Our first year in Somerset marches on. It does not hang around for me to savour summer but pushes relentlessly on. September. October. Autumn. It is as if a page has flipped; the light is undertoned with amber in the sunshine and a strangely peaceful steely grey when it is not. Leaves are falling, the rain is no longer the laughing rain of a summer storm but more forceful. A taste of what is to come. The fronts scud off the sea, the sky seems bigger, emptier. The tourists have faded fast. The roads are full of pheasants not cars. Term has begun and those that are left are the hardy walkers and campers with their boots and rucksacks and plastic-backed maps. The season is ending and the village events have started. Carnivals, art weeks, apple days, a celebration of the bounty of summer and a collective urge to celebrate as the nights draw in.
I stood upon a gate, stretching up to pluck blackberries off the top of the bush. The rain of the morning gradually receeding over the moor and a warm sunshine broke through the clouds. A buzzard wheeled overhead, it’s cry just audible over the sound of the rushing water. When my bowl was full I climbed off the gate. Crossed the tiny lane and went back over our bridge into our garden. I did the same last week with a couple of kilos from the same bush. That day, I went into the garden, picked some early eating apples from the tree, went to the kitchen and made pie. I think the flour I used travelled the furthest. Tree to table in two hours.
In London the seasons came and went, marked not by weather but by fashion. Here, the change is daily; the flowers that grow in the lanes which mark my journey to work, the colour of the heather on the moor, the movement of the sheep, the clouds which pass over. The size of the pheasants littering the roads. I miss London and fashion so much I dream of frantically shopping like my life depends on it. And yet, there is something compelling about being here.
I then used the blackberries to make blackberry and apple cobbler, a traditional English pudding served with custard.
Blackberry, apple & Almond Cobbler (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)
Peel core and slice 1 kilo Bramley Apples and place in a saucepan with 100g sugar and a small piece of butter with a couple of tablespoons of water. Heat gently until soft, cooking for 15 minutes at a gentle simmer until you have a smooth compote. Stir in 500g of blackberries and pile into a pie dish leaving a few centimetres spare at the top. THEN, , mix 100ml whole milk, slightly warmed, with 1 teaspoon lemon juice and set aside. In a food processor pulse 100g plain flour with one tablespoon baking powder and 75g butter until you have fine crumbs. Stir in 100g ground almonds and 50g caster sugar and mix into a soft dough. Heap the dough in generous spoonfulls onto the compote in the pie dish. Aim for 6-8 cobblers in total. Place in the centre of a moderate oven (180C) and bake for about 30 minutes until the cobblers are puffed and golden. Serve plain or with cream, custard* or ice-cream.
*Custard – Begin by splitting a vanilla pod lengthways and using the end of a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds. Then place the pod and the seeds in a small saucepan, along with the 275 ml double cream. Now place the pan over a gentle heat and heat it to just below simmering point.
While the cream is heating, whisk 3 egg yolks, 1 teaspoon cornflour and 25g caster sugar together in a medium bowl using a balloon whisk. Next remove the vanilla pod from the hot cream. Then, whisking the egg mixture all the time with one hand, gradually pour the hot cream into the bowl.
When it’s all in, immediately return the whole lot back to the saucepan using a rubber spatula. Now back it goes on to the same gentle heat as you continue whisking until the custard is thick and smooth, which will happen as soon as it reaches simmering point. If you do overheat it and it looks grainy, don’t worry, just transfer it to a jug or bowl and continue to whisk until it becomes smooth again.
(Cobblers from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Year. Custard from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course.