You have to eat your peck of dirt

But not eating it won’t help you live longer

IMG_5937

It was my turn to prep the veg tonight.  We’d brought back a red cabbage, the last of the summer broccoli, carrots, beans – the usual suspects at this time of year – and they all went into the sink for a swill.  Generally we give the leaf veg a quick soak in salted water so any beasties float to the top – a couple of well fed slugs surfaced tonight. The carrots had got a mild attack of carrot fly and rather than reject them all I cut the iffy bits out – you probably know the score.  We cut any green bits off the potatoes but unless they’re green right through we eat the rest. Blackfly, whitefly, caterpillars we see them all and we try not to cook them, but if one or two slip through the net we don’t worry.  It’s an organic allotment and we don’t inundate our crops with chemicals, we just take the pests off. We don’t peel if we can help it and we don’t even scrub them with abrasive pads because ……

everybody needs to eat their *peck of dirt before they die –

Some are so fearful of dirt and bugs that I’ve even heard of people spraying lettuce with antibacterial spray but sadly the converse of the proverb isn’t true at all.  Not eating your peck of dirt might impoverish your immune system of challenges and make you less resistant to infections – I remember our GP saying years ago that we all washed far too much and then got skin problems. If the evidence of the Potwell Inn kitchen is anything to go by, we’re wading through an invisible soup of micro-organisms every day.  We use them to make bread and pickles and to preserve food for the winter. Our kefir helps to keep our gut healthy and it’s everywhere apparent that our immersion in the creatures with which we’ve evolved is, by and large an essential part of remaining well. I was reading this week that even the somewhat messy events of our birth can give our immune sytem a head start.

By way of a caveat I should say that there ae some micro-organisms that should be avoided.  My particular bitter experience has given me a useful aversion to campylobacter, which I’ve had three times – probably making me a candidate for the Darwin award. In every case I’d eaten processed chicken which I’d barbecued badly — that’s to say on the outside of the grill and in a strong wind. Yet another reason for thinking carefully about cheap meat! But a bit of ordinary dirt, or the occasional accidentally boiled caterpillar doesn’t pose an existential threat nearly as great as a kitchen full of chemicals and a careless chef.

And just to add an amusing postscript to my solemn pronouncements on sourdough loaves, I mentioned at the weekend that I’d started a loaf to cheer myself up after the theft of our coldframes. In my haste I forgot to put the usual 20% of soft plain flour into the mix, and so I was hoping that the resulting loaf would prove my theory that what’s needed is to lower the protein content of the flour a bit in order to get that sought-after open texture, and provide me with a ‘with’ and ‘without’ side by side photo so I could brag about my scientific method. However nature stepped in and I seem to have created two almost identical loaves. Ah well, I’m not as clever as I thought – as if I didn’t know that already!

*And if you were wondering, a peck is 1/4 bushel – but we all knew that didn’t we?  In American dry measure it’s 8 quarts, which is a lot to eat all at once so it’s probaby best to spread the load over a long healthy lifetime.

 

 

Equinox

I love these colours, they’re the colours of autumn for me. Every year the window boxes outside the flat seem to anticipate the change in the season by subtly changing colours. One by one the different species grow paler and drop out, leaving the geraniums as the last intense colour. The effect of this is to make it look as if we’ve done something incredibly clever, by designing the displays to anticipate the onset of autumn.  Nothing could be less true because it just seems to happen. When the last flowers drop off the geraniums the window boxes come down and are replaced with the spring bulbs which soon fill the windows with the sense of anticipation. We’ve always wanted to rotate three displays but planting out and maintaining six window boxes is more than we can afford so we make do with bare windows in the dead of winter. One day, perhaps, we’ll find six recyclable window boxes and achieve our year long plan.

Seasons are important and we’re so lucky to have them because they structure the year but more importantly they structure the imagination.  Sure, by the end of each season we’re liable to be thinking “I’ve had enough of this”  but we know that each period brings its own grace.  For me the long dark nights soon become a chore, but in just three months the days begin to lengthen again.  Round and round goes the clock and we are renewed.

Today we grabbed the forecast dry start to go up to the allotment and weed. It may be perverse but weeding is one of my very favourite jobs and since we broke all the ground up into beds it’s an absolute doddle because we can work from a dry woodchip path even in the rain. I remember a woman called Eileen who lived in one of my parishes.  She really needed a carer herself, but with a little support she was looking after her elderly mother and kept a beautiful garden which she would dig from end to end every year.  I’d often walk past and she would be out, even in the rain, with an old waterproof macintosh tied around her waist with baler twine, digging away until the job was done. I also took the funeral for a 104 year old who had moved in with his son at the age of 90 and dug the son’s garden saying it was a mess.  I should write more about these characters because they represented a hardy generation who never thought of themselves as exceptional, never used a latin name for a plant and could grow paving slab cuttings if you asked them.

The rain came soon enough but not before we’d harvested more vegetables for ourselves and released a pigeon that was captive in a neighbour’s net – it probably went straight back to eating everyone else’s cabbages. Pigeons seem especially to like Cavalo Nero which they can convert into an inverted umbrella frame in minutes.

It’s good to be back in the flat after our long travels around the country.  I’ve got a pile of reading to catch up with, most of it concerned with global heating and the ecological crisis, but the reading is going to be illuminated by what we discovered on the ground, talking to people – especially farmers – and observing fields, plants and insects in their different habitats. One thing is abundantly clear already,

 – we simply can’t go on as we have been.

It’s been another year on the allotment during which we finished nearly all the infrastructure, and which leaves us with huge gratitude for the productivity of the earth.  I’ve seen it suggested that allotments, (presumable well-run ones), can be ten times as productive as farmland. I’m always a bit suspicious of these attention grabbing figures, but it’s pretty obvious that when two of us focus our whole attention on to 250 square metres of land, the response is positive, and it’s worth reminding ourselves before we get too smug, that the depopulation of the countryside has been one driver of the growth in intensive farming, and another driver has been our insatiable desire for cheap food without regard to standards.

Perhaps we’re a bit quick to point the finger at all farmers when there are many who are concerned about the environment, and who do practice organic farming and are up to speed with no-till systems, sustainable mixed farming on a rotational basis and higher than basic welfare standards. Climbing on to the moral bandwagon and advocating universal vegetarianism or veganism could lead to more industrial food processing rather than less, and the destruction of more forest in order to grow more soya and grain. Allowing cattle to graze freely – especially in wooded pastures – puts the muck where it’s needed, and where it can be broken down quickly before it produces ammonia pollutants. If you’ve never tried raw milk straight from the cow, you’ve missed one of the great food treats.  I believe it is possible to run mixed dairy farms sustainably and without cruelty.  Whether or not to eat meat is an important moral decision and we must respect those who make a different choice from ourselves.

We don’t use any chemicals, but we use our own human urine all the time on the allotment – it’s perfectly safe diluted ten to one with water, it’s packed with bio-available nitrogen and it has no smell at all.  It’s storing it in huge silos and spraying the resultant slurry on the fields that creates much of the problem. So as far as the Potwell Inn is concerned  …..

  • Are we prepared to radically reduce our consumption of meat?- YES
  • Are we prepared to put up with a smaller range of fresher locally grown vegetables? – YES
  • Would we be prepared to pay more for better outcomes in farming? – YES

The answer will likely need some complex unravelling of an entrenched farming culture, and some hand-to-hand combat with powerful vested interests who will use their considerable political and media power to convince us that it’s all hopeless idealism and only new and more powerful ‘green’ technology and targeted chemicals will bring the promised land closer. The most powerful tool at our disposal would be the subsidy system which needs to be re-focused towards payment solely for ‘public goods’.  Subsidising farmers to cover good pasture land with crop trees isn’t the way forward, but creating wooded pasture or planting the right kind of trees on marginal land that can only produce a crop with heavy inputs of chemicals might well be. We’re bound to see alarmist headlines claiming that we’re all going to starve, but local authorities could be empowered or even instructed to provide much more land for allotments rather than allowing developers to build a few unaffordable homes while they bank good greenbelt land in order to keep houseprices prices up.  I’m not going to get into some of my wilder ideas – I write this merely to show that there may be better ways of achieving what we universally claim we want – healthy food, a healthy environment and an end to pollution and extinctions.

Autumn is the time for new beginnings and new plans – I love it, let’s do it!

 

When in doubt – cook!

Well it took a bit of time to get going, but we spent the day with our family – sons, partners and grandchildren to celebrate a seventh birthday with Sunday lunch, birthday cake and presents; junior membership of the RSPB, inexpensive binoculars, a microscope; you get the picture – no pressure whatever.  Our son (not the proud dad one), who’s a bit of a prankster in these matters, had to be persuaded to drop the idea of a (pregnant) rabbit or a mixed pair of African snails, but there’s always another year!  No one ever quite captures the quiet joy of getting along together or the dubious pleasures of  “here comes the farmer” accompanied by screams of pleasure and “again Grandad”. Families don’t always work, and ours has had its share of ups and downs, but when fair family weather comes along it’s worth celebrating.

Home again in the relative silence of the flat, I weighed out the tomatoes we picked yesterday ready for another big batch – probably 10 litres of what we call “Hazan number one” – a sauce so good you could eat it without the pasta. Just now that might be a relief because we’ve had pasta for supper three nights on the trot, testing out freezable recipes for rainy days. I’d love to increase our repertoire to a dozen sauces because they can be used to beef up vegetarian recipes without the beef.  Pru Leith does an excellent vegetable stock in her “Vegetable Bible”, and I’m slowly being convinced that the move towards eating less meat doesn’t in any way mean sacrificing rich flavours.

Then, the nuclear option for cheering myself up – I started a sourdough loaf that will be ready to bake in just over 24 hours. The sight and smell of a newly baked loaf is one of the most cheering sights in the world – simple but life enhancing. If they knew how good this feels they’d tax it or make it illegal.

Do feel free to pass on the message!

 

Back home we were left counting sheep

IMG_5143

I don’t think we’ve ever had a nicer drive back from Lleyn than yesterday.  The full sun gave the mountains an extra degree of grandeur, and some we’d only guessed the names of previously made themselves known at last by their crystal clear outlines. A couple of days ago I wrote about the way local people sometimes refer to the land beyond Porthmadog as ‘the mainland’ and yesterday it was easy to see why.  The whole horizon to the east, the north and the south was taken up by mountains, and the only way into mid Wales was either over them or around the coastal edges, and that made it clear why there are so many tiny abandoned coves and ports around the coast – the sea was the only viable way of moving goods in and out of the area. Out went the spoils of quarrying and mining and in came anything that coudn’t be grown or produced locally.

I also had am interesting conversation with the man who delivered bottled gas to the cottage as we left. I had totally forgotten that like most people on Lleyn his first language was Welsh, and so as we were chatting I asked him how the farmers were doing and what the crops had been like this year.  I could sense a pause in the conversation and I assumed it must have been because he didn’t have an ear for my speech, but fully a minute later he answered my question completely – it had been a good year all round for grain, straw and hay.  The awkwardness had come as we talked about nothing in particular while he translated my English question into Welsh and his answer back into English. Later in the day I read in the newspaper that Welsh speaking patients in hospitals are greatly inconvenienced and even endangered when the doctors only communicate in English.

I also noticed the Welsh slogan Cofiwch Dryweryn (remember Tryweryn – a village flooded to build a dam) painted on walls in a couple of places  – one at the end of the lane leading down to the cottage. RS Thomas would have approved, but I was surprised to see the old slogan being wheeled out again in support of the justifiable feeling of being left behind. The language is making slow progress, but the whole culture is under economic attack as never before.

Back home in six hours including a couple of breaks (it’s 240 miles across three mountain ranges)  we unpacked, filled the washing machine and went straight up to the allotment where we discovered that our two toughened glass cloches had been dismantled and stolen while we were away. No-one seemed to know anything, but whoever stole them must have been there for at least 3 or 4 hours because it took me twice that time to assemble them.  They cost us £250 and they were an integral part of our plant raising in the spring, but we can’t afford to replace them. Needless to say we were upset at this invasion of our quiet lives and neither of us slept well, but entertaining thoughts of bloody revenge is a great waste of energy and desperately bad for the soul. I can’t think of a single religious philosophy that doesn’t see thieving as as destructive of the thief as it is distressing for the victim. We’ve had stuff stolen before  – it’s a fact of life on allotments – and it would be nice to think that fellow allotmenteers would refuse to buy our cloches as a knockdown price unless their provenance could be proved, but it always takes two to tango and without honest upstanding customers prepared to look the other way, thieves would be out of business in a week.

At the end of a sleepless night, by which time it was almost dawn, we decided that the empty foundations could be extended upwards to make a new and much larger hotbed – another job for the early winter. It’s a fabulous source of re-energised soil for the rest of the plot, and it grows crops even earlier than coldframes with the bonus that stealing two tons of hot horse crap is much harder than unscrewing aluminium bolts.

We have two other categories of allotment nuisance in addition to outright thieves. There are the browsers who wander around indiscriminately plucking a strawberry here or an apple there.  Then there are the grazers who will take a vine load of grapes, or a tree load of figs – we know who you are Mr Jaguar driver! One of our jobs this winter is to remove the vulnerable vine which is massively productive of inferior grapes, and replace it with something else a bit more useful to us.

But notwithstanding the upset, we carried home another twenty pounds of ripened tomatoes for preserving, with at least as many again left.  The wisdom of growing the more expensive but blight resistant F1 hybrids has been demonstrated for a third successive season.

Dealing constructively with loss is a fact of life for gardeners and allotmenteers, but I first learned the lesson when I was making pots.  If I say I like watercolour painting, rapid drawing, and making raku and saltglaze, you’ll see that I’m completely energised by the risk and uncertainty of these media.  There’s no second chance and no going back. The first time I realized I was going to have to learn a new life-skill was one day at art school when I opened a saltglaze kiln containing two months work which I had overfired so much that the entire contents were fused together and had to be removed with a sledgehammer. It took a couple of days to get my head around it but I got there. It’s a skill I’ve had to use a lot.

 

Farewell Mynydd Rhiw

IMG_6147

First off, why do I use the difficult Welsh names for places? Because that’s what they’re called and everybody speaks Welsh up here. Secondly, Welsh is a completely phonetic language as I learned many years ago trying to catch buses up and down the South Wales valleys running writers groups. Learning the basics of pronunciation made catching buses easier and me seem less of an amusing floor show! So how do you pronounce Mynydd Rhiw? Try Munith (with the u as in pun rather than mule) and then rheeoo – like the sound of a buzzard but lower. so

Couldn’t resist a last stroll up Mynydd Rhiw for this year.  It’s been such a beautiful spell of warm weather and the flowering gorse and heather had brought out a few late butterflies not to mention all the other insects.  As we left the road we watched a kestrel hovering over the fields below us.  For many years I’d only ever seen kestrel from a distance or from below, sillhouetted aganst the sky. The key identifying feature came to be its unique fluttering style of hovering – head down, maybe thirty feet above its prey. Then in Cornwall last year we saw one very close up on a cliff path and saw for the first time its stunning chestnut colour – so surprising that I had to go and double check that it was, in fact, a kestrel and not some other bird of prey. Today we were able to watch for some minutes from above and again, in the bright sunshine, the chestnut colour glowed once more. The kestrel never looked more beautiful than it did today. As for buzzards, they’ve become so common these days that seeing three flying together on the other side of the hill seemed unexceptional.

With the hills taking on their autumn colours, we looked across and could see Snowdon more clearly than we’ve ever seen it before.  The last time we were here in April it was still capped with snow but today the great rills below the summit ridge stood out in the hard light. My camera, missing a UV filter hardly managed to capture the scene, but I suspect this would have been one of the rare days when, from the summit, you could see both Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea._1080865

As befits this day of protest about climate change, we could see an oil platform out at sea and as we arrived at the trig point we found one of those enormous pickup trucks at the top with its occupants and their dog eating a picnic and taking in the view, having presumably driven up the access track to the radar and communications mast. It’s full of paradox, this place, with the peace regularly shattered by military jets flying low overhead. RS Thomas, who fought so hard with the Keating sisters, against nuclear power stations and the industrial development of campsites on the coast, lived just below here and I can just imagine that he – as an inveterate walker and birdwatcher – must have shaken his fist at more than a few of them.

I imagine too that local beekeepers must take advantage of the heather to produce its distinctive honey – so thick and gel-like that it’s almost impossible to extract in a spinner, but makes superb comb honey: however we saw no hives today on our walk.

Several of the local farms have bought into government schemes that subsidise environmental outcomes rather than being paid by acreage or subsidised crops. This scheme is scheduled in Wales to replace all farm subsidies in a couple of years but in these uncertain times it’s not clear what’s going to happen.  Instinctively I’ve always felt most sympathy for the small farmers, and there’s no doubt that many of them will go out of business without subsidies.  But the real subsidy junkies are on the other side of the country.  The system is so rigged that the biggest and wealthiest landowners collect the vast majority of the cash, but if you’ve read Isabella Tree’s book “Wilding: the return of nature to a British farm” you’ll know that intensive extractive agriculture can hardly survive with subsidy let alone without it. Dieter Helm’s book “Green and prosperous Land” explores the unintended consequences of subsidy for the environment and is well worth a read.

But too much reflection can turn a walk into a lament and today, ‘though it may well be the last but one day before the tail end of an expired hurricane rattles through, is all the more beautiful for its fugitive nature. Autumn has its own rewards and I can’t wait to get back to the allotment to carry on with some winter projects.

On our way down the track I stopped to photograph this Soft Puffball – Lycoperdon umbrinium. There were three or four lying on the ground having been uprooted or kicked aside by some mycophobic walker – I had to type that last word twice, Freudian slip!

_1080874

 

Will this be the turning point?

P1080800

I want to write something about this day of action against the climate disaster, but more than anything I want to approach it from a positive point of view.  It’s oh so tempting to reach for the standard ‘end of everything‘ metaphors like Arnold’s “melancholy , soft, withdrawing roar”, and tides certainly come into it – the rising sea levels that can make tides lethal; the storm surges to which the UK is no stranger already. We have a battle on our hands if we’re going to avoid being the last generation to know our wildflowers beyond pictures; the last generation before the extinctions begin, the last generation who – like the Easter Islanders – disappear without trace.

Let’s be clear, the earth can get along very well (probably better) without us.  The natural world doesn’t exist for our benefit – either as raw material or cultural asset. The best we can aspire to is to live in harmony with it as good house guests, clearing up after ourselves and not stealing the silver.

The rewards of living peaceably are less tangible than the latest lump of plastic, and the plastic is always going to be easier to sell because you can’t sell peace at all. It’s pointless trying to tell the owner of the 5L diesel pickup who’s just blocked the entrance that they’re ‘not really happy’, because they never felt happier than the day they picked up the £40,000 lump of sparkling junk from the dealer – never happier until the next must-have object came along. The rewards of living peaceably are free but not cheap.  Allotments, farms, gardens and relationships need a lot of time and commitment. There’s a lot of make-do-and-mend about it, a lot of stepping back, not taking the last biscuit, a lot of celebrating the gifts of others, a lot of learning, a lot of unexpected joy.

Our politics is broken, our culture is broken, our education, social services and health services are broken too but out of crisis comes the opportunity.  Our enemies see it as an opportunity as well, chaos is good for business and there’s nothing healthier than shortages for making a quick profit. Today is an opportunity for peaceable people all over the world to sieze the initiative. The word crisis derives from the Greek ‘crino’ –  to choose. When we come to a fork in the footpath we have to choose which direction to take and today we’re standing at the fork, and the signpost suggests that one path simply leads to more of the same.  The other path might look scary but it’s the way home.

What we’re looking for is hope. Hope for the environment, hope for the climate, hope for our children and their children, hope for rewarding and productive work, hope for the sense of belonging to something worth believing in.

We will not kneel at the feet of the economy or kiss the hand of the powerful but we will share in the cause of the millions who want nothing but to live peaceably and to flourish.

It’s the Potwell Inn manifesto

Postcript

IMG_6142We had the most fabulous sunset this evening.  The cottage looks westwards and so sunsets are always good, but tonight as the sun sank in the in a clear blue sky, the sea remained brighter than the sky or the land even until the last vestiges of slate blue had disappeared.  It was a bright silver band full of luminescence as if it were shining from its own depths. We waited to see if this was to be our chance to see the green ray that’s reputed to happen after exceptional sunsets. It didn’t matter at all really – as my grandmother would say – “enough is a feast”.

The last days of summer (again)

_1080855

Ten days ago (or a hundred years as it seems) we were shivering in the wind and rain in the western fells and lamenting the onset of autumn, but it seems the weather had different ideas and so here we are – still a little less north and just as west – enjoying what may turn out to be the last few days of the oddest season I can remember.  Since the beginning of the year the seasons have switched on and off, occasionally in the wrong order, and kept us allotmenteers guessing. The settled order of the seasons has been torn up by climate change which leaves us wondering how bad this could get. The answer of course is – even worse than this. It’s hard when we’re offered these balmy days both very early and very late in the season not simply to embrace them and be thankful, but the inexorable warming isn’t just providing us with a few extra sunbathing days, it’s melting the ice cap, melting glaciers and raising the sea level whilst heating the sea and generating huge destructive storms. I’ve only been in the path of an oncoming tide once, when a spring tide corresponded with a big melt of snow and a strong wind blowing the surge up the river Avon in Bristol. We were living right next to the river and as the water topped the walls it came across the road towards our house making a sound I’ll never forget. We didn’t get much sleep that night until the tide turned and took the flood away.

_1080856But today the farmers were out baling the straw, and with a couple of days left before the rain returns, they’ll be ready for the winter. The last peaks of the Snowdon range that form a natural boundary to the Lleyn peninsula were standing clear in the blue skies. We walked along the clifftop and below us an abundance of birds were sunning themselves on the rocks – it’s a little paradise here when the wind drops and the sun shines.  Much of the time it can be pretty rough. Near to where we’re staying there are a number of coves you can climb down to, all empty of humans apart from us.

Any spare tme I’ve had this week has been spent clearing gigabytes of junk off my long-suffering laptop  which is ten years old now and I need to keep it going as long as I can. I hate the tedium of messing about with computers but, on the other hand, I completely rely on everything functioning seamlessly in order to be able to concentrate on writing – so routine maintenance is a necessary evil. But art will out, and aside from a few photos of the view I grabbed a closeup of the dried remains of a wild carrot which must have provided the model for an old style lobster creel – I’ll add it to the list of drawings I’ll attempt in the long winter evenings.

The long view

IMG_6118

The word of god turned out to be not

today thank you

An early morning walk on the beach this morning became something of a meditation on melancholy, impermanence and fragility. Apart from the plashing of the incoming waves, the crunch of pebbles underfoot and a few end-of-season walkers celebrating the unexpectedly fine weather, the beach was quiet and being rapidly erased by the tide .  As we came to the top of the steps a group of women, three generations of Welsh speakers came towards us speaking quietly like a happy hive of bees as they cooed over a baby in a pushchair. Welsh is still the first language in this part of the country and local people sometimes speak of the places beyond Porthmadog as ‘the mainland’. Every village here has a tall, grey and hard-faced buildng with words like ‘Morab’ and ‘Ebenezer` carved above the door.  The churches are mostly closed down, the subscription books stored in dusty archives as the subscribers turn to dust in the churchyards outside.  “No one comes to the brittle miracle of the bread”  On Sunday I did spot a preacher in his best suit, bible under his arm and with the look of a man who had something to say. I wanted to pull over and ask him what it was that pleased him so, and depending on his answer I might have stood at the back of the chapel where the uncommitted stand, and heard him out, but I couldn’t bear the thought of being disappointed again.

Why does it slip through my fingers all the time? The meaning? – and so when I’m in this way I’m filled with questions whose answers are always just a sentence away but out of reach. On the way home we spotted a buzzard on a telegraph pole and he must have caught my question because the answer came back quite clearly –

For once it’s not about you!

Clanger Pudding again

IMG_6117This is a family story, passed down to me and I’ve no means of verifying it, but it came to me from my mother who had inherited my grandfather’s habit of inventing names for dishes.  As children, if we asked what was for pudding and she said it was ‘Asquith’ my sister and I would groan  – “not rice pudding again!”

My grandfather and his three sons (my uncles) were all carpenters and builders and spent a good deal of time working away from home.  They had apparently invented a dish called ‘clanger pudding’ which comprised anything – literally anything – that could be warmed up in a pan and dumped on a plate.

Any half experienced allotmenteer will know that clanger pudding feeling, because crops don’t ever ripen in recipe order.  Gluts and failures invariably stand in the way of the fantasy that you can wander down to the garden and come back with a trug full of the exact vegetables needed for the recipe you had in mind. Pickling, preserving, freezing and bottling can take up some of the slack but at the Potwell Inn we have very limited space and there are only two of us so we are regularly invaded by masses of courgettes and – this week – broccoli.

When we packed up and drove to Lleyn on Wednesday the back seat of the car resembled a greengrocer’s market stall. We had harvested anything that was ripe on the allotment and brought it up full of good intentions to explore new vegetarian dishes while we were here. The first darkening on the horizon came when we discovered that many of the runner beans were a bit past it – well a bit kevlar to be honest and on the edge of becoming basket weaving material. Then there was the courgette that had become a marrow, a squash big enough for six and pounds of summer broccoli some of it on the brink of flowering. Cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, beetroot, peppers, aubergine, chillies, herbs in abundance – did we think we were going to spend 24 hours a day cooking and eating?

And there’s the allotmenteer’s torment.  It’s hard work growing things and so we don’t like to waste them. Naturally the colour supplement gurus have this under control by planting single seeds at 4 day intervals thereby offering a perfect succession. In the real world we have better things to do than a one mile round trip to sow a seed, so as the week progresses we feel more and more guilty and the smell of the broccoli in the veg compartment begins to spread through the cottage every time we open the fridge. We’ve had one or two successes on the veggie front, but it requires a good deal of ingenuity and we’re noticing a certain sameness about many of the recipes.  The temptation to add intense umami flavours to everything can make the vegetables – which should be the stars of the show – into mere carriers of the flavours.

Today was a C+ effort using the tomatoes we’d brought to make panzanella.  I wrote the other day about the “sourdough” we’d bought and this being a pretty shop free area I was stuck with it for this evening. I added in a grilled pepper and our own basil to reduce the surplus a bit more but as soon as I added the dressing the bread quickly collapsed into pulp. Clanger pudding in fact. But it was good enough, as was the large quantity of broccoli and stilton soup I made yesterday.  Jacket potatoes were OK too and we’ve eaten plainly but well. But I think the takeaway point is that if we’re going to eat as much as possible from whatever we can grow, we shall have to be content perhaps with less variety.  The upside is that the treats when they come along – I’m thinking of our own asparagus and apples – are all the more exciting.

Our time here is half gone, but we’ve done some good walks  and in the evenings we’ve entertained ourselves by reading to one another from our books.  It’s very efficient because we each get to read one and hear the best bits from the other.  Madame is reading William Feaver’s new book about Lucian Freud and I’m reading Richard Mabey’s “The Cabaret of Plants” – both of them excellent (and I wish I could read that last sentence as my eighteen year old self!)

IMG_6115