Feb 22 2004

WINTER

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The February east wind whistles round my head and bites into my clothes as I walk head down to the farmyard to let out the chickens and feed the donkeys. The chill intensifies as I climb the hill with the dogs to check the ewes almost ready to lamb. I hope a kindlier wind will greet the first arrivals. Brief bursts of sunshine are beginning to wake up the garden. Snowdrops are fading and daffodils exploding in their place. Camellias open coyly only to be browned by the frost while the crocuses sing.

Not much around to eat though! The herbs and vegetables are few and far between. I have some salad leaves still standing in the polytunnel and brussel sprouts and leeks defying the wind and rain outside. The spinach looks a bit sad but purple sprouting is just beginning to show tiny blue tips. In amongst the flowers in the orchard I see the first signs of wild garlic, The leaves and flowers will cheer up our winter salads and add some zing to a boring sandwiches. Maybe I’ll dig up some bulbs, chop them and mix with butter and spread in crusty bread to eat with leek and potato soup.

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As I look at the winter landscape I realise how little we now have to depend on the food of the seasons. We don’t even limit ourselves to that which is produced locally any more. We can buy whatever we fancy whenever we like, flown in from all over the world. Strawberries, figs, peaches, cherry tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, melons and so on and so on; all of it “out of season” We can simply please ourselves and eat whatever takes our fancy at any time of the year. In some ways at first it seems marvellous; more choice for everyone, a more interesting diet, less drudgery in the kitchen. An architect friend of mine told me recently of apartments being built in London without kitchens….Just restaurant food and the microwave!

It is just so satisfying to be able to use that carefully preserved cornucopia of autumn if you know how. Meat we raised ourselves or bought from our neighbours is in the deep freeze. Fruit and vegetables have been frozen too or made into jams, jellies, chutneys and preserves. Some vegetables and fruits are bottled. Eggs are pickled, meats are potted. Terrines and pates add variety to our winter diet and we’re lucky enough to have fish delivered once a week provided the fishermen can get out to sea. All cheer up winter meals for unexpected guests.

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