MY first encounter with avocado pears came during the general election of 1979 while watching BBC Nationwide with my father. I had never heard of the fruit until this rather well-to-do woman in a large house in Helensburgh was asked who she would vote for come polling day. She replied: “Well it won’t be Labour, because prices have risen to the point I can no longer afford avocado pears for my family.” Continue reading Proverbial pears
THERE are many things a man needs to sustain him in life and one is rhubarb. There may well be items of greater importance, such as bread and butter, faith, humility and hot tea, but rhubarb is among the essentials. Anyone who has worked an allotment, or owned a back garden where dolly tubs rust quietly under elder trees and gutters sag from shed roofs, knows the one element that links them all is the rhubarb bed. A vegetable patch without rhubarb is like a hot-pot without potatoes. So this is my quest to grow rhubarb in Spain . . . Continue reading Ruibarbo, ruibarbo
PETROL strimmer lying on the ground. Choke turned on. Fuel turned on. I pull the cord once, twice, and on the third pull the engine barks into life. I increase the revs. But instead of a continuous, single-cylinder whine I hear a dull chug-chug indicating something is coiled around the cutting head. A piece of wire, brambles, end of a washing line, something like that. I flick the switch to cut the power. A ball of grey, black and silver unravels from the cutting head as the engine stops. It’s a snake . . . Continue reading The snake
LIKE a bud bursting on a winter twig, a strange word has sprung from dormancy and entered my lexicon: drupe. You may have been familiar with this word since childhood, even knowingly engaged in plucking a variety of drupes from trees. But it’s a new word for me. Almonds aren’t nuts – they are drupes, I have discovered. I can’t say my world has been shattered by this revelation, but its axis has shifted a couple of degrees . . . Continue reading A drupe in every bite
A CYCLE is developing. At the heart of this new life a structure takes shape like crystals forming in solution. December is the olive harvesting and pressing month, January the pruning and burning month. Work must be finished before the blossom comes. The seasons are in control. It’s not hard to see why ancient peoples were dependent on the calendar and stars . . . Continue reading Cutting edges . . .
OLIVE HARVEST, DAY 5: An epiphany at the mill. We’ve tipped our sacks of olives into a hopper, and the cumulative weight of Fiona’s, Bruce’s and my produce has topped at 727 kilograms. We’ve hung about for nearly five hours waiting our turn in the milling process. We’ve watched in stoic silence as tonnes of shiny black and green fruits have been mashed in the mashers and spun in the spinners, while our batch edges closer to its fate. Waiting their turn in front of us with about 1.5 tonnes of olives to crush is a large family consisting of the grandfather, six or seven middle-aged sons and daughters – or sons-in-law and daughters-in-law – and a couple of teenage grandchildren. As their golden oil begins to flow from a tap, the grandfather produces a fresh loaf of bread . . . Continue reading Bread and thanks
OLIVE HARVEST, DAY 3: Clothes smell of oil. Arms and legs smell of oil. Hair smells of oil. Oil penetrates the skin and gets under the nails. It soaks the nets, soaks the sacks. It lubricates tool handles and the leather of boots. Crushed olives stain the grass and kitchen floor like trodden beetles. My world has become an olive oil production plant. The full sacks mount up slowly – 11, 12, 13 . . . Continue reading Oil in the blood