I watched them grow, and most mornings for at least a month, I tried eating them green. One evening when the apricots had developed a faint yellowy hue, there were four of us circling beneath the tree looking for something edible. Then I went to Huelva on a work trip, and by the time I got back – just four days later – most of the apricots had ripened, fallen and rotted. I took a massive tub of them across the field to the donkeys in a wheelbarrow, and collected about twenty kilos more to cook. I didn’t, so the next night took them in a wheelbarrow to the donkeys as well. The donkeys looked fine, appreciative, which was a relief. I’d been concerned that with all the fermenting fruit they might have blown up, or got drunk, or that I’d have to roll them over and lance them, like Gabriel Oak did with sheep in Far From the Madding Crowd, but they were their usual belligerent selves, and, actually, keen for more.
I’m not sure how many kilos they got through over the four days the fruit continued to fall. Eventually, with bad grace, I made chutney. This involved dragging dry branches to the ‘summer kitchen’ and breaking them to feed the fire, and the fire irritated the nesting wasps, two of which shot up my shirt and stung me while I stirred the noxious mix. It was meant to be a Martha Stewart recipe. I love Martha who used to appear on US TV showing people how to fold napkins and, by all accounts, got on well with her wing mates in the county jail where she later did time for tax fraud. But anyway, what with the stings, the heat, the smoke, and the fact I was going out and still had to boil the jars, I did everything fast and wrong. I’ve got 6 large jars of vile-looking slop which should keep for a year when I’ll probably throw it out and re-use the jars . . . perhaps for apricot chutney. I guess this is what living off the land is all about.