The flavour is in the ingredients not the recipe.

We were sitting in bed this morning and Madame was reading out recipes to me from the newspaper. Every ingredient, it seemed, had one or two adjectives attached to it – I’m growing used to it but I do tend to froth at the mouth at the word – “succulent” which always grates terribly – I’ll be the judge of that, I think. Many recipes have got twice or three times as many adjectives as they do actual ingredients, rather like those desperately silly restaurant menus that offer ‘trios’ of sausages or cheese – which always make me wonder whether they can play any Bach. But then she read out a recipe that included some “Isle of Wight tomatoes” and I thought to myself – if they were picked on Friday and get to the supermarket some time mid-week you’d do better to wait a week or two and gather some you’d grown yourself. That way they’d taste far better than the most expensive tomato that had just been on a long journey and badly needed a shower and a rest.

Sincerity is the key – said Sam Goldwyn – once you’ve learned to fake it you’re made

Which is going to taste better – an apple that looks like the real deal but which has been sprayed fifteen times and stored in an artificially cooled and nitrogen enriched atmosphere for weeks or even months, and then driven, flown or shipped for hundreds of miles? or – a rather knobbly one with bad skin, that you’ve just picked off the tree and in which the hydrostatic pressure is so great it squirts delicious sweet juice at you if you indent it with your thumbnail? I hope the answer to that question was the local option.

Food, (I’m not talking about manufactured food here) is, by its very nature, seasonal, and seasonal vegetables always taste best when they’re straight off the vine or out of the ground. The instinctive response to this is to claim that you would need to be wealthy to enjoy food in its prime all the time. This is only true up to a point. Asparagus from Peru, for instance, may taste reasonably good but if you could see the cloud of pollution that accompanies it it might not be quite so palatable.

But there is a way to eat the finest food every day without being wealthy – but there are a couple of restrictions we have to embrace first of all. The first of these is that seasons are brief, and the second is that growing your own food is hard work. However allotments are wonderful value for money – our 250 square metres costs about £2.50 a week and is thought to be large enough to feed a family of four throughout the year – it’s a standard plot. Brief seasons mean that we can only eat asparagus for about a month, but my word – it’s the best asparagus you’ve ever tasted.

So there are the exotic vegetables like peppers, chillies and aubergines which we’ve grown successfully but they need a lot of TLC and sunshine. But today’s star is the early potato – we grew two varieties this year, Lady Christl and Red Duke of York. Shop bought new potatoes are very expensive and often disappointing – even the ever reliable Jersey Royals have diminished in flavour over the past couple of years since they started to worry about the salt build up from composted seaweed. I have a childhood memory of the first earlies in the year – my dad and my grandfather were totally loyal to Arran Pilots – and their flavour is imprinted in my memory. All vegetables that are sweet when fresh deteriorate rapidly when picked, because the natural sugars that we prize so much turn to starch – same number of calories but not the same flavour at all.

Every time we start eating the new season potatoes I want to eat them completely simply – maybe a bit of butter but they’re ruined by strongly flavoured sauces. We dig them while they’re small and steam them for 15 minutes or even less. In fact many home grown veg are at their best when you pass them by the stove but barely warm them through. Broad beans are in season and they’re almost better raw than cooked and carrots need the tiniest steaming. These are intense but fleeting pleasures. If you’re rich I suppose you can always buy the freshest ingredients but I’ll guarantee that you won’t eat fresher vegetables than the ones you grow yourself. Not in a four Michelin starred restaurant and not even if you’re a Duke or a media mogul.

And some treats are almost free. We started our third batch of elderflower cordial today – and this time we raided a pink flowered variety for fifty of its saucer shaped flowers. Their perfume was overwhelming and they’re on the stove now infusing with lemon, lime and orange zest. Money can’t buy that intensity of flavour – it’s like drinking summer from a glass and the pink flowers yield a very pretty cordial. Here are the flowers waiting to be steeped overnight.

Rainy day job – minus rain

It’s like being stood-up.  The Potwell Inn allotment would be completely parched if it weren’t for the hand watering, and we’ve been quivering with excitment at the prospect of a week’s decent rain – supposedly beginning today. So we woke early, sniffed the air like badgers emerging from their holt, but there was none of what my promiscuous reading revealed last week as – “petrichor” – the smell of rain on hot earth. Plenty of other smells around though, not least from the kitchen which smelt almost Corsican first thing.  In fact the whole flat is infused with the scent of basil – which we grow a continuous supply of – tomato plants waiting for a break in the heat, and elderflowers. If you chucked in a couple of mouldy melons we’d be back on Cap Corse.

Three hours later at around noon, it started at last, thank goodness, but the weather chart shows the weather front moving northwards with us right on the edge. No downpours here, sadly.

So the principal work of the morning was turning the infusion of elderflower, oranges and lemons into elderflower cordial. I salute those who’ve absorbed the lore of collecting the flowers and managed to find a nanosecond when all the necessities line up like bullet points in a presentation. We just pick when we can.  The last batch was made from the ordinary common and/or garden version of elderflower, the weed. This time we spotted a heavily laden tree on the allotment and picked an organic cotton bag full.  Actually it was a plastic bag but the organic cottton sounds less likely to excite our friends, one of whom noisily unpacked my (first time in six months) plastic in a crowded supermarket while upbraiding me for destroying the earth.  A small crowd looked on while she left the unpacked bag on the side, presumably to be thrown into landfill anyway.  Two days later an organic cotton bag arrived in the post and my humiliation was complete.

Anyway this tree was the most delightful mixture of purple leaves and pink flowers.  Last year I stumbled on a fashion shoot in front of the very tree I’m writing about. The model, who was very pretty, was dressed in such similar colours – purple and pink – that she looked rather like the cheshire cat, appearing and disappearing in front of the blossoms.  She was surrounded by an impausibly large number of assistants, dressers, people holding large reflectors and photographers with their retinue.  One of the throng asked me where the toilets were and I was delighted to be able to offer her our bucket, which she refused.

The pink blossoms smelt quite as good as the mongrel white ones and so we picked and infused them for 24 hours.  The only difference in the way I produced the cordial was to bring the sugary mixture to 80C rather than boiling it which I think destroyed some of the flavour. The results (with a bottle of the first batch for comparison) looked lovely and tasted excellent.

As I write, the rain has stopped again but we’ll stick with plan A and go to get vine-eyes from the garden centre. More later.

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