On hold

I have been meaning to make elderberry syrup for three weeks now. Mrs Beeston raves about it. Mr Winter has been tempting me with tales of his bottling exploits. Even Mrs East keeps asking whether I’ve got round to it yet. Three weeks on, the answer is still No. But at least the berries are no longer on the tree.

Instead, last Thursday, I made five minutes to run out and cut a basketful of the drooping clusters. All day, while I was waiting for the kettle to boil or for a reply to an email, I ran a fork through the tiny branches, knocking the berries into a tub, before sticking it in the freezer. They, like so much else right now, are officially On Hold.

These past couple of weeks, everything that can be shoved in the freezer has been. Pears? Freeze them. Tomatoes? Freeze them. A box of softening purple plums? Fr – ooh, actually, lets stew those with brown sugar and cinnamon and have them on our porridge. And everything that can be dried, has been. The airer on the landing, that sifter of warm upward drafts, is currently hung with mint and hydrangeas. The garden is collapsing, and I am catching what I can.

The thing about putting things on hold is that it doesn’t make them any less important. I still want to use that bag  of avocado pits for an weekend dye session; its just that I have neither the time nor the fleece just now. When I’m pickling cucumbers (eight kilos and counting) I can’t deal with the marrows, too. And while I’d like to claim that it’s just the rush of September that knocks me off my feet, the truth is that things are put on hold all the time, in this house. I left half the elderflowers on the tree in May because I was tired of preserving them. On hold, they turned into the berries I picked last week.

The trick is to know what’ll keep, and what won’t. Some things get better, given time. French beans are maturing into dried haricots – and next year’s seed. Cooking apples just keep getting sweeter. But those gladioli won’t keep coming forever, and there’s a limit to the number of days I’ll have cosmos by my desk. There’s already an empty seat at the after-school teatime table. Neither I nor all the science in the world can freeze these fleeting years.

One day – a foggy, November day, perhaps – I’ll pull those berries from the freezer. Knowing Ilse, she’ll be with me to stir our witchy brew. Another day, perhaps when everyone else is out at dance or Scouts or just visiting their friends, Fliss will help me draw and dye and fix that elusive pink from the avocado stones. Only last week, Seb spent a happy afternoon turning frozen black bananas into a raisin-studded loaf. Ben’s stashed a bag of sloes against a home-for-the-holidays gin session. And, thanks to John, that fruit will slowly become next winter’s crumbles and puddings and pies.

It’s not a case of putting things off. I’m just saving them for the right moment. When they can be a focus, and not a distraction. A pleasure, and not a chore. And a welcome reminder of all this rush in the still and frozen days to come.

Madeleine

And you? What are you putting on hold?

6 thoughts on “On hold”

  1. Your post made me smile because I’ve also been trying to get round to making elderberry syrup for several weeks but haven’t quite managed to find the time or energy. There are elderberries stashed in my freezer too! I’m glad that I found your blog again as I very much enjoy your writing… sorry, I don’t often comment though.

  2. I love elderflower cordial but I can’t stand elderberries in any way. The smell of cooking elderberries is one of the most unpleasant kitchen smells for me personally, it is a reminder of one to many liquid fasting diets of my teenage years I guess. Your garden sounds productive even now at the end of September. Beautiful gladioli. I wonder if they are easy to grow? I just bought a bunch to brighten our house up with the last dregs of summer. Saving things up for the right time is a something I love doing – it is good to have something to look forward too, and to waken up memories of moments past. Have a good week. x

    1. I know what you mean – elderberries do have a peculiar smell. I don’t know whether I’ll like the syrup, but I’m going to give it a go as everyone raves about it for fending off colds.
      Gladioli are really easy to grow – you just plant the corms in spring and up they come. Then you dig up the corms in autumn and store them somewhere frost free over the winter. So not no-effort, but certainly low-effort, and the flowers are definitely worth it. X

  3. I missed the elderberries this year but just made a batch of cordial from frozen flower beads… a little taste of summer back in our lives.
    I’ve got so much on hold I’ve bewn referred to as a starter non finisher. My singer table to be stripped and revarnished, countless knits, cracks to be filled and painted, kombucha and fermented ginger beer to be bottled (that’s slightly more pressing). Not enough hours in the day.

    1. The ginger beer and kombucha sound wonderful – I’ve never made either. I’m on a mission to get Fliss’ Snow Day finished by tomorrow evening (it’s a straightforward knit in Aran weight wool so fairly fast) so I can publish the pattern. Then I’m going to pick up my green Lionberry shawl again, not least because it has suddenly got really cold here. I hope you enjoy picking up your knitting again. Let me know how you get on!

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