The August Bank Holiday signifies three things to me. Firstly it's a weekend when London is overrun with tourists, all blowing on whistles and admiring the bright and beautiful costumes of the parades of the Notting Hill Carnival. Secondly comes the knowledge that the next Bank Holiday we will have is Christmas Day and that the year is fast coming to an end. Thirdly it officially and boldly signals the end of Summer.
I always approach this weekend with a jumble of mixed feelings and a certain amount of anticipation. After having lived in the hub of the Notting Hill Carnival for several years and having experienced both the good and the bad sides of this crazy street party, Paul and I no longer have any desire to go anywhere near it. We therefore usually see this as an opportunity to escape the city and go find ourselves some greener pastures. Knowing that time has again made a fool of us and that all too soon we will be feeling the brisk bite of the Autumnal winds, we try to squeeze a little bit more pleasure from the last days of Summer. But it also means that I will again have access to the abundance of hedgerow fruits and late Summer English plums with which to bulk up my preserves stocks to my heart's content.
This year, to get away from the crowds we headed to the tranquil and soft green surroundings of the beautiful New Forest for our last Summer hurrah. Walking through the winding forest trails, feeding the free running horses and admiring the lush green foliage, we stumbled upon a natural treasure! Overgrown hedges bursting with deep purple blackberries, ripe and ready for the picking. Quickly finding some empty containers from our lunch, we foraged our way through the prickly bushes. Even with a lot of berries making it into our mouths rather than the containers, we still managed to pick enough for me to make a couple of jars of jam.
Once we arrived back from our trip, relaxed and happy I took out the little fruits and grabbed the basket of colourful plums I had bought on the way home, ready to start my little one woman production line. I have plenty of books and notes on the subject of preserving, but the two gurus I turn to again and again for advice and guidance are the WI and Pam Corbin of the River Cottage Handbook. With the help of these lovely ladies, I soon had the kernels of the plums cracked and blanched, the plums stewing away in a fragrant syrup and the blackberries washed, checked for creepy-crawlies and ready to add to the pan.
Pouring the last purple spoonful of jam into the hot, sterilised jar I was sad to say goodbye to the splendour of Summer. But with my cupboards filled with preserves, chutneys and jams I also looked forward to starting a new season and enjoying all of the culinary opportunities it will bring.