Monday, 8 October 2012

I Know It's Autumn When...

This week I've had lots of little reminders that summer's gone and winter's on it's way. But signs of autumn aren't all about chilly air and darker nights.

Butterflies may not be the first autumn animal that springs to mind but many species are still feeding up before hibernation in late summer and early autumn. The small tortoiseshell is one of the UK's most common and widespread butterflies and while one of the first to be sighted in spring it stays around late into the season, often seen feeding on garden flowers in autumn. That's where I found one in our garden this week, or more accurately sunning itself on the brick wall, very well camouflaged! It's lovely to see these insects and also to have some late second blooms in the garden. I'd forgotten about the snapdragons in our hanging baskets but they've sprung into life again with lovely yellow, red and orange flowers - very autumnal!

On a sunny day, with butterflies and flowers in the garden I can almost convince myself that it's still summer, but the autumn chill has penetrated the house and I'm back to resolutely layering on the woolly jumpers to avoid turning the heating on. Thankfully it's not quite as extreme as in our old student house when, on occasion, gloves and scarves were worn inside in the middle of the day! But it just seems pointless to heat the whole house when only one person is at home, so for the moment I'm jumpering up when I'm on my own and then in the evenings we pop the heating on for a few hours making sure all the curtains are closed and tucked in so the heat doesn't escape. I've also noticed my seasonal migration to spending time in the kitchen. It's the sunniest room in the house during the day and in the evenings after dinner it's warm from cooking. I'm quite enjoying it as it means I do more than just watch TV in the evenings whether it's writing up old favourite recipes into a book or playing cards with housemates.

Outside the house the chill is even more noticeable but I quite like it. You appreciate the warmth when you go inside and the cold air conjures up memories of collecting conkers, watching dew on spiders webs and the impending festive season to come. When it's not raining (that rare event here in Preston!) the sun's warmth means that walks are still pleasant as long as you've got a jacket on, and the colours are just fantastic. On a walk round some local lakes this weekend we saw every colour of leaves, from emerald green through yellows and oranges to deep reds and purples. There were elderberries, haws, hips, blackcurrants, apples, sloes, damsons and even a few blackberies still. We left the berries for the birds this time and headed straight for the sloes and damsons. We make at least an annual trip to these lakes, because they have such good fruit trees. The trees are so close together and the sizes are so variable that I'm sure many of the fruits are sloe/damson crosses (if that's possible). Whatever they are they make brilliant "sloe" gin and it's so easy everyone should try it so here is the recipe/instructions I use.

  1. Pick as many sloes/damsons as you can. Make sure they're nice and ripe with a blue/purple colour and plump. (Damson's will be squishy when ripe like plums and sloes will be harder)
  2. Buy gin (our house consensus is using cheaper gin makes the final product taste better)
  3. Fill (or part fill) an old lemonade bottle with sloes/damsons, then pour gin in until almost full (up to just below the neck of the bottle)
  4. Add sugar until bottle is full. Then put in a dark cool place to store.
  5. Whenever you remember turn the bottle to shake up the insides and top up with sugar as it dissolves. I like really sweet sloe gin so I add as much as possible, but if you don't like it sweet add less.
  6. After a few months the liquid will be purple, the sugar dissolved and you can bottle it in nicer, posher bottles as Christmas presents or just serve it out of the original container. Enjoy!
As autumn settles in my need to be thrifty increases (still no idea why, maybe it's all to do with saving things up for the winter) and I found a brilliant new leftovers recipe this week. Using carrots, apples, dried fruit (I always have this lying around and almost never use it up, I just can't resist it in shops) and a few other things I'm made some very yummy breakfast muffins. A nice change from cereal and a good way to clear the fridge out. In addition to the recipe (linked above) I added two bananas and next time I might even add some orange juice to add a little extra moisture. Very yummy though and nothing needed to be bough, my kind of baking.

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