Sunday, 28 August 2016

Post holiday greens

Howdy folks. It’s been a wee while. Holiday season and all that. I’m afraid to say that our summer holidays, such as they were this year, were spent being very much NOT self-sufficient. Owing to some monumentally fortuitous cock up on the part of eBookers, instead of the very cheap and cheerful guest house on the side of a minor, not-very-exciting loch in the middle of Scotland, we found ourselves living it up with the rich and famous at a very exclusive five star resort on the banks of bonny Loch Lomond. I can’t quite articulate the contrast between the life we have been leading for the past eighteen months and the 48 hour experience of being waited on hand and foot, having everything and anything at your beck and call and actually being clean and getting to wear ‘your best stuff’ all day long without having to lift a finger. No watering, no weeding, no scrubbing of misshapen vegetables followed by an artful disguise into something that will detract from the fact that we are eating the same thing for the fourteenth day in a row. No, just pure, unbridled hedonism.  By the time we left my hands had even begun to lose the ground-in grime and callouses from a good couple of hours in the health spa. I know our chosen lifestyle purports to great health and happiness but let’s be honest here, there’s a hell of a lot to be said for putting your feet up and being pampered once in a while.

A critical part of the self-sufficiency experiment...?

And so it was a bit of a shock to the system (and to my new found delusions of grandeur – I confess to spending a significant proportion of our trip seriously working through how I could legitimately factor a sea plane into our project) that we returned home, only four nights later, to a scene akin to something out of the Day of the Triffids. Now I know that August is peak growing time and that a combination of warm, sunny days and our lovely Welsh showers make the perfect growing conditions but I really wasn’t expecting to find my neat, uniform little courgettes morphed into monstrous marrows the size of Usain Bolt’s thighs…. You know you must be doing something right when you have to harvest a crop in a wheelbarrow. You’d need a friendly Olympian on hand to lift these buggers. They are enormous! And so to the question: what the hell do you do with nearly 100kg of cucurbita.  Easy I thought. I’ll turn the whole lot into delicious summer chutney to see us through the winter. But after an hour of chopping, five hours of simmering, sterilising of bottles, decorating labels and stinking the whole house out I had use the sum total of ONE marrow. And the end result was barely edible given that I had underestimated the toughness of the skins. It turns out that you could pave the roads with the skins on the outsides of these. Hence my first batch was definitely labelled ‘For Personal Use Only’ for fear it get into the mouths of any visiting dignitaries and cause  them to lose a denture or choke to death. Round two was slightly more acceptable, with the pain staking removal of the skins and this did mean that you could get through more actual fruits to make up the required weights. By round three I was getting thoroughly sick and tired of this process (not to mention having blister upon blister on my fingers from incessant chopping) so decided to get experimental. A cocked up order from Asda and lots of leftovers from a weekend course left us with tons of bananas so I thought what the hell. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that you will never be able to find marrow and banana chutney anywhere in the shops. In my opinion a crying shame. Don’t knock it until you have tried it. The Caribbean-Cymru mash-up to take your taste buds places you never knew possible (and not just to the nearest porcelain telephone to God before you ask).

You turn your back for five days...

Five down, sixteen to go. Soup then? So I managed to get rid of another two in my self-styled curried marrow soup. But I think that there is a reason that Mr Heinz and Mr Baxter don’t have this billed as one of their range. It has a taste and consistency that only your family could love. Or at least tolerate. So I decided to start thinking ‘outside the (veg) box’ to other styles of cooking and presentation. In Scotland they have a sure fire way of making anything taste better. Batter it then deep fry the crap out of it. And so our marrow chips were born. In the high falutin’ Michelin starred circles we were mixing in during our recent mini-break, these might have been sold as ‘fresh summer vegetable tempura’. Round here, they are known simply as ‘deep fried marrer’. And they are bloody delicious. In small doses of course.

If all else fails...

So that saw off another couple. And as for the rest I have parked up the wheelmarrow (tee hee) strategically next to the back door so that anyone, and I really do mean anyone, who crosses the threshold is not allowed to leave the premises without one: postman, Yodel delivery drivers, Jehovah’s witnesses… I could have kissed my neighbours when they popped round for a cup of tea and left with four, yes FOUR, for their grandchildren to carve up and enter in the ‘animal made from vegetables’ class in the local show. Now that is the true definition of neighbourly love.

And the marrows were not the only green veg to explode into abundance while we were away. The chard and climbing beans have all found top gear, fuelled by a winning cocktail of cow manure and nitrogen from last year’s runner beans. And as for the peas, they are so prolific that their birch twig supports have collapsed under the sheer weight of pods. We can pick carrier bags full of the things every day and still they seem to keep coming, despite my daughters’ best efforts to scoff the lot before they get back to the house. And our beautiful new kitchen now resembles a scene from a spaghetti western shoot out with peas pinging off every surface sending me ducking for cover now that my daughter has discovered a new technique of podding which involves creating a huge “pop!” followed by high-speed peas issuing from the pod which you have zero chance of finding (until of course you come to sweep under the table and the stairs and it’s like Birds Eye’s stockpile for a nuclear winter).

It also transpires that whilst we were away hundreds of caterpillars decided to take up residence in my brassica bed. This came as a bit of a shock as last year I didn’t see a single caterpillar and just assumed that our garden birds and frogs were doing their bit. Turns out they must have gone on holidays this year as well since in the space of less than a week these hairy little bastards have massacred my sprouts and my kale which hitherto had been my prize crop of the patch. I now have a much deeper understanding of the underlying meaning in The Very Hungry Caterpillar and can only assume that Eric Carle  must have been a neglectful vegetable gardener like me, taking his inspiration from the destruction that can be wrought in the space of six days. I was livid. Anyone who messes with my brassicas messes with me. So together with my two trusty sidekicks we openly declared war on these guzzling beasties picking each one painstakingly off the leaves before dispatching them in any number of creative and gory ways. I now find myself up there at all hours, obsessively picking them off and muttering darkly under my breath, "out, out damn bug" like some crazed Lady McBeth, hands stained permanently green from the the death throes of caterpillars. But at least, with luck, I’ll be eating my own sprouts at Christmas so I can live with that. Ha.

Caterpillar heaven

And it’s not all been about eating and killing. Now apparently is the time to start thinking about winter greens that you can grow in the polytunnel. After the huge investment of time, money and energy into erecting our plastic palace, the least I can do is buy a few seeds and chuck them in and see what happens. You’d think. Except even the owner at the local garden centre dismissed my polytunnelled ambition, laughing incredulously at my intention to grow cabbages and pak choi at this time of year. I lied and said they were for next year (which he blatantly didn’t believe) and went right ahead and planted them anyway. I’ll show them. And if nothing happens, there’ll always be the marrow and banana chutney to fall back on…

Chutney mountain

No comments:

Post a Comment