Thursday, 22 August 2013

August 21st - New shoes, sharpened pencils and The scent of summer's shortening lease

Dear Nigel,

I am twitchy for a change in the seasons - crazy since the summer was so long awaited and so welcome when it did at last arrive. But I am restless amid the full-blown poppies, the tangle of weeds and the gradual yellowing of plants around me, long since past their best. I long for a fresh breeze, a morning sun that brings things sharply into focus and the whisper of red leaves on the shady side of the hedge. It is the red leaves I long for most of all, I think, reminiscent of those perfect Japanese gardens with their artfully pruned, ketchup-spattered maples that bid quiet contemplation amongst their brilliance.

It is the time of year for that torturous of rituals - of being measured for school shoes, and a pencil case full of newly sharpened pencils and possibilities. Don't we all come back from holiday with a suitcase full of good intentions and New Term resolutions to shore up all that we have let slip in unwinding to summer's easy song?

I am looking for something a little angelic and smug - the all-green smoothie of recipes - to put me back on track and away from searching out my looser clothes and the notching down of belts. I like to think we all swell up a bit in the heat and then, like a cold shower, the change in temperature firms us up again once more. (That's my theory and I'm sticking to it as I tuck into my umpteenth ice cream this summer.)

Here is the kind of recipe I had in mind: 'Carrot and cockle soup' (page 315), made with a handful of spinach leaves and lemon juice, as sorrel is proving elusive even for you. I'm not growing any at present but usually, by this point in the season, the sorrel's urge to bolt has got the better of me and it has got away and is looking more like an out-of-place dock leaf plant, unruly and unkempt. That it has, even when lightly cooked, 'the colour and texture of something dropped by a passing seagull' is of little significance compared to its deeply sharp and tangy taste. It always seems amazing to me that something so wonderfully lemony can come straight in from an English garden and onto a plate, to liven any fish or seafood supper. Not an 'English' taste somehow.

I am looking at your entry for 17th August and I see that late summer's  'overblownness' is rife in London, too. Your wonderful vegetable patch is less than 'Gardeners' World' quality then?...
'we are eating in the garden amongst the marigolds and nasturtiums that seem to have taken over the vegetable patch (seriously there is nothing but flowers, chard and a few blight-crisped tomatoes).' nice to let nature have its way amid the design we try to impose - the letting go that is part of the reason we have a summer. Lunch is quick-as-a-flash sweet, spicy chicken, 'beer so cold it has ice crystals in it, then (we) make a mad dash to the shops for vanilla ice cream.' ( glad I'm not the only one then...)

Yet the heat has you listless too, I suspect. Today you are back in the kitchen rolling pastry with your eye on the end result - the eating - making a 'peach pie with lemon pastry' (page 317). I imagine you lolling in a hammock between two trees with a glass of wine in one hand, newspapers crumpled and discarded on the ground and 'a pie of gentle seductiveness on a hot, still afternoon when there is little else to do.' Enough for six?...or a whole afternoon's work before you...Enjoy.


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