Vegetable Stories no 2

I am at the kitchen window, looking out on the garden as I tear the fat stalks from a glossy sinkful of chard leaves. Baby carrots and cavalo navone (a buttery Italian turnip, highly recommended) are stewing with oil and honey. Steam from the new potatoes rattles the saucepan lid and makes me think of James Watt watching his mother’s kettle and inventing the steam engine.

For the first time most of this evening’s meal comes from the garden. It’s been thin pickings from this new plot compared to recent years when by July we would have been feasting on allotment produce.

My mouth waters in anticipation of the earthy taste of chard and sweet carrots. I love eating things so soon after they come out of the ground or off the plant.

And as I stand there, something flips me back to a much younger self. It’s London in the early 80s and there I am, head over heels in love with the markets like Pimlico’s Warwick Way and Soho’s Berwick Street. I smile a little ruefully at my smugness in knowing the good places to buy food; but it’s nice to remember that child-like pride and pleasure in negotiating the stalls and heaps of produce, coming home with just what I wanted, lovely fresh things crying out to be cooked.

Back then the idea of growing anything other than a few herbs in pots never crossed my mind. I’ve got to know a different way of living, but colours, textures, tastes, the excitement of food are all the same. And at 53, with my hands in a sink full of green leaves, inside I feel just like myself at 23.

Except of course, back then I thought I’d always live in London…

Early morning beans

Quite a big kitchen garden

As said in the previous post, my mum and I spent a day seeing gardens in Norfolk, of which my favourite parts were, as they always are, the kitchen gardens. Those pictured above were are Houghton Hall where we also saw a collection of paintings which once belonged to Robert Walpole but have been living in Russia since his heirs sold them to Catherine the Great.

The Rembrandts, Van Dycks and the like filled me with wonder; the octagonal fruit cage pictured above aroused instead a childish covetousness. I don’t think we’ll have room for one quite that big…

A swallow summer

Swallows are flying all round the station as I wait in the sunshine for the train this morning.

I’ve been having mysterious problems with my blog this week, unable to post a gallery of photos and sometimes unable to do anything at all. Very frustrating.

The photos I wanted to show you (and hope to put up soon) were from a lovely kitchen garden at Houghton Hall, seen as part of a trip with my mum to houses and gardens in Norfolk.

The night before the visits, our bed and breakfast place was a large, old farm. We looked out on green Norfolk fields, the garden was full of swallows and one pair had their nest under the eaves at my mother’s window.

As she looked out of the window in the morning she said, ‘this is what England used to be like.’ She could have meant the green and the quiet, but she was speaking of all the birds.

Watching this morning’s swallows took me back to that moment, the close-up of swallows at their nest. I love seeing so many of them in this, my first Heckington summer.

Vertigo

Mill view

It’s been a busy week, including a short visit from two-year-old granddaughter sans parents. Great fun – and full on, as they say.

Handed her back at Doncaster station rendezvous on Friday; then I was off to my placement to do a mediation. By the time I had retrieved the van from Grantham station and was driving home I was very tired. So I turned off the main road earlier than usual and drove very slowly along narrow country roads, getting out once or twice to take a photo of fields.

This picture is taken from the road into Heckington from the nearby village of Burton Pedwardine. In the distance you can see Heckington Windmill.

Fields of wheat are like a green sea stretching out to the far horizon; close up you can see each individual plant, each ear of grain. They remind me of looking at Antony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles at the Tate in Liverpool some years ago. Hundreds of little clay figures spread out to fill a whole room, like a field or a sea. Yet each is a unique figure, the whole seems a metaphor for humanity; we are a mass and within the mass each individual is huge, complex, unique, valuable.

It is too much for my poor brain to contemplate on this particular day, the vast and the minuscule; vertigo brought on by corn standing in a field.

Field

Pot-head

Beginners' pots
I feel very lucky to have happened upon Newton Pottery where I go on Friday afternoons to play with clay. The class is friendly and laid back, each person making things in their own particular style, with help and guidance when needed. Nice chat, good coffee, a beautiful garden – what more could a girl want? Oh, and there’s the clay, wheel, kiln… magic.

I always manage to arrive late, as is my wont, and so a bit flustered; but while there, and as I drive home through pretty Lincolnshire villages, I always feel extraordinarily cheerful.

The dark pot at the back is my latest, brought home yesterday. It still has the weighty feel of a beginners’s pot, but not quite as much as the stripy one next to it. The smaller ones at the front are the least wonky of my efforts at throwing on the wheel.

More experienced hands than mine made the pots below, just some of those which fill our kitchen shelves. Some are gifts, others came from pottery studios, charity shops or French market stalls; some are old, some new, some cheap, others not so much. I love them all.

Use the tag ‘pottery’ at the end of this post to find earlier posts more or less about pottery or my visits to Newton.

Kitchen pottery

Dog field revisited

Field, Cameron Street

If you’ve been following for a while, you may remember No longer the dog field about the arrival of sheep in the field at the end of our road, making it a no-go area for our bloodthirsty lurchers.

Yesterday the sheep and their now quite well grown lambs were suddenly gone, leaving only close-cropped sward and the odd hank of fleece behind them. Bob, the very elderly three-legged lurcher, is no longer going for proper walks, but Naughty Doris scampered happily round the field this morning. We went back later on my return from a walk with the Boston Ramblers (a pleasant tramp in lovely evening light at Swineshead, a few miles down the A17).

It was at Swineshead Abbey that King John was supposedly poisoned by a monk in 1216; the village sign depicts the event (click here to see it).

In no time at all the dog field will be out of bounds again when the famous Heckington Show is on. Meanwhile, the view above is what I see when heading back into the village after our walk. For a prettier, though less seasonal picture, see View from the dog field.

Of Wolds and wildflowers

Wolds

We spent yesterday out with the Heckington Gardening Club on a visit to Red Hill Nature Reserve, in the Wolds, the hilly bit of Lincolnshire. We had a walk and a talk with a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable man from Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. I think he would have gone on finding new wildflower species for us to look at until well into the summer evening, if we had had the energy to follow him.

I loved seeing wild plants that I recognise from their cultivated relatives that live in gardens and allotments; and all the different grasses, their swaying, seedy heads like a mist over the surface of the meadow where we walked. But it was hard not to feel sad about the species that are being lost, here and all over the world, and the knowledge that disappears with them. Now just have to work out which small bit of the garden can be turned into a wildflower meadow…

Lots of birdsong and butterflies as well – lovely. Pictures not mine today, but partner’s, for which he has my thanks.

Meadow