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??