As I walked along Canterbury’s Saint Peter’s Street on Saturday I saw a sure sign of Summer. Not the gaggles of French and Dutch teenagers squeezing into the pound shops, nor the obedient American and Japanese tourists following their guides’ uplifted, unopened, umbrellas.
No, It was the cherry lady from Faversham, but selling gooseberries this time. She promised ‘cherries next week’.
I bought gooseberries.
That afternoon as I was cycling home from visiting friends, I sought out the elder flowers needed to make the best gooseberry fool and gooseberry jam. Along the Crab and Winkle cycle path they were as unpolluted as anywhere.
Mrs T made the fool, and froze some puree to make more when summer is mere memory. It all went. Polish friends could not get enough of it, nor could I. Maybe the spare puree won’t make it till Christmas!
One thing lead to another, and with A busy Easter, and then being in a city, we did not manage our garlic forage until today. A new spot that Mrs T had found the other day. Flowers were shining among the leaves here and there.
But the surprise of the day was to discover a pheasant’s nest with a good dozen eggs in it. The cock was quite agitated not far away, no doubt his wife, too, was watching us. We gathered our leaves as quickly as possible and left them in peace. 8 jars of pesto are our reward!
I don’t know why this has been sitting in drafts for weeks, when it’s illustrated and all. Foraging seems a long while ago, with most leaves down and a wind trying to blow them and us away these last two days.
A month ago in Yorkshire, Mrs T and I took a walk which included a stretch of easy going along the old railway above the cliffs. Someone, sometime in the past, must have tossed an apple core from a train onto the bank. The fruit are small; green but with russet patches, and sharp. Maybe someone had been there before us – someone with shorter arms than this writer’s, as the half-dozen fruit I harvested were high above my head.
Added to blackberries and sloes, we have a Yorkshire marinade for Christmas. A good set and sharp enough to counter the sweetness of the goose.
Where have I been all this time? Partly travelling across Europe: France, Belgium, Germany, Poland. We noticed one thing in common between Polish and British railways: the fruit trees beside the tracks, convenient for the railway workers’ rest huts. These plums were somewhere in Western Poland, between the border and Warsaw. At centre-right, in the opening between the trees, is the silhouette (take my word for it) of one of three young men foraging them.
Our local Saint Mildred, a Saxon princess who had a continental education and rejected the idea of a political marriage to become a nun, had her feast this week. She reminds me to harvest the walnuts.
It’s harvest time because right now they have not yet grown their woody shells inside those green carapaces. Off the tree they come to get pricked all over with a fork, then left to steep in brine for a few days before drying off for a few days more.
The juice has stained my fingers to the complexion of a chain-smoker, if only for a few days. But when the nuts are fully dry for pickling they will be as black as the habits of the Benedictine Sisters who live in Saint Mildred’s Abbey at Minster-in-Thanet. By Christmas the nuts will be sweet-and-sour and spicy.
Only the first and third of those adjectives apply to the sisters at Minster!
Saint Mildred from a window at Preston-next-Wingham, Kent. John Salmon
There are floods in my mother’s village in Yorkshire, so far well below her front door; down here in Kent, the storm has been less fierce, the temperature unusually mild. In flower today were: daffodils, violets, mimosa, roses, including our dear Mermaid and Thomas Becket; cyclamen, daisies and gorse of course; low-growing campanula, viburnum, prunus praecox, the watchful tree beloved of Jeremiah; camellia about to burst; ceanothus, winter jasmine. Someone at church reported a hawthorn in bloom; Glastonbury comes to Canterbury! Pussy Willow is not far behind.
It is worrying that the season is so topsy-turvy; of course the slugs are loving it, and loving the Jerusalem artichokes, but we had more than enough to make soup with leeks for yesterday’s feast. Rowan and apple jelly gave an edge to the goose, made earlier after a forage with Mrs Turnstone. It kept that lovely colour!