I am very lucky, I have had a few passionate relationships in my life; I am not talking about my relationships with people but with concepts and ideas. When I was at school it was maths. I just loved problem solving and mathematics is the language of puzzles and I delighted in the logical black and white nature of it. I wanted to be a banker but by the time I was leaving school and making decision about college that passion had begun to fade and had been replaced by music.
The two are surprisingly interrelated on a number of levels but it was the possibility of creativity that really appealed which I now know has been a common thread in my life; I am definitely at my most content when being creative. I enjoyed working with musicians, I play a few instruments myself but it was the industry side of things that enabled me to make a living. It was not the most comfortable relationship, loving music and working for a record company are not mutually compatible but I did get to meet and spend time with a lot of very talented people even though my passion for music was certainly tainted by the experience.
My wife and I met nearly 30 years ago not long after I decided to change my life and move to this remote part of Ireland. That was a huge change of scene and I still wonder what really inspired me to make such a move. Looking back at it I don’t doubt it was a great decision but it was certainly a radical move that has worked out very well. I got in touch with the land and started an organic market garden supplying local restaurants, it got to a certain stage but I never really enjoyed the commercial side of things and I hadn’t the knowledge and experience to fully make it a passion.
My wife and I worked together making craft, Kate with her spinning and natural dyes and me using her wool and stitching. We ran a shop together and again I loved the creative side of things but spending hours in a shop selling our “babies” to strangers was unrewarding.
With the arrival of children we had to make a major rethink and I decided to turn my part time table tennis coaching into a living. I have always been involved in table tennis starting back when my dad coached me as a kid and I had started a local club as a way of trying to integrate into the local community. I made more formal arrangements and approached a number of schools and the coaching took off. 30 years on a lot of water has gone under that particular bridge and there have been many highlights, the passion for teaching and working with young people still remains but once again having to work in the “system” has made things harder of late and I am less motivated to face the constant battles with all the ineffectual bureaucracy you have to deal with.
So that has brought me to looking around again for something to inspire and motivate me and that brought me to the gates of the Cork College of Commerce and this horticultural course. Two weeks in and the passion certainly burns bright, I know it is a wave and won’t remain forever, my past experience tells me that but while the surf is good I am happy to ride this wave.
There is so much to this course with plant protection, identification, soil science, fruit and veg and propogation, there is a flood of new information and even a new language to learn and I am drinking at the fountain of knowledge and I hadn’t realised just how much of a thirst I had. This week we have been dealing with the Rosaceae family. Not just roses but strawberries, cherries, apples, geums, pontillas, rowan, alchemillas (Lady’s Mantle) and many more. I discovered a new fruit the Medlar, and learnt terms like drupes, pomes and achenes which are pseudocarps. I have met new people in the form of my fellow students and Lea who I have had work experience with and we even visited the Sky Garden at Lis Ard.
Unfortunately it has taken me away from my own garden projects but as autumn starts rattling the door handle and winter is rushing along behind it is a sacrifice worth making for this year and I am still getting to plant some seed in the polytunnels and expand the veg plot and there are a few jobs I can do in the kitchen.
I have mentioned a few things I have made over the last couple of weeks and I have been asked to post a couple of recipes, they are incredibly simple and I often use approximate weights depending on how much I get to pick but here goes.
Rosehip Syrup (made from those pseudocarps!)
2lb of Rose Hips (I use Rosa rugosa or some dog rose hips as I have them in the garden)
1lb Sugar (Brown is nicer)
Mash up hips (food processor or rolling pin)
Boil hips in 4 pint of water.
Let cool to warm temperature
Sieve pulp through Jelly Sieve, muslin or clean tea towel
Add more water (2 pints) and bring back to boil.
Strain liquid again
Add sugar and simmer of 5mins.
Put in to serialised bottles.
Pick berries, as many as you can
Remove the stems, they are toxic
Wash in cold water
For every quantity of berries use half of honey (I use raw honey, expensive but nicer)
You can use sugar is you are making it for cooking or honey as a medicine.
You can use a blender to mash berries.
Boil berries and mash
Simmer for 5mins
Put in sterile jars
Marrow and Ginger Jam
Pick Marrow and peel
You don’t need water, marrows come with their own!
Cube marrow, and simmer
Add some lemon (lime) juice, a couple of spoons
Simmer till marrow translucent
Simmer off excess liquid
Use same amount of sugar as marrow (You can use jam sugar as marrow doesn’t have pectin)
Add Ginger (about a 3cm piece will do, more if you like it stronger)
Add more lemon/lime juice
Boil until setting point (Put a little spoon of it on a plate, it should set in a couple of minutes when cool)
Put in sterile jars.
It gets stronger if you leave it a couple of months, ours gets eaten pretty quick.
1.5lb of berries
Make sure to take off the stems
Wash in cold water
Boil for an hour in 1.5 pints of water
Mash every 20mins
Sieve overnight in jelly bag or muslin
Do not squeeze bag if you want clear jelly/jam
For every pint of liquid add 1lb of sugar
Squeeze 1 lemon and add juice
Bring to boil and simmer till setting point
Put in sterile jars, ready to use straight away