Thanksgiving

photo

I had little time for cooking last night, after a long afternoon of weeding while partner struggled manfully with putting up a new chicken run.

But our soup and salad meal included celeriac, chard, carrots, lettuce, potatoes and apples, all from the garden, plus pears from a neighbour’s tree. There could have been cobnuts too, if I’d had time to shell them. And the basketful of peppers and tomatoes, pictured above, is still untouched, demanding my attention today.

I know, I know that all this bounty does not come by magic, but after weeks and months of sowing and tending by partner (mostly) and weeding by self (mostly). But at this point in the year, when there is just so much and it is so good, it seems like a miracle, like manna from heaven.

And when I look at the enormous tomato plants, the weighty fruit hanging from them, and remember the tiny seeds they came from, I am amazed, as every year, by the magic that turns one into the other; by nature’s conjuring trick that gives us all this food. It is one of those moments when this lifelong atheist craves religion; I would like there to be someone to thank for the magic and the bounty.

Well a blog is not church, but here I am saying thank you nevertheless. All this food is amazing and I love it. Below is a picture from┬áthree years ago, taken in our Manchester kitchen, with bounty from our allotment there. I’ve been looking at pictures (see the Facebook page) from past years, remembering friends and fellow plot-holders, loving it as the start of a journey which brought me here.

Manchester bounty

A nice day out

Maps for a day out

On Sunday we went out. We abandoned the weeding, watering, sowing and digging and instead had a happy series of visits around the Lincolnshire Fens and Wolds.

First a brief stop at Sibsey Trader Windmill, one of several working windmills in the area. I love them so much for so many reasons: old technology still working today, locally produced flour, handsome landmarks in this flat country. Our very own Heckington Windmill has been out of action for a couple of years, but the restored sails go back on this summer; I can’t wait.

We collected lunchtime sandwiches from the mill tea rooms, then we were off into the Wolds, to the village of Candlesby and a specialist herb nursery. We came away happy, with sage, lemon thyme, rosemary, black peppermint, sorrel and mace. A kind friend brought tarragon, fennel, hyssop, dill and lovage to my birthday last month and so the newly-built herb bed will soon be full.

Next stop, Strawberry Fields near Stickford in the fens where owner Pam kindly showed us around the fields of organic vegetables she supplies to retailers all over the country, including the lovely Unicorn Grocery, back where we used to live. So, any Manchester friends reading this, if you buy your veg from Unicorn, chances are you have eaten Strawberry Fields’ produce. On a quiet and sunny Sunday the scene was idyllic: acres of luscious green plants stretching away under a huge sky. A row of scarecrows, looking like workers busy hoeing, were a reminder of the hard slog that goes into growing this good food.

Our last visit of the day was in the fens still but with a view of hills, near the village of East Keal where the Wolds begin to rise out of the flatlands. We were meeting some piglets, one of whom we will eat later in the year when she has grown up. We talked to their owners about pig breeds* and pork and smallholding as we watched the piglets scoffing their dinner. They were cute and fun; and I am going to find it strange eating an animal that I have met in person, as it were. But if I eat meat, I’d rather know that the animals were well looked after while they were alive. And so it goes on, the debate between my vegetarian ‘good angel’ and my demon inner-carnivore.

Flour, herbs, lettuces, bacon: and all in the spring sunshine. What a nice day.

Piglets

* These are Oxford Sandy and Blacks. For more info see this Rare Breeds Survival Trust fact sheet.

Woodlands Organic Farm

We went on a farm walk at Woodlands Organic Farm the other day. I’ve mentioned them a couple of times before – the people we were getting a veg box from before we had our own food from the garden (Vegetable Stories and On my bike).

Woodlands is in the fens near Boston, a mixed farm growing vegetables and raising livestock. We saw cattle, chickens, pigs and turkeys – all good fun. Partner’s big interest is vegetables and luckily we were allowed to wander off to the market garden and admire the serried ranks of lettuces and polytunnels full of peppers and tomatoes.

I love cattle. My childhood bedroom faced onto a field of cows, so close that on summer nights I fell asleep to the rhythmic sound of them munching grass, comforting as waves breaking on a shore.

I like these young Lincoln Red cattle, so glossy, energetic and curious as they are; I wish they didn’t exist only so we could eat them. I probably should be vegetarian – but I’m not.

I find much to bemoan in how our food is produced, in the challenges faced by farmers and especially by those who want to farm organically, sustainably, humanely. So a day like this one, seeing an organic farm in the flesh, as it were, was cheering and inspiring.

And our lunchtime soup was nice too.

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

On my bike

River Slea

Weather cold, grey, grim; though they are promising spring by the weekend. Decided I must get out more, despite the chill.

The direct route to Sleaford, our nearest town, is along the very busy, very cyclist-unfriendly A17. So I go by the quiet, pretty back roads, a longer way round. It’s nice and flat, of course, but I’m not very fit and the seven or eight miles feels like plenty. So, after pottering around town, my bike and I go home to Heckington on the lovely train.

Above is a picture of the River Slea, not far from Cogglesford Water Mill (another working mill) where I get a cup of tea and a book of Lincolnshire Cycle Routes called On Your Bike!

In the week of Margaret Thatcher’s death, how can I not be reminded of her friend Tebbit’s famous exhortation to the nation’s unemployed? Echoing across the years, I hear that same cruelty and brisk scorn that ring through our politicians’ pronouncements about poverty today.

I arrive home glowing from my exercise and musing on our divided, unequal, materialistic world. A hapless courgette from today’s vegetable box becomes a focus for my frustration (wastefulness of transporting something mostly water around the world etc etc).

The courgette meanwhile gets on with doing what courgettes do best; it is delicious in an omelette, with tasty chard and potatoes.

p.s. It’s easy here to buy good, locally-grown vegetables, but the ones we get in the weekly box from Woodlands Organic Farm are particularly nice, maybe even as tasty as if we had picked them from our own garden. Highly recommended.

Vegetable stories

image

A vegetable box arrived bright and early this morning from Woodlands Organic Farm at Kirton, in the fens near Boston. When still back in Manchester, I asked famous Unicorn Grocery about their Lincolnshire suppliers (of whom there are quite a few, this being the vegetable basket of England). They put me on to friendly Pam, from Strawberry Fields farm and she told me about Woodlands.

I’ve never done the veg box thing because in the years that box schemes have really taken off, we (or rather partner) have been growing our own. The vegetables look very nice (especially the fine cauliflower), but I’ve been eating off an allotment, very seasonally and very locally, for so long that I am disconcerted by red pepper and courgettes in January.

I have a strange urge to hide them; so into a soup they go. Also in the pot are onions, a red chilli and squash, all grown on our old plot at Southern Allotments. The squash (pictured above) is a beautiful Crown Prince, grown from seeds given us by a kind friend who also has an allotment.

Crown Prince, with its lovely grey-green, ridged skin, reminds me of a pale green teapot I bought many years ago – contemporary English pottery but with a celadon glaze and very Chinese look about it. I wonder if it is only coincidence that the squash looks like my teapot, or if perhaps some long-ago Chinese potter was inspired by a squash.

Also into the soup I put a couple of bay leaves from a tree which came with me from my Brixton garden nearly 23 years ago. So absurdly pleasing that it has flourished in its pot through all the Manchester years and is here with me in this new place: my continuity girl.

image