As temperatures and light levels drop, we are approaching the end of our polytunnel crops; super-tender basil was the first to go, cucumbers will soon follow and the tomatoes are now ripening so slowly that they will make way for crops of winter salads in early October. On our farm in France, with better light, the pepper and chillies may soldier on to the end of October if there are no early frosts, but ripening is now painfully slow.
Heating would keep crops going into November, but about ten years ago we took the decision not to sell any produce from heated glasshouses; an environmental study we carried out with Exeter University showed it was about ten times more efficient (in terms of CO₂ emissions) to import out-of-season produce from Spain by truck and ferry (not by air freight). As light levels drop off, the flavour of UK tomatoes from early October onwards is invariably disappointing anyway.
With winter approaching, we are hoping some of you will feel a squirrel-like urge to line your shelves with preserves ready for the dark, hungry months ahead, or perhaps to give to distant aunts for Christmas. It just so happens that, as is always the case in autumn, we have a few seasonal gluts that would go very well in those jars, so if you fancy a project, these are a few of my favourites:
Green tomato chutney: as we clear the tomatoes there is inevitable lots of green fruit, compounded this year by a grey August and cool September which slowed ripening. For the idle we will make a good supply of this chutney ourselves, or, for the industrious, you can order bags of green tomatoes, with full chutney-making instructions, from us in the next few weeks.
Chillies for drying: we have a good crop of Joe’s Long; a thin walled, moderately hot chilli which dries and stores well. Use a needle and thread to make your own colourful and decorative ‘ristra’ and hang in a dry, airy place until needed (again, full instructions are included). Once dry they will keep for a year or more. Look out for them in the next few weeks.
Chilli oil: use our slightly hotter, more fleshy chillies like serenade or jalapeno. There are plenty of recipes online.