A Bumper Harvest of Greengages

Delicious greengage chutney

Last night the boys gathered the last of our bumper crop of greengages. It’s the first year we’ve had a proper crop after planting the tree about 6 (or more) years ago. This afternoon, while the younger members of the household variously sunbathed on the beach at Budleigh Salterton, played football or cycled 130km with clubmates Mum got to grips with the harvest. Chutney-making is the kind of cooking I love. There’s plenty of therapeutic repetitive chopping and stirring and you can give full rein to your creativity.

I had about 2 kilos of greengages, stoned and quartered. To these I added 4 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped. These were donated by a neighbour (ours aren’t ready yet and there were none to be found in the supermarket this week). Next went in three medium red onions, chopped small, a large knuckle of ginger, peeled and grated, 400g raisins, a kilo of preserving sugar, 750ml cider vinegar and a spice mix (2 tsps each of ground cumin, ground coriander, pink peppercorns, mustard seeds, a tsp of cardamon pods, a generous tsp chilli flakes and a cinnamon stick) and a pinch of salt. I  boiled it up and then simmered for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. Then ladled it into 11 sterilised jars which have been stored in the pantry ready for Christmas boxes.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon in August.

Mandala magic

In view of the fact that growing things is now very popular at my children’s  school, the recent Harvest assembly was designed with local food in mind. In previous years they have focussed much more on global awareness with fundraising for Water Aid and sending cows or goats to African farmers. At other times they have taken in lots of tins and packets for the local food bank or night shelter. It’s a world away from the more traditional harvests of my youth with a church full of locally grown fruit and veg which was distributed amongst members of the community. However, the gardeners stepped up to the mark and we made a harvest mandala from items foraged around the school grounds and garden. Pretty innit?

My first experience of mandalas came when I did a permaculture course. Permaculture is all about completing the circle, fair shares, using what exists in nature, making things beautiful, everyone playing a part in and for the community……I could go on. And so making a mandala fits beautifully with the ideal.

Google ‘Mandala’ and you’ll find out about the full meaning of making one in terms of spirituality, self-expression and personal growth. For our purposes we used it as an opportunity to have some fun picking what we’d grown and some lovely free foraged plants, arranging them together, celebrating our achievements and sharing them with others.

And as mandalas are above all transient, we took a picture and allowed members of the school community to come up and dismantle it, choosing something to take away and use. The squash was taken home for someone’s Mum to make soup. Conkers were used for games or to ward off spiders in bedrooms. Apples were eaten at breaktime. Sunflowers were used to feed the birds. You get the picture?

It’s a simple, fun, outdoor activity to do with children at any time of year. Use what’s available and let them work together. You’ll create amazing things, and, I guarantee,  have lots of fun into the bargain.

My friend eco campaigner Brigit Strawbridge created some of these amazing mandalas. Check out her blog here.


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