a second wind of hungry, sprout-kale-cauli-munching offspring, so we’re feeding them to the chickens before the winter veg are reduced to skeletons.
Do something with the medlars.
Bring in a few baskets of wood for the log burners. It’s been mild here so far this autumn and we’ve got by with just a little warmth from electric heaters (powered by solar panels), but it must be almost time to light the first fire of the season.
Buy a pumpkin from the nearby farm honesty stall for carving on Halloween.
Purchase a few bags of wheat for the geese. Geese are one of most sustainable livestock to keep as they happily forage for their own food year-round. But, when the windfall fruits are gone and grass growth slows or stops, we give them a small ration of wheat to supplement their diet.
Collect acorns. It’s a mast year for our old oak tree and to celebrate the acorn influx it would be nice to make a garland or two to hang over the fireplace. If we had more time, we’d attempt the laborious process of making acorn flour for the kitchen – perhaps next year.
Go foraging for sweet chestnuts. There is a top-secret tree, just off a public footpath, that we visit every year to gather a chestnut hoard. One of our favourite traditions is to extend the chestnut hunt into a long leafy walk, then come home, roast and salt the chestnuts, and eat them alongside deep cups of hot chocolate bobbing with marshmallows and a plate of warm, buttered crumpets.
We so hope you enjoyed The Seasonal Supplement. We’ll be back with another next month (if you don’t mind us popping up in your inbox again). In the meantime, do leave us a comment – we’d love to hear from you and to start getting to know this wonderful new Substack community. Feel free to let us know if there’s anything you’d particularly like us to write about in future issues or posts too - we’re all ears!
Thanks so much for reading.
Kathy and Tom
Thanks so much for reading The Journal of Modern Smallholding. Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.
Loved reading this. Thanks for sharing. So much here resonates with our harvesting year - often more apples than we know what to do with though. We never get round to pressing / making cider, yet there's always jars of apple rings!
Very happy to find you here on Substack. I’ve been missing you on Instagram. I’d love to hear more about the geese. Are they worth keeping? Pros and cons. Also more about the sheep. I’m trying to decide what to do with a paddock.