Wednesday, 30 September 2009

A time to gather

I know this blog primarily centres on taste but, in terms of memories and associations, smells are equally evocative, if not more so. How appropriate that wood smoke, a breath of it lacing the evening mist as we arrived in Norfolk on Friday, is for me a comforting scent of home. It transports me to countless afternoons spent clearing (ragging about in) woods as children, building huge bonfires with Dad and Grandpa and watching them crackle. Then if we were very lucky we’d wave a marshmallow on a stick at the embers until the doughy white skin blistered brown and started to ooze. This was usually the stage at which we lost them to the fire, making the eating all the more pleasurable.

Despite recent Indian Summer-like days, those damp mushroomy notes of autumn have returned to the countryside; the perfect accompaniment to the spike of smoke, pricking our nostrils and calling to our olfactory gear just as the springtime called Mr. Mole out of his burrow in The Wind in the Willows. It makes you want to wrap up and get outside for walks, to light the fire and be cosy. On Friday we ate at our warm and welcoming local pub, The Dabbling Duck, which was celebrating British Food Fortnight with some very British dishes, steak and kidney puddings and crumble with custard among them. The BSG’s Lancashire Hotpot didn’t touch the sides. I plumped for fish in a golden batter, with enormous chips and minted mushy peas – it was Friday after all!


Each season brings its own welcome scents; one of the roses in the garden smells so sweet, like the most delicate cup of tea imaginable, its petal-packed heads flower twice a year. At the height of summer, the swathes of lavender under the windows exude a heady fragrance, as they heave with bees (which incidentally have a very keen sense of smell – honeybees have been trained to detect landmines), clamouring for their hit, and as the heads are warmed by the sun, by the evening it is intoxicating. However there is a power to autumn’s earthy aromas, when evidence of nature’s industry is in such abundance, and something deeper, winter, waits beneath the surface. The hedgerows heave with berries, fruits and seedpods, furnishing their occupants with storable riches before they close down for the year.

Thoughts drift to mushroom-hunting excursions amongst the leaf litter - until you realise that Nature being Nature doesn’t make any one thing that looks like the photo in the fungi book, but rather several of them. Which is it; the ‘slow agonising death on ingestion’ one or the ‘very nice with toast’? The ensuing 45 minutes is spent flicking though the book several times to make absolutely sure, then abandon the mission in favour of the more hazardous in appearance but far lower fatal-seizure-risk chestnut (nut allergy sufferers excepted). As I write this I am lunching on a velvety mushroom soup: I am sure that the very nice person who picked these enjoys the fact that their patch isn’t full of idiots keeling over every half hour, so I’d say its definitely something best left to people who know, save perhaps a couple of flat field mushrooms from a damp pasture – and you know what they grow out of…

red cabbage

Feeling guilty at the drifts of apples littering the garden, uneaten and neglected, the BSG and I decided to bring them back and make them into a chutney or 20. And we didn’t stop there – at his Mum’s house we took pity on some unripe green peaches and he ploughed through the cookery books until he found a pickle to include them. Our kitchen has become a job-centre for unemployed fruit. Thank goodness we take in homeless jars, too. While we were at it, why not pickle some red cabbage too? Speaking of smells, the eye-watering sting of malt vinegar is not something I miss once it’s gone…

chutney raw

I am not averse to the odd present, and when the BSG returned from a recent work trip he gave me a pot of gold. Wow. A proper giant’s jar of French moutarde, in a rustic-looking (read more expensive) ceramic pot - which I’ll hang on to for storing salt - it has a very pleasing sulphur colour and a sharp tang. Even luckier for me then, that the BSG served up a perfect rare steak, served on sliced beetroot slicked in horseradish and a crisp green salad to celebrate its first outing. I hear you say that horseradish AND mustard is a belt and braces approach to a steak, but I couldn’t resist.

steak mustard salad


  1. I'm so pleased I've discovered your blog - your writing is like poetry...and I had no idea that honeybees are used to detect landmines! Fascinating and evocative, a real find.

  2. Thank you, please keep reading! The feeling is absolutely mutual by the way.

  3. Love this one! well done.