Wednesday 29 August 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook - Fruta mi amor?

Maybe it's because we're planning a Mexican fiesta meal next month for Happy Mondays that I keep remem- bering this refrain we used to hear long ago on Cartagena beach, where large ladies would sashay down the sand with piles of exotic fruit on their heads - fresh coconut, papaya and mango. Juicy, sweet, mouthwatering salads, cutting the salt of the sea and the fierce tropical heat. Those were the days when tamarind lollies, tumblers of passion fruit and naranjilla juice were an everyday thing and none of us thought twice about catching a plane.

Now in Transition exotic fruit is forbidden fruit: way too many pesticides and air miles, way too much exploitation of pineapple and banana workers. We live in frugal times with an eye on the planetary clock. Like many Transitioners I don't buy out of season or from supermarkets, and my tastebuds have been narrowed down to European organic citrus and English raspberries, quince and pears (and the occassional home-grown cape gooseberry or kiwi). I am stalwart in the winter, long months of wrinkly apples and early rhubarb, pulling out frozen plums or strawberries from the small artic in my fridge when guests come for supper. I say to myself: next year I shall bottle and prepare! But of course, like the currant-loving, sloe-pecking, cherry-picking birds, I gorge on the fruit when it is there, and then forget all about it.

These blackcurrants and gooseberries are from the Bungay Library Community garden and were a small handful of intense, multi-levelled sweetness, eagerly enjoyed by Mark, Josiah and myself last week. Normally as September advances my eyes are flicking up into street trees everywhere, the small roadside stalls are bursting with plums and we are gearing up to our Grow and Give produce swap. Last year I had enough apples stored in my larder to last until Spring. I was relishing the shared fruit in Cathy's orchard. The year before I was amassing wild fruit for jam. There was abundance everywhere you looked. Wasps and scarlet admirals feasted on the rotting windfalls in gardens.

2012 is a different year - no damsons, few cherry plums, fewer cherries, almost no scrumping apples. Fierce winds and frosts in Spring burned the blossom and many pollinators were grounded. What we have is a profusion of blackberries (the core of our Mexican pudding and winemaking workshop) and elderberries, which with sea buckthorn, will be the basis for our Fruit Tonic Plants for Life session next month.

"Sour this year though," remarked Margaret, as we discussed blackberries at our core group meeting last night. "Like the strawberries."

Without sun or light, the fruit does not sweeten and amor is harder to find. This year, with massive drought in America and the Artic sea-ice at an all-time low the shadow of climate change is falling over our lives.

You cannot be a cook or a gardener and ignore the effects these shifts in temperature and pressure are having on our local weather and thus the food crops on which we depend. Our mood is affected by these things. Once I might have written gleefully about our greatest feral fruit, the evocative way its rose-scented perfume curls around the house, bringing the happiness of all Septembers with it, how blackberry-gathering is one of the links to our ancestral foraging past, how I love to lean out of the window and see old couples and children with bowls of berries in their hands, or young men on bikes talking and eating from the hedges in the rich-gold evenings. Now my attention is otherwise engaged. It's OK to treasure what we have, to enjoy working and meeting together, but the frame in which we do these things - our community enterprises, events, projects - has to be palpable. It has to be real.

We began our Low Carbon Cookbook group two years ago to bring attention to the food we eat, to explore what it takes to downshift the kitchen and make our larders low-carbon and our bodies resilient. We've held conversations about food systems, energy and ethics, shared meals, skills, experiences, tracked our everyday growing and cooking patterns. This month as many harvests fail, or yield little, and prices rise, it feels as though we were just prepping in our one-planet community kitchen, and the real work is only now beginning . . .

The Low Carbon Cookbook archive can be accessed here. Plants for Life Fruit Tonic Workshop will be held at Bungay Library Community Garden on September 23. Wild plums - a short memoir on fruit and cooking - one of the original 52 Flowers That Shook My World is published here.

Fruit pix: Wild and garden plums, 2011; blackcurrant and gooseberries (Josiah Meldrum), Mark and Josiah, 2012; blackberry and elder berries, 2010; sea buckthorn berries, 2011.cherries, strawberries, peaches and nectarines, Strangers Circle, 2009 (CDC)

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