Just over a year ago; last June to be precise, I visited a friend in Littlehampton. It was a cold, damp and wind-swept day, and I posted a couple of ‘deserted beach’ pictures. This year, it couldn’t have been more different. The summer sun was shining brightly, the sky was blue, with high vaporous swirls of cloud, and the slight breeze was definitely a warm and gentle one. Despite being midweek, and most children not yet broken up for the school holidays, there were plenty of people spread out on the beach. We splashed our way through cold wavelets in the sandy shallows, while some braver folk were swimming in the icy water. The beach shops and stalls were open, selling everything from fish and chips and ice-cream, to beach shoes and buckets and spades. Gaudy summer dresses and sun hats were everywhere, and the ambient mood was light-hearted and carefree. What a difference a bit of sun, and a bit of welcome warmth make to an English summer beach.
I’m staying for a few days with my sister in Lincolnshire, with its big skies and open landscapes, and the weather at last is gloriously summery.
On Friday night we toured the garden, and noticed that the red-currants were ripe. So on Saturday morning, before it was too hot, I went out with my nephew Jay, to pick them. We waded into the dense, waist-high foliage, and pushing down into the bushes we found clumps of red currants hanging like precious jewels, hidden beneath the leaves. Our arms were scratched by the long brambles that entangled the bushes, and our hands became sticky with ruby-red juice, as we ripped the fruit from the branches. We also found a few early gooseberries, some small raspberries, and then stripped the last remaining white-currants that had been left by the birds. As the sun became hotter we retreated to the cool of the house, and spent the next hour or so removing stalks and strange insects from the fruit.
One of my favourite summer puddings is a traditionally British ‘Summer Pudding’! So we cooked up some of the more squishy fruit, with left-over blackberries and black-currants from last year, that we had found in the freezer. Summer Pudding sounds complicated to make, but it really isn’t!
About 2lb/1kg mixed berries, eg blackberries, red/white/black-currants, raspberries, strawberries, (you can also use a little plum or apple to bulk it up)
Sugar to taste – we used about 4oz/100g
Slices of white bread, crusts removed
1. Gently cook fruit and sugar for about 10 minutes, so fruit retains its shape. Allow to cool a little.
2. Wipe olive oil round a 1 litre/2 pint pudding basin, and line with bread, cutting it to fit snuggly.
3. Carefully fill the bread lined basin with fruit, using a slotted spoon. Cover with more bread, and trim the edges. Retain left over juice for later.
4. Place an upside-down saucer on top, and weight with cans or a bag of sugar. Cool over night in the fridge.
5. Ease a flat-bladed knife all the way around the edge of the basin as far down as you can. Then carefully turn the pudding out. If any bread is still white, spoon juice over. Serve with single cream, creme fraiche, or greek yogurt.
Since our grey and windy day at the beach, we have had a sprinkling of glorious summer days. I take my dog Brinny out for a walk everyday, and one day last week on a lovely, bright sunny day, we took the route that goes past a small front garden with an old-fashioned rose hedge. At this time of year you can always smell the roses long before you can see them, and last week as I approached, I became aware too of a loud and continuous buzzing. As I got nearer, I could see that the wide-open pink and white roses were alive with bees. Only one bee to a flower, but so many flowers with so many bees, all frantically scrabbling about in the yellow centres of the fragrant blooms.
Ah, summer at last!
I’m home again. I’ve gone from Australian Summer to English Winter in a very short space of time, and it feels mighty cold! Although all the snow had thankfully gone before I arrived home, the air is still very icy, and when there is a gust of wind, it cuts right through to your goosebumps!
However, it is not all doom and gloom, the sky at the end of the road this evening is alight with the pink and gold of the setting sun, with house and car windows reflecting the brilliance. Down the street, the kids, well wrapped up in coats and hats, are braving the cold and playing outside as the day draws to its close.
I’m sure I’ll acclimatize soon, but for now I think I’ll enjoy the sunset from indoors!
Suddenly there is the feeling of summer speeding towards us. The birds are singing, the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom, and there is the faint fragrance of wisteria on the breeze. I love this time of year, the warmth of the sun on my back, blue skies, and the lazy buzz of bees in the flowerbeds. Life’s journey seems so much easier when the sun shines, when the air is warm and the long summer evenings nearly last till dawn.
Today I’m going to leave you with a traditional Celtic blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.