While this summer has been disastrous for some crops, it’s been strangely good for others. The combination of a long, hard winter to kill off pests followed by lots of sunshine gave us a bumper crop of soft fruits and tomatoes in the garden, and some amazing apples; our John Dory crab-apple was literally groaning under the heaviest load of fruit we’d ever seen on it, and many of the young saplings at Beckside have produced a surprising yield. The pictures show Hubcap tucking into a delicious sun-warmed russet, and demonstrating the great size of one of our cookers - I can't tell you which variety, because wasps have chewed off the name marked on its support stake! So we’re going into the autumn with lots of lovely preserves, liqueurs, and berries in the freezer, plus more apples to come as the later varieties ripen.
The unusually hot, dry conditions were also a boon for British wine-makers, as we discovered when we went for a tour of Homfirth Vineyard yesterday.
Ironically, after the worst drought in 40 years, our visit coincided with a particularly soggy Saturday – but undeterred, we set off for the picturesque site, just south of Holmfirth in the spectacular ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ countryside on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Alas, it was too wet for our 40-strong tour group to negotiate the steep, slippery slopes of the vineyard, planted with hardy grape varieties like Solaris (white), Regent (rosé), and Rondo (red), which thrive in the British climate. Instead, the presentation took place in the winery, where we saw the machine that strips the grapes from their stalks, (which make the wine bitter if they’re pressed together with the fruit), the stainless-steel ‘bladder’ press capable of extracting nearly 100% of the juice, and the huge stainless steel fermenting tanks. The 7-acre vineyard produces around 11,000 bottles of red, rose and white wine per year – not enough to supply major retailers, but enough to serve in the on-site restaurant and bar, sell in the vineyard shop, and provide tasters for the daily tours. All the wines are made to be drunk young; the white is fresh and tart, the rosé (my favourite) smooth and fruity, and the red (Hubcap’s favourite) mellow and light. Luckily, by the time the hour-long talk and tasting session was over, the weather had cleared up enough for us to take some photos – then we rounded things off with a massive, delicious high tea (gluten-free for Hubcap). We enjoyed it so much we definitely plan to go back some time for a meal in the restaurant – and might even treat ourselves to an overnight stay in one of the apartments. Vineyard tours cost £8.94 per person, and afternoon tea starts at £14.99 - highly recommended!
Over the past two decades, solid fuel heating systems have seen a considerable resurgence in popularity, (probably due to the huge price increases for domestic gas and electricity). Solid fuel certainly made sense for us, given the amount of waste wood Hubcap naturally generates through his work, and which otherwise he would need to dispose of at the local tip; so in 2007 we had a Dunsley Highlander multi-fuel boiler stove installed to run our central heating and supply hot water, and it turned out to be worth its weight in gold. However, recently you may have seen that stoves like ours have been getting a bad press on account of the particulate pollution they generate. Since new regulations are in the pipeline to reduce smoke, control the types of wood that can be burned, and possibly regulate the types of stove that can be used in future, we decided to pre-empt any legislation and upgrade ours to a DEFRA-approved Dunsley Yorkshire Smokeless. We’d originally wanted a Yorkshire stove, but at the time they didn’t come with a boiler/central heating option – so we were thrilled when we visited Stead Fuels in Castleford and discovered that a boiler version is now available. It’s much more sophisticated than the Highlander, with an afterburn chamber which burns the smoke (ie tiny particles of unburned fuel) giving very clean combustion and making the stove suitable for use in even the strictest smokeless zones; this also makes it highly efficient, giving more heat for less fuel.
The actual installation was a bit of an ordeal because we wanted it recessed into the chimney breast, which involved having a big hole knocked into the kitchen wall and a cubic metre of bricks removed! But after two days of upheaval and horrible mess it was in and looking good, as you can see from the before, during and after photos; and now that the re-plastered wall has dried and we can actually light it, we’re delighted with its performance and modest fuel consumption – not to mention the fact that the whole job, including supply and fitting of a new chimney liner, insulation, two new hot water tanks and pipework, cost only £4370. And gosh, it’s a big beast - almost twice the size of the Highlander - with a griddle on top for cooking, and it kicks out an enormous amount of heat; so even if we do get the long, hard winter that’s being forecast, I feel optimistic that our lovely new Yorkshire stove will keep Helmickton nice and cosy.