It’s that time of the year when harsh decisions need to be made.

Two of the oversized aubergines waiting for us when we came back from St David’s. I thought they looked like one of those mid 20th century paintings of four herrings on a plate

Like most/all allotmenteers we, at the Potwell Inn, produce far more than we can eat; after all who likes courgettes that much? and this is the time of year when the crops start to come in fast. Also – in common with almost all our compatriot gardeners we hate throwing the stuff we can’t eat away, and so we give some away (although offers of courgettes seem remarkably unattractive), or we shove it in the freezer in the hope that one day we’ll be able think of some way to eat it. Naturally the embarrassing surplus disappears from sight for about 9 months until now, because this is the exact season when the cunning plan hits the wall. The freezer(s) are stuffed, we’ve got soft fruit flying off the plants and we urgently need more space.

It’s a week since we drove back from our very windy and grey break in St David’s and I haven’t posted because we’ve been so busy on the allotment. The bindweed is winning, the polytunnel plants needed urgent pruning and feeding, and there was no alternative but to get the damsons, raspberries, red and white currants, soups and stocks out of the freezer and do some serious jam and jelly making; fortified by some anonymous bags of soup for lunches. As for the soups, (we thought), they wouldn’t have been in the freezer at all if they’d been any good.

And so we’ve now run out of honey jars but we have another box of jams to add to the already creaking shelves, and worse still we’re hardly eating them because we’re both trying to lose weight. However Madame made summer pudding for the grandchildren today and some of our produce will go to the family at Christmas. Just imagine us as a kind of dacha. The three year old aubergines in olive oil still seem to be OK and the dill pickled cucumbers have failed to explode in the cupboard. Pickles, sauces, ketchups, jams, preserves and chutneys mature in any case and taste better after a year or two regardless of what the food hygiene purists may say. Then of course there’s sloe gin and damson vodka and …… I could go on but there are still jobs to be done in the kitchen.

That’s the thing; if you’re a keen allotmenteer you absolutely need to be a keen, or at least competent cook as well and you’ll be paid for your time and effort by the freshest tasting food you’ve ever eaten, but only if you clear out the frosted remains of fish pie or bean casserole before the last of their flavour disappears and it goes into the bin; which probably it should have done in the first place.

However, today we had a revelatory moment with one of the unlabeled soups in the fridge. The story (not the soup) goes back decades to the time when our middle son started his career as a commis chef with Stephen Markwick at Markwick’s in Corn Street in the centre of Bristol. The restaurant was in a basement, so there was no peeping through the window and, I’m bound to say it was expensive beyond the reach of our precarious finances. We ate there just once when someone took us and the food was unbelievably good. Our son moved on after a tough apprenticeship (Stephen could be very demanding) and then Markwicks closed down and he and Judy opened a small bistro called Culinaria in Redland where we sometimes went for a treat.

There was never any issue about starters for me. The Provencal fish soup was always awesome and it was almost always on, by popular demand. Then Stephen published two books – “A very honest cook” and “A well run kitchen” containing many of his most popular recipes including the soup. For years I looked occasionally at the recipe but lacked the nerve to cook it – there were a number of elements to the dish and Stephen, I knew, paid minute attention to detail. Anyway, last year our grandson wanted a lobster for his birthday – his dad after all is a chef! – and I decided to have a go at the soup with the remains, in spite of the fact I knew I would never be able to replicate it. So I sweated it out in the kitchen and made the soup, the aioli and the rouille and ……. well ……..

It was a bit of a disappointment. How could it not be? It wasn’t at all how I remembered it and I felt I’d let the side down. We ate it dutifully but it felt like a failure and so the leftovers went into the freezer unlabelled and came out today. Is resurrection too strong a word? As soon as I sipped the first drop I realized that the disappointment had come from trying to cook a lovely memory and what I was eating was a real soup that was not a clone of the remembered one but its own new thing, made by me. Oh glory it was good! My resolve is complete and I’ll do it again with gratitude in my heart for Stephen’s amazing cooking.

Anyway that’s enough soup, and apart from the kitchen and the allotment we found time to actually meet up with my sister after years of just phone calls. We had become distant for no particular reason but then when our mother was suffering from dementia we would visit her together so we could support one another – it was very emotionally draining. Then it was just blah blah and lockdowns and we drifted again. Seeing one another was wonderful and we ate joyfully in Bristol. I also got confirmation of a couple of difficult fern i/d’s from Wales which was great, and we bought a little 18V battery powered water pump to relieve some of the pressure of repeatedly carrying two at a time ten litre cans of water weighing 42 lbs in total from the cattle troughs to the plot. Oh and we managed to work in a visit to the Victoria Art Gallery to see an exhibition of quilts by Kaffe Fassett. Whoever said retirement was a well-earned rest??

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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