There’s a smell – or perhaps more mellifluously a perfume – for each season, and often it’s the perfume that gets you into the one that’s coming without your becoming aware of it. Suddenly the kitchen is full of glugging and bubbling ferments, you’re scratching around on the top shelves looking for preserving jars and that packet of rubber seals you were sure you bought last year, or was it the year before that? Dill, garlic, basil above all, and the apple smell of the sourdough starter fill the air and the feeling of hunkering down becomes dominant. Six weeks after the solstice it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that the evenings are drawing in. Apart from weeding there’s not a lot to do on the allotment other than bringing home the vegetables but it’s still too hot to embark on the civil engineering projects that you’ve got lined up for the autumn and winter. After a prolonged dry period it’s raining on and off here and so the urgent need to water has gone.
I’m always astonished at the capacity of ferments to survive. The kefir which we secreted at the coldest part of the fridge months ago came out yesterday smelling as fresh as it went in. A quick swill under the tap to wash off the painfully sharp ferment from the grains and then some fresh milk and within hours it had warmed up and thickened as if it was last topped up yesterday. The sourdough starter needs a bit more attention but provided it’s fed weekly it will wait patiently until the urge to make bread overtakes me tonight and I start a new batter. The second batch of half sours is awaiting a clean jar and perhaps some fresh dill and a touch more sugar, but they’re crisp and still taste of gherkin. Madame is mass producing pesto for the winter and rolling it into long sausages which, after a couple of hours in the freezer, can be sliced into portions and returned to the freezer for later. Real instant food.
The Potwell Inn allotment is capable of throwing up all sorts of surprises, and this season the tender fruits and vegetables have done better outside than they did in the greenhouse. The exception is the habanero chillies which really do need the heat, but the other chillies, the basil and the aubergines have all done better outside. After decades of loathing I’ve finally made peace with ratatouille (as long as Madame cooks it) just in time for the usual surplus of courgettes. In France, or at least in the South East which we know better, the whole of August seems to be occupied by fêtes but here the rhythms of sowing, harvesting and feasting seem to have very largely disappeared, choked out by the vacuous plenty of ‘food as entertainment’ and flowing into the eutrophic ponds of our impoverished lives.
Today a new garden tool arrived in the post. I’ve wanted a hori hori – a narrow Japanese combination of trowel and knife – for ages, but it’s been a struggle to find one that wasn’t a foot long and looking like a lethal weapon of some sort. This one looks innocuous enough to carry in my bag without attracting attention to itself. It’s really for digging bits of root, dandelion, burdock, horseradish – nothing rare – without digging out the whole plant. It was only a fraction of the price of some of the loftier artisanal products that boasted carbon or stainless steel forged blades and leather holsters, but I thought I could test the principle before lashing out on one to impress the neighbours.
I absolutely love the changing seasons apart from a couple of weeks between September and October when the declining daylight and the empty ground combine to make me feel listless and sad. All my charges have been harvested and I get a bit rootless, but it’s never long, then, until my birthday and after that the sun rises a little earlier each day until the winter solstice.