Monday 5 July 2010

Fruits of Our Labours

A month ago I wrote a post about Malcolm and the Strawberries. They were in flower at the time and Malcolm reckoned, in spite of all adversity, this year would be the best crop ever.

It was. There were so many strawberries he and Eileen didn’t know what to do with them. There was an abundance of ripe scarlet berries. The sudden July heat ripened the whole crop in a week.

On Sunday morning Mark and I went over and picked pounds of fruit and had a strawberry feast: strawberry jelly, strawberry coulis, compotes (with rhubarb) and jam. Lots of jam. The whole house was steeped in the fragrance of roses. It’s that time of year. Suddenly after all that waiting, after the patient sowing and repotting and watering the rewards start coming fast. And you have to start eating and cooking and preserving to keep up with them. Blackcurrants and gooseberres under the greengage tree, broadbeans and tomatoes among the pots. And a new wonder - cucumber!

I’ve never grown a cucumber before. I’d taken them for granted. But it’s a really exciting plant. A big vigourous climber with showy yellow flowers and tendrils, now joining the long trails of morning glories and passionflowers around the conservatory. Up to the solstice things grow in a steady, upward swing. You feel sort of in control of things. After midsummer they grow out, everywhere. There’s a seismic shift. You go outside and the lawn has turned into a savannah. The trees have doubled in size. The world is full of insects – bees, dragonfly, thunderbug, hoverfly, butterfly. Everything is thirsty. Suddenly you’re in demand.

Amongst all this wild exuberance and activity the big vegetable moments come and go: peas and sugarsnaps, French beans and young turnips, spinach and courguette. I have learned in my eat-in-season, love-it-while-you-can years to relish each one and eat as much as possible in those days, the way I put flowers in a jar beside my bed to absorb their fleeting beauty - mock orange, honeysuckle, peony and rose.

Because very soon the moment will be gone. It will be replaced by another. You want to be there for that moment, as if it were the only time you were experiencing it. With everything you have. That’s the way I’ve learned to love the earth. As if you will never see summer again. Holding the moment in your heart. and then releasing it, like a bird in your hands.

Right now in strawberry season, I can’t look at another strawberry. I am strawberried-out. But in my larder are a row of intense red shiny jars. One day when the snow falls, when the evenings grow dark, or it’s just been grey too many days in a row, I’ll come back to those jars and open one and the room will fill with the fragrance of summer, with the memory of how it is when the world is full of light and the days stretch endlessly in front of you, the air is filled with the scent of hay and the sound of skylarks, and the butterflies begin to appear, as if from nowhere.

My first cucumber among the sage flowers; Mark and the strawberries; strawberry jam.

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