There is a bloodbath going on next door. Terry is slaying his babies one by one with tears glistening in his eyes - every inch a tormented Al Pacino in 'the Godfather'. They are moving to another cottage a few miles away due to a hike in the rent. The garden is Terry's passion. It may not be chocolate-box picturesque with its motley collection of sheds, fencing pole stacks and chickens, which rather obscure the chocolate-box cottage standing behind it, but it was a labour of love and ingenuity in a small space. They are attempting to root up fruit bushes, fully grown apple trees, grapevines and herbs and transport them down the road in bin bags to their new home. I suppose when it comes down to it most gardeners spend a small fortune on the plants in their garden. A keen gardener let loose in a nursery is like a small child in a sweet shop. He wants everything. So naturally he wants everything to go, too.
Val says the difference in rent will allow Terry to keep pursuing his new hobby which is shark fishing, off Scotland and parts of Cornwall. She says she's not getting in a nineteen foot boat with a fourteen foot shark claiming to be a vegetarian. It wouldn't be the first vegetarian to fall for the smell of a bacon sarnie. Stands to reason that sharks are as likely as humans to lose self-control and cave in at the first available opportunity. (The sharks in question are caught,tagged and sent back again - so no endless round of shark goulash, shark bolognaise, shark and kidney pie....)
The early Autumn weather has started to bring leaves down from the trees and the berries in the hedgerows are all ripening. Every day on the way to the Honker bus the children snaffle redcurrants from old bushes in someone's garden edging the road. There are blackberries to be had and small sprays of elderberries in more sunny corners. I am attempting to teach them the difference between what is edible and what is not. We pick blackberries and go home to make the first of the season's blackberry and apple crumbles. It is high time they learnt a few cookery techniques, I think. Today it is the rubbing in method. We leave out the porridge oats for once to make the traditional topping and they practise this new skill. It's quite hard to explain to a child how to flick your thumb back lifting and pressing the fat into the flour so that it resembles breadcrumbs and not a claggy mess. There is a marked difference in colour and texture between the two little pudding basins. We combine the two and the result tastes just fine. They are pleased to eat something they have made themselves and proud to serve it out for the rest of us.
You are making a dish of 'baked squid with chilli tomato sauce' (page 363). You say 'get your fishmonger to do the preparation of the squid. There is no reason to do it yourself.' Something tells me you wouldn't be up there with Terry filleting his shark. Given the licencing laws this is probably a mercy. A passing stranger remarked on the bad case of woodworm of his pergola. ' That's not woodworm,' he said, ' that's what happens to the squirrels eating off the bird table.' Now I come to think of it, the numbers do seem to have dropped over the past year.
You have arrived back home from the allotments with a gift from a friend of San Marzano tomatoes, Italian tomatoes which thrive in the Italian blistering sunshine and volcanic soil around Mount Vesuvius. Whether they taste as sweet grown in our British climate is questionable. You question it, too.
'I have grown them, but not with what you could call success. It is often said they make the richest tomato sauce of all, but obviously much depends on the ripeness of your tomatoes and , I would venture to suggest, on whether they were grown in Italy.'
The tomatoes are used to prepare a new everyday tomato sauce which can be used in an infinite variety of ways. Today it is poured over the squid, which have first been stuffed with an anchovy, breadcrumb and parsley mixture (which sounds intriguing) and baked in the oven.
I am looking at your recipe for 'broad bean, feta and spinach pie' (page 360) and considering its suitability for tomorrow's dinner. The filling is very familiar to me at the moment with its mountain of wilted and squeezed out spinach and crumbled feta, but you are using sheets of filo pastry brushed with melted butter and scattered with sesame seeds. I seem to have fallen out of using filo pastry- for no particular reason that I can think of - and perhaps it will make a lighter change that the puff pastry that has become too much of a regular routine for me. Sometimes it is a fine thing to be reminded of the good things half forgotten in your haste for the new and the novel.
A celebration is in the making. Plans for the new kitchen that you 'thought would never happen' are finally underway. There is something fundamentally right about returning a house to its roots - putting back the original 1820s floor plan and 'restoring the basement kitchen with its York stone floors, two fireplaces and deep fireside cupboards.' In celebration you make ' a lentil and pumpkin soup-stew' (page 358): 'A big, bolstering dish, tied as always to the season....Golden flesh to celebrate a golden day.' The pumpkin, you say, is interchangeable with butternut squash, which would probably be my chosen veg on this occasion as I prefer the texture. My dalliance with pumpkin has mostly been what to do with the insides of a pumpkin lantern, sometimes including a trail of dripped wax and the char of candle flame. Not a tasty ingredient, I hasten to add. Enjoy your stew. Slainte, Nigel.