A new commandment – a ‘crafted’ sermon

My creative output has done better than blogging of recent months, not least due to the death of not only my wonderful father-in-law but of some good friends. However, to my great surprise, I keep selling items via the Etsy I started in January, particularly on the seashore theme; indeed I’ve received and completed a couple of commissions. More of the developments on that score soon.

Often life and ministry inter-twine; one speaks to and feeds the other, and my sermon this week is a good case in point. Reading around this week’s passages led me to a ‘weaving’ theme, and thus, unsurprisingly, to Dorset Buttons. The sermon needed a visual aid – not least as it was to be preached outside in St. Mary’s churchyard – and so a new ‘button’ design was created, and first a wall-hanging and then earrings formed themselves.

My ‘Celtic Cross’ wall-hanging. Yarn is gorgeously soft and stunningly coloured Malabrigo Caracol Merino ‘Whales Road’ via Beaker Buttons, the beads were mostly gifted, and the seashells were four Purple Topshells from Weston Shore, Southampton and a larger type of Topshell (I think) from my stash.

I don’t suppose for a moment that the design is a new one, but it was one I worked out myself, without recourse to instructions from Jen Best of Beaker Buttons, or the Henry’s Buttons team, so for me at least it’s a significant step forward. Both scales worked well, and I will try and create some more of each.

Celtic Cross earrings on silver hooks. Yarn is a small hand-died batch from Jen Best at Beaker Buttons, which I bought some months ago.

The sermon itself is below; it is reasonably specific to our context as parishes, and as much for reference for me, as it might be of spiritual or missional use to anyone else – although the wider post-pandemic vision will resonate for many. It does sow another thought in my head (or perhaps that should be ‘sew’ an idea?), but I need to work that through much more and discover whether it’s viable before sharing it widely.

A new commandment – weaving on the framework of our faith.
1 John 5: 1-6 and John 15: 1-17

Some of you will be aware that in the last 6 months or so, I have found & started to develop new creative skills & ideas, based (increasingly loosely) on the heritage of Dorset Button making. 400 years ago making buttons to adorn the fine clothes of the gentry and the work-wear of craftspeople and labourers, was a valuable cottage industry. Today the same skills are being revitalised as artworks in their own right &
feeding the creativity of many, particularly but not exclusively, those with a strong connection to nature.

The process of Dorset Button making sees a ring bound in thread and then spokes created through which an intricate or random pattern can be formed. This is then embellished with whatever you have to hand. For example I have lots of beach-combed seashells to use, and I’ve acquired many beads!

The sermon illustrations propped at the base of our churchyard lectern. (Photo credit: Graham Hartland)

Similarly, the writer of 1 John 5 binds together faith in Jesus, with love of God, love of one another, and obedience to God to create a complex but beautiful picture. Faith in Jesus, and the pattern with which that is threaded into our lives, is the framework onto which the beauty of love and obedience can then be woven. But like all intricately crafted patterns, it can be tricky to see how we might bring something so creative to life ourselves – except at the cost of a lot of time & effort.

If we have chosen to take part in this worship today – in whatever format suits our circumstances – then we are responding to the love we have experienced and understand as being from God. In doing so we are self-identifying as “children of God”. Sharing in worship (weekly or daily) is part of the framework that brings faith to life in our lives. Of
recent times we may have (even if grudgingly) learnt new ways in which that framework can support our lives. We might be a bit wonky and uneven at times, and need the occasional knot tied when threads part, but we know ourselves to be loved by God and respond with faith.

The author of 1 John 5 doesn’t offer details of what the love that should adorn that framework of faith will look like. It seems like he expects us to know God’s commandments. We do, don’t we? But in case we need a bit of help, the lectionary handily offers Jesus’ summary of them in today’s Gospel; that “we love one another as Jesus has loved us”
(John 15:12). Jesus has indeed shown us examples of what this love might look like, through his ministry of healing, feeding, offering forgiveness, and raising the dead.

Jesus was being obedient to the pattern of life that God had sent him as the Messiah to fulfil. As God’s only begotten Son he came into the world by the “water and blood” of human birth, the same as you and I. But having been with God from the moment of creation (Colossians 1:15-18), the pattern of his example would be completed through the pouring out of blood and water of his crucifixion (John 19:34, Colossians 1:18-19). Our life as children of that same God comes into
being through the framework of faith, and the beauty of the love that we exhibit as our lives form their pattern, should be similarly Christ-like, perhaps even cross-shaped.

Jesus’ “new commandment” to love one another, as he loved us, is about creating within ourselves as faith-full Christians an image which is as close as possible to Christ’s pattern, but in our own unique style and colours. But we can only weave it, by listening to God carefully through the power of the Holy Spirit so that we understand the intricacies and difficulties of what it is that we are called to be and do. As with Jesus’ crucifixion, the biggest test of our faithfulness and love of God will be at the most challenging points in our lives and the life of our community. Loving as Jesus loved us will probably court opposition and controversy, but probably not violence and death as it does for some in the world!

So what does all this mean for us today as individuals, and perhaps more particularly as a fellowship of Christians? Jesus was giving his new commandment to his disciples at their last meal together, somewhat unusually hidden away from prying eyes – perhaps as we have been for too long. Here was worship and teaching to sustain them for what lay ahead, for what really mattered. Of course, Jesus normal rule of life saw him perpetually on the move: having individual conversations, occasionally in people’s homes; bringing healing to people on streets and in leisure facilities like the local baths; teaching forgiveness and justice on hillsides as well as in synagogues and temples. This private conversation was all about equipping his disciples as they went out into the world after his resurrection!

Over the last year our worship has been forced out of our church buildings, but been found to speak into people’s lives through video-streams and paper bags, as well as in blustery churchyards. I know many of us want to get back to singing in the warm, but should that be our main aim if we have been given a pattern to follow that involves loving others in our communities, as God has loved us?

Of course we need our church buildings as places to do things that serve our communities, not least the beautiful examples of the Foodbank at St. Barnabas, and even St. Mary’s hosting socially-distanced teacher interviews for CKS on Wednesday this coming week. But the fellowship we share in the buildings we love, that ‘worth-ship’ (giving God worth) that we may be so keen to return to, looks
dangerously like us doing the things we love, rather than focusing on the sort of love Jesus would have us show to others, a love that doesn’t involve making other people conform to ‘our way of doing things’, but is obedient to the pattern that God wants us weaving in the life of our
communities.

I am no more comfortable with what I’m saying than many of you will be; but as Jesus showed us, love isn’t about our own survival, as individuals or indeed as church fellowships. For those of us on our church councils, when the pressure is on us to meet attendance and financial targets, it’s very easy to inadvertently start equating God’s love with getting bums on pews, money in the offertory, and metaphorically (or otherwise) propping the walls up!

The love that 1 John 5 is talking about is world changing, indeed world conquering – and if we look at our world, it jolly well needs to be! For the faith we profess in our worship not to be contradictory, or lacking in integrity, we must remember that it’s God’s love that we are sharing not on our own; it’s no more about what we love about being a
church fellowship than it is about the buildings use! When was the last time we as Christian fellowships changed someone’s world by bringing them to faith, and an understanding that God loves them?

It’s going to be tough, uncomfortable & difficult weaving beautiful acts of love onto the framework of our faith, the faith that has sustained us through the last difficult months. But if we truly believe that we are loved by God as his children, it’s time we started working out what new threads of obedience we need to use to make the cross of Jesus sacrifice for us visible, and find the embellishments that will draw people toward the beauty of his love.

She sews seashores and trees and…. When the creative imagination demands an Etsy outlet!

A couple of years back, on a day out to visit a friend, we happened upon the old circus store at Weyhill, now (or at least normally) a wonderful community of craftspeople and their shops. Among them was Beaker Buttons where Jen and her crafting community specialise in the tradition of Dorset Buttons. Not having heard of this craft before, I picked up one of their wonderful kits, which I completed during a summer holiday – all of which tells you this was probably 2018-19!

More recently, I’ve learnt a bit more about this tradition, completed more kits, bought more supplies (Jen sells online, thankfully), and started to experiment. Many of the Christmas gifts we gave last month were based on the tradition, augmented experimentally with additional materials, including beads. It was an experiment that seemed to work.

Along the way I’ve found a use for some of the seashells and other materials I beach-comb, something I love doing when the opportunity presents itself, and learnt to work a few basic jewellery findings, including in stirling silver. I’ve even made suncatchers and wall-hangings! There’s some images here of what I’ve produced and given as gifts. Everything is unique and no two things are ever quite the same, even if I’ve used similar principles.

I’ve got loads of ideas for what else I can do with various remnant yarns in my collection (occasionally augmented with fresh purchases, because, well ‘yarn’!), but have run out of outlets for them and the backlog of other crafted items I’ve made in recent months and failed to give away.

So encouraged by my family, especially my son Chris who sells hand-made wooden spoons here, I’m officially launching an ETSY today: Ramtopsrac Creations.
I’ve kept prices low whilst covering the cost of materials, and not charged overly accurately for the time they take to make as I enjoy creating them.

Please feel free to peruse this new mini-paradise of gifts for yourself or for friends, and make a purchase if you wish and are able to. All purchases will feed my creativity, and in the long-run hopefully help me to enthuse other local crafters, when that craft cafe idea I had gets the dust shaken off it!

Being a Companion of Christ – the pain, the purpose and the Passion (Lent Reflections 2019)

I originally prepared the following material for Passiontide 2019 when I was asked to lead Lent Reflections for the wonderful local Mothers’ Union group that has nurtured and encouraged my ministry over many years. The reflections focussed on various items, most of which were in a small bag given to each participant.

Obviously this was a group that met ‘in person’ and could share with each other in their thinking, singing and praying, something which sadly this year isn’t going to be possible for most people in Lent. However, some of the material may be useful to the spiritual context in which we find ourselves currently, so I’m making it available in .pdf formats below. Hopefully all the items you’d need could be made or created from items around your home or could be found when out for daily exercise. They include:

  • hand or body lotion
  • two penny pieces
  • three lengths of (preferably brown) wool or string, knotted at one end
  • pieces of pitta or ordinary bread
  • a feather
  • piece of cloth
  • die (dice)

Some written material in this material is from named sources, unattributed elements are my own original material. If you use any of it, please could you credit the appropriate person, and leave an appropriate comment on this blog post.

I am in the process of preparing some Lent in a Bag materials for distribution in our parishes this Lent 2021, starting with ash mixed with varnish and applied to a nobbly stone/pebble. I will share these materials when they are finished.

Intercessions for the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany

24th January 2021 (Year B)

I’ve prepared some prayers for a family to lead in our worship this coming Sunday, and thought I’d share them in case they help anyone else. They reflect losely on the passages Revelation 19:6-10 and John 2:1-11 which are in this week’s lectionary and owe a little to Ian Black’s ‘Intercessions’ for inspiration and shape. Feel welcome to use and adapt them, but please do comment below on where they’ve been used, by way of acknowledgement.

We see the glory and power of God
when he meets us in our needs
and answers our prayers.
Let us rejoice and praise his name.

Creative God,
you continually surprise us,
and help us to cope with and do things
that are beyond our imagination and expectations;
please breathe new life into our traditions and familiar practices,
so that we your people,
are better equipped to serve you in this changing world.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Faithful God,
you are present in the struggles and turmoil of life,
strengthening the tired and stressed,
and defending the needs of the weak and vulnerable;
please give courage and hope to those most in need,
and help us to protect and help those who work for healing,
justice and mercy.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Loving God,
you are the thread that draws people together
into loving and supportive relationships,
and wants to bring freedom to those who suffer abuse;
please help all those who struggle with family life,
to find the space and determination
to resolve differences and grow in love.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Merciful God,
who brings healing to those who suffer,
purpose to those who feel set adrift,
and comfort to those who are lonely and distressed;
please fill the lives of those who are unemployed
and under-employed,
and relieve the suffering of all those who struggle with pain,
of mind, body or spirit.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Holy God, who reigns on high
surrounded by those who have served you faithfully
across many generations;
please welcome into your eternal presence
those who have died recently,
and help us to draw on the stories of their witness
to inspire our own journey of faith.

 Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We see the glory and power of God
 when he meets us in our needs and answers our prayers.
Let us rejoice and praise his name.

Valuing livestreamed prayers – with resource links.

Probably the greatest spiritual joy to come from lockdown, and we have and we will continue with it into the future, are the prayers that we’ve livestreamed daily at 10am from the Facebook pages of St Barnabas Darby Green and St Mary’s Eversley.

On the days I lead them (currently Mondays and Thursdays, though it can vary a bit) I try and download the recording from Facebook, and then upload it to my YouTube channel. This is because social media can become very excluding to those who don’t engage that way, but do have computer access. In this way I know I’ve extended our praying community to those whose lifestyles don’t mean they’re online at 10am!

Livestreaming prayers from my office

The community that connects and engages in prayerful support of each others , and those we name in our intercessions, is drawn predominantly from those communities, and the town of Yateley which connects them. I am well aware that people sometimes dip in from far further afield, either because of friendship networks, or because of their own need to be nurtured in their faith.

Praying from my garden (or my Dad’s) in the summer was lovely, and once I’d purchased a microphone for my mobile phone (that cut out some traffic noise but not the birdsong) of real value. Sometimes I’ve even managed to lead prayers remotely, from the churchyard or the hill above St Mary’s Eversley one glorious morning in early autumn, from my car, with the phone afixed to the car door, and from the churchyard of All Saints Minstead, (where I grew up) when the need to support our wider family meant we were there during the school holidays.

It can mystify passers-by when you turn your car into a studio, and start ‘talking to yourself’!

This outdoor worship is always appreciated, I think because it gives people a lens into our lives as ministers and is an example of fitting our prayer lives into our ordinary lives. For those with mobility issues, it also takes people who can’t always manage it for themselves out ‘into the countryside’. I hope it creates a more holistic environment for those who are watching, though the opportunities through the wet autumn and winter is more limited, so it is an occasional treat rather than the norm!

On Mondays I tend to use parts of Common Worship Morning Prayer. In the middle of the week I kept with the local tradition of using prayers from the Ffald-y-Brenin Community in Wales that they’ve now also made free (download or paper versions) for the situation in which we are all living. Wednesday and Friday prayers are now led by lay colleagues, sometimes from church, sometimes from home, and sometimes whilst fishing!

Initially I was also leading prayers on a Friday and for that I adapted prayers from the Iona Abbey Worship Book (available as a book or download). I was particularly struck by their prayers for a Friday that places people in a church building, and affirm that even if the walls were to crumble God still dwells within us. This seemed particularly for the context of lockdowns where people can’t pray in church, which some find particularly difficult to accept. So whilst my pattern of online prayer has moved from Friday to Thursday, I’ve kept with that liturgy as both the tradition from which it comes, and the words themselves are appreciated and seem so pertinent to the context of our restricted lives during the pandamic. Perhaps when this is all over, I may offer something else. If you want to experience it for yourself, an example of the livestream recording is here, and the liturgy here:

So, if you want to join us, on Facebook at 10am daily and get a reminder when we go live, do ‘like’ our pages. If you’d prefer to stay off social media, then this is my YouTube feed (also comes with wildlife videos!) Feel free to avial yourself of the liturgies we use via the links above, and join us. It’s always good to know who is with us, so do please use the appropriate comment facilities so we know where you are, and if appropraite, what your prayer needs are, so that we can pray not just with, but for you.
Go well and God bless.

Intercessions for the last Sunday in Trinity 2020

It’s rather nice to have the opportunity to write some intercessions from scratch this week. So, in case they are of use to others, herewith an approximation to what I will share in a pre-recorded part of our worship this week.

A detail from the screen at St Mary’s Eversley where this week’s service will be livestreamed from, recorded intercessions and all!

If you do use them, in this year or any other, please let me know where and why, and I will remember you in prayer as we share in this ministry together.

Based on the Lectionary readings of 1 Thes 2:1-8 and Matthew 22:34-end

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ,
let us pray to the Father.

We give thanks for those who had the courage to share the Gospel with us, making known the love of Jesus Christ, and helping us to grow in faith and trust in you as our God and King.

We ask you to strengthen those for whom proclaiming the Gospel is dangerous, to the point of having their livelihoods, loved ones and lives threatened, that they might know the courage that comes from seeing others come to faith, prayers answered, and their trust in your justice and mercy fulfilled.

May we, from the safety of comfortable lives, learn to spot the opportunities you give us to share your Gospel, and do so both with boldness and with grace.

God of love
hear our prayer.

We give thanks for those who actions proclaim the Gospel of your love as loud as their words, bringing light where there is darkness, joy where there is sadness, nourishment where there is hunger, hope where there is despair and life where death creeps through the shadows of damaged lives.

We ask you to inspire and encourage those who lead this and all nations to do so with a constant check on their own motivations, a willingness to withstand encouragements to deceive those whose lives have been entrusted into their care, and a humility that doesn’t allow praise, flattery or greed to influence their decisions, their words or their actions.

May we know, with them, that you Lord test our hearts in what we think, and say and do and inspire us all to live out your Gospel of justice, mercy and humility.

God of love
hear our prayer.

We give thanks for all those who work or volunteer in the caring professions at this time, whether in hospice or hospital, care home or college, school or street corner, laboratory or lounge.

We ask you Lord to strengthen their healing hands and hearts as they bring comfort to those in distress, inspire them to explore new ways to bring wholeness to broken limbs and lives, and courage when difficult issues are brought to life.

May we know what it is to be patient with those who are given into our care, to nurse tenderly the pain of those who share their frailties with us, and to pray faithfully for those whom we can’t minister to in other ways.

God of love
hear our prayer.

We give thanks for those whose lives touch ours with fun and fellowship, with love and laughter, with kindness and comfort, in this community and beyond.

We ask that despite the barriers, real and imagined, you will enable us to be bound together as a supportive community, listening to and acting on the needs of others, caring for your creation as revealed in the countryside around us, and encouraging those for whom life feels wasted or wasteful.

As we remember in a moment of silence the needs of those known to us who are grieving, suffering in any way, or struggling to fulfil their vocations to your service and the service of others, may you Lord also help us to know what practical or private assistance we can offer to meet their needs…..

God of love
hear our prayer.

Merciful Father,
Accept te prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ the Lord.

Reflections on dew drops and Psalm 19

Psalm 19 (Matthew 21:33-end) 17th after Trinity at St. Mary’s Eversley

It’s been a while since I posted a sermon, but I promised the photographer whose image inspired this weeks 8am reflection that I’d make it available to her, and (for a variety of reasons) this is the simplest way to do so. So…

As the psalmist puts it:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

This week, Paula Southern (someone who in better times visits our bell tower regularly from Crondall to ring), shared a photo on Facebook of dewdrops hanging from a slender spider web, itself suspended across the loop of an iron bird-feeder. Against the morning light the ephemeral jewels of the dew glinted, to be gone again as the sun ran on across the heavens. It captured a moment in someone’s early morning routine that through social media brought joy and beauty to those who couldn’t get up that early, or don’t have those things close at hand in their gardens, or perhaps can’t even get out at all.

Psalm 19 is up there in the list of my favourite Psalms, along with Psalm 8 and Psalm 148 – little jewels in themselves. They celebrate and reflect on the beauty and wonders of God’s creation, the heavens not just in the stars at night but in glorious sunrises and sunsets, and the formation of clouds scudding across the sky. Beauty is something that is not simply ‘in the eye of the beholder’ but often beyond the words of the beholder too, try as we and other poets might. Paradoxically the psalmist points out that the beauty of the heavens and the world around us pours out its own song, sound and words unto the ends of the world itself, and I don’t think the psalmist is referring to the Buzzard’s cry or the Robin’s song that we are so used to when we come to worship here.

Philosophically speaking, this captures the fact that in our humanity we are actually created by God to experience beauty instinctively, and reminds us of the qualities that make something beautiful. As Bishop Christopher Herbert has described it, beauty is “profoundly good in and of itself… points beyond itself to something which is greater… reminds us of our place in the order of things… and reminds us of our relatedness to the world and to other people.”

If we go back to this image of water droplets on a spider’s web… for me at least, those jewelled droplets that Paula photographed were a reminder of the wonders of God’s creation; they brought joy, in and of themselves. But they also pointed toward something greater; to the fact that something so small is created by one of the basic elements of that creation – water – held in tension; and that like them, we need to allow the glory of God to shine on our ephemeral lives. These, our lives, often exist like water held by the tension of the many issues going on around us, and as we are enabled to let the Son of God shines through us, so people can see the beauty, perhaps even a glimpse of the glory of God.

The psalmist goes on to talk about the law, the commandments, and the statues of the Lord, as being pure, bringing joy and renewal to those who in keeping them serve God. Of course in the New Testament, we see that those statutes have been devalued, and a more perfect and better hope is made available to us, by which we draw near to God in Jesus Christ (to paraphrase Hebrews 7:18-19) the true light of the world.

This morning I believe God is reminding us of own ephemeral nature in the context of his creation, but at the same time of the value and purpose of our lives within that. God holds our individual transient humanity, and loves us as we are through Christ who we receive by faith in Holy Eucharist – and that can be the hardest of all things to remember in times of difficulty and hardship, isolation or overwork. But then we’re also linked by that thread of faith, like a sticky cobweb, to the people and places where he wants the love of Jesus to shine, not just on us but through us, to create beauty for others to behold.

We should not presume, as the psalmist strongly hints, to think of ourselves as either unworthy of the place God has made for us in his creation, or as in control of it as to abuse the position we have been entrusted with, at will. We need to hold the right tension between our lifestyles and the decisions we take in the way we govern our lives, and the light of Jesus’ commandment to love him first, and our neighbour, as ourselves.

As we make our confession in a moment, declaring before God our ‘secret faults’ as the psalmist puts it, may we desire more than anything else to make ourselves right with God, so that by whatever thread we are currently hanging, and however transient our lives from this moment, we may be seen as those who shine the beauty of God’s glory into those who encounter us.

Green Tomato Chutney

For over twenty years we’ve been growing enough tomatoes most years to produce ‘GTC’ – Green Tomato Chutney. If we don’t give jars of it to certain friends and relations at Christmas, we get complaints. I had assumed it was pretty well known as a recipe, but from the comments on our Facebook pages this year, apparently not.

So here goes with the whole recipe thing – but remember, this is only a guide! In many years we’ve done an ‘onion free’ version for friends who can’t onion, bulking out the quantities with extra tomatoes and apples. Historically we’ve also done batches with fresh ginger, or Christmas spices. This year, we didn’t have quite enough soft brown sugar, so we used some golden granulated instead because we really couldn’t face going shopping in the rain!

Recipe:
12oz green (ish) tomatoes – chopped
12oz onions – chopped fairly finely
8oz cooking apples – peeled, cored and chopped
12fl oz malt vinegar
12oz soft brown sugar
1.5 level tbs cornflour
3 level tsp ground ginger
1 level tsp salt
0.5 level tsp ground black pepper
0.25 level tsp turmeric
A couple of handfuls of dried fruit – sultanas and raisins

We find we can get 3x recipe in our jam saucepans, and 2x recipe in the largest saucepan we’ve got. We’re very imprecise on the spices – if you like more flavour go heaped on those spoonfuls!

Chop the tomatoes, apples and onions finely.
Place in a pan and cook on a low heat for about half-an-hour. Stir regularly as it will catch, and if it looks like it’s struggling for liquid, add a cup-full of water – we did that with our last (2x) batch today. Add a couple of handfuls of dried fruit.
Put some clean jam jars in the oven at 100c to warm gently – this stuff gets lethal hot, and will crack a jam jar at bottling if you don’t!
Add more than half of the batch’s worth of vinegar, and boil for a further 5 minutes, whilst you…
Blend the cornflour and spices, with the remaining vinegar.
Mix to a slurry, and add with the sugar to the mixture in the pan.
Keep stirring and cook for a further 5 minutes or so.
If the lumps of veg are too chunky or hard, you could take the spud basher to it?!

We use the jam funnel and a ladle to get it into jars. The person in the house with the most ‘asbestos fingers’ get’s to screw the jars on tight. Then leave to cool, wash up and open the windows, if you haven’t already – your house will smell of vinegar for days otherwise!

We always wash down the jars of chutney with hot water when they’ve cooled as I’ve never yet managed to bottle it without getting sticky chutney everywhere. Label when the jars are dry, and store for at least 3 months before trying it – but it can keep for years, if your family and friends don’t get to it first.

To give credit where credit is due, this recipe came from our friends Charlotte and Iain from our Bracknell days, and I can’t remember we where they got it from.

Roasted tomato and garlic sauce

Autumn has arrived, so we finally stripped out the tomatoes from the greenhouse this morning, which left us the rest of the day to process the goods. First up, was our take on a favourite Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall veg recipe with the ripe ones. I think you can jar this, be we don’t – we freeze it in small (3 ladle) amounts, and pop it in stews or use as a soup base during the winter. This is probably the 4th batch of this stuff we’ve made this year – the tomato crop has been immense.

Don’t ask me about quantities, not a clue! But we had enough ripe ones to cover more than 1 of our roasting dishes, so I spread them out across two – the bigger tomatoes are cut in half, and laid out face down. Then I split a whole bulb of garlic across the two dishes – crushed – then drizzled a reasonable quantity of olive oil over the lot. I think the classic HFW recipe involves herbs too, but I’ve never bothered.

I popped them in a hot oven 180c for about a half hour, keeping an eye on them until the top of the tomatoes and some loose garlic bits are slightly crispy. Then comes the slightly faffy bit, where 2 pairs are hands are useful: carefully pour the mushy, liquidy gloop through as sieve placed over a large bowl. Having one person to hold the roasting dish, and one to slide the gloop is ideal.

What we do then is to use a short handled wooden spoon (or my husband prefers a potato masher with our flat-bottomed sieve) to push through as much of the roasted tomato as possible, breaking down the skins, centres and pips until you’ve just got a load of tough husky bits left. You may need to decant to a larger bowl, and you’ll definitely need to scrape the underside of the sieve because that goo is the best bit!

Washing up the sieve is the biggest pain of the whole exercise, but well worth it!

We leave the bowl with cling-film over it to go cold. Then the resulting bowl of flavour-filled gloop is frozen into small batches, and will be added to assorted stews just before the ‘thickening’ stage, all winter long.

Crab-apple Jelly and Apple Mint Jelly – produce from a bumper year!

2020 is proving a bonanza year for many fruiting trees – and a trip to the New Forest this week reinforced this news. There are hundreds of crab-apple trees just loaded to dripping point with crab apples – more than the Commoners livestock and deer will probably pick up. So, Dad and I helped by foraging a few for ourselves.

I was surprised when a couple of ladies picking blackberries (also still in good supply) asked where we going to make Crab Apple Jelly, how did we eat it, and what does it taste like. Obviously not all fellow foragers are crab-apple aware! So, for posterity, because I’m forgetful, and in case it helps anyone else, here’s what we do.

I’ve doubled up with some notes on making hot apple juice into Mint Jelly as an alternative additional ‘savoury’ jelly which is great with lamb!

Crab-apple jelly has been a staple throughout my life, in sandwiches, on toast, in the gravy of pot-roasted game, even with the Christmas meats as an alternative to red-currant. It’s sweet, and apple-y (obviously) and varies in colour and quantity depending on the apples, and the year. Some years, the apples are more juicy than others, and different strains of wild crab, or varieties of garden grown crabs, come in different flesh colours. So in our haul this week, we have wild crab apples, a few of a ‘domestic’ columnar crab apple (Malus) called “Laura” which is a deep plummy colour. Dad planted Laura in his garden 2 years ago, alongside an early crab (and heavy cropper) called “John Downie” that’s already been jammed!

Dad and I are rather imprecise, perhaps lazy, cooks. So standard practice is not to cut up the crabs – the skins split quite happily on their own once the water is boiling. However, the “Laura” are a chunky fruit for a crab, with such amazing flesh colour which will deepen the colour of the jelly, that I have halved them to help their colour permeate the pulp produced. You’re meant to bring it to the boil gently… but I’ve not really got time for that sort of faff either!

Thinking about it, washing them and taking the stalks off is probably also approved of in polite circles, but since these were (largely) hand-picked, and that also adds time to a lengthy process, I, er, don’t normally. We also tend to take the spud-basher to them once they start to soften, ‘to help the pulping process along’ you understand.

When Dad makes crab-apple jelly, he using completes this stage in the evening, and leaves it overnight, so that the actual jelly making happens in the morning after the mush has had plenty of time to drain through. I got back from his place too late last night for that, so this is being left to drain until early evening, when there is a second pair of hands to help un-string and catch the muslins without dunking them in the juice! The drained pulp gets composted.

It’s worth noting that to this point, the process is exactly the same when making Mint Jelly, at least to the point of bringing the apple juice back to the boil. However when we did this earlier in the summer (10th August) we used various bought and scavenged cooking apples.

The main bit of measuring comes next, as the sum goes: 1pint of juice to 1lb of sugar (because I’m old fashioned in my measuring), slowly adding the sugar to the juice as you gently warm it up on the stove again. Tonight I had 5.5pints of juice. You can’t rush this bit – if you try you end up with burnt sugar on the bottom of the pan, and a nasty mess.

Sometimes, like this time, you end up with considerable scum on the top – more so than with blackcurrant or similar jam. Tonight, there was perhaps more scum than normal, as there was a slight handling error getting the pulp into the compost. But we don’t waste it! It will taste delicious even if it looks a bit grim.

Tonight, I got set after 10 minutes at the first try of the ‘cold plate in the freezer’ trick! In fact I suspect it was setting before it came to rolling boil but I wanted to make sure I got as much scum up and off as I could to get a good clear jelly. I suspect I could have got away with giving the apples a little more water with the apples right back at the beginning this morning, but it made things quicker tonight, so I’m not complaining. (Not enough) jars had been pre-warmed at 100c in the oven whilst it was boiling. Lids are screwed tight immediately, and a while later they should ‘pop’ loudly as they cool.

Back in the summer with the Mint Jelly, we simply stripped all the leaves from our mint plant, chopped them as finely as we could, and added them to the (much paler) jelly juice, once we knew we’d reached setting point.

If read all this, well done! We hope it is helpful. Enjoy making the most of whatever apple crop you’ve got, foraged, or otherwise!