Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: Produce

Monday, July 31, 2006


Gradually, back on her island, Granny's life returns to normal. The fig tree continues to produce over-abundantly, she continues to process its produce as best she can. She's trying to dry some of her figs this year, as the locals do, but the results so far have not been good. (Except for the fruit flies which love them. Geneticists may be fond of fruit flies - they make good experiments; granny is not a geneticist. She does not.) Apart from that - fig jam with cardomom and rosewater anyone? - or with balsamic vinegar? - or with thyme, honey and lavender? (this one was not a great success). Alternatively fig compote with star anis and bay? or with lemon and almonds? So on and so forth. Her labours are somewhat erratic this year as her Beloved succeeded in catching her jam thermometer in the drawer and breaking it ("Why did you put it there?" Where else do you put your jam thermometer? asks she.) As such things are not obtainable here, she has to guess at the temperature. She has several lots of undercooked jam in consequence and one that burnt and had to be thrown away.

Granny feels like her much more domestic mother. What has brought her to this pass, making jam, bottling fruit? No desire to join the WI for sure. (Not that her mother did either; she was not a joiner, any more than granny is) Anyway there are no such things here, as far as Granny knows; not for the likes of her at least. There are no jam-makers either, judging by the lack of available equipment. Short of a preserving pan, Granny is forced to use her Beloved's milking pail - designed for the goats which she is glad to say have not yet arrived. It serves well enough except it has a hump in the middle of its bottom and a groove all round the edge. This may be good for the milkman, but is less so for the jam-maker. The jam burns in the groove all too easily. (Hence her burnt batch.)

One good thing has happened. Years ago, as in Spain, Italy, France, there were markets here for local produce. With the arrival of the supermarkets all closed down. The markets left were for tourists, selling local handicrafts (not much cop, unless you want a local hat, a lace collar, a doll dressed in local costume) and any amount of tat brought in from everywhere. Granny and Beloved patronise one only, much smaller than the others and mostly without the tat. It has more upmarket jewelry, clothes etc made mostly by expat hippies, German, British, Canadian whatever. It also - and this is/was the chief reason for their interest - has a wonderful organic vegetable stall, the queues stretching from end of the market to the other, most weeks. It turned into a free for all at one point. "A battlefield" the dismayed stallholders complained. They've got a system now; you have take a number and wait your turn, sometimes for a long time. You are no longer allowed to fight with the mostly German punters behind and ahead of you for the last remaining strawberries, rocket, broadbeans or whatever, most of it picked that very morning. You have to wait for the stallholders to serve you.

Granny doesn't know whether it is the success of this stall that has led to further developments. A year ago the island was promised that the vegetable market in the main town was to re-open shortly. Typically here it didn't; the island is still waiting. (Where was it to be, the administrators asked themselves? The old market? Yes, they said; and then again, no. Then where? or where? or where where? As far as Granny knows the functionaries, the politicians are still busy arguing.) Meantime Granny's own municipality has seized its chance. Little stone alcoves were built opposite the local pilgrimage church, which has the widest and biggest tarmac space on the island. (As it's also in the windiest part of the island, the usual flimsy wooden stalls would not do.) Yesterday was the grand opening featuring above all the producers with their stalls full of home-grown vegetables and fruit - and - yippee, it's good here, every household with any land plants grapes and makes it - their own wine. And lots of the local cheese, which is good. There was odd lace-collar too, and hat and basket and kitschy doll but never mind that. There were also speeches from local worthies, patting themselves on the back ('we're offering the only non-tourist market on the island"..) free food, folk song and dancing in local costume. The songs and dances? - well - as with all Canarian songs and dances, once you've heard/seen one, you've heard/seen the lot; a bit like Scottish dancing really; does Granny dare say that? She does! (If not in her Scottish Beloved's hearing.) As for the local costume - it's thick and heavy up here and designed to protect its wearers from the cold and wind, appropriately so for the highest coldest borough in the island; the men in particular wear a rather fetching dark blue pixyish hat. But then everyone's ears, male or female, are covered up, possibly to the detriment of their hearing; which may indicate why this is also considered one of the least friendly towns on the island.

There was a demonstration of traditional threshing; consisting of about five mules tied together and turning in a circle on a pile of unthreshed grain; mostly willingly, except for the middle mule which having to turn on its own axis was not a happy mule and had to be dragged, head up, protesting jaw open, teeth rampant. When the grain was sufficiently trampled, the men with flails came out. Etc etc. All very picturesque, and only recently redundent. Such work was still done like this for real up till last year by an old man who lived next door to the friends whom Granny and Beloved had invited up for the occasion. When they first arrived on the island twenty years ago, the locals used camels as well as mules and donkeys on their village threshing floor. No longer in use, it has been turned, very conveniently, into the village car park. Pity. Except for the in-the-centre mule, perhaps.

Granny wonders how they thresh now - where they still grow grain. Some farmers still do, the bags of their grain sit, alongside the bags of locally grown beans and lentils in the supermarkets as well as here on the market stalls. Many more though grow the fruits and vegetables which will be on offer now every Sunday, just ten minutes walk away. Good good good.

She and Beloved and their friends did not stay for more dancing/singing, for the free food or the demonstration of Canarian wrestling, but went home with laden bags. They hope the market will be successful - it was yesterday, but then it would have been, what with all that free food, drink and entertainment, and that many more will follow. And even that, given better prices, more profit, people will be encouraged to come back into agriculture, just a bit. One reason for this market, she knows, is that the prices offered to the farmers by the local supermarkets were/are derisory, even if they don't, like English supermarkets, demand that each carrot, papaya, tomato, is the same size and shape as its fellows. Granny would much rather pay her money to the farmers than to the supermarkets. And it all still works out much cheaper for her and the other punters. So everyone is happy. Except the supermarkets possibly. But who cares about them.

Meantime, back home on the ranch, the female bantam, Amina is broody. The only way Rocky, her poor cockerel, gets to express his masculinity is by crowing, which he does, all the time, loudly. If he tries to fly up into the nest box to get at his sitting mate, she sees him off smartly; as she also sees off any (unamorous, naturally) intrusion by Beloved. Granny can understand now why men are less interested in the results of breeding - if not the process itself. The hen has two of her own eggs under her and two hens' eggs. In ten days or so the virility of the three cockerels will be demonstrated. Or not, as the case may be: in which case, coq au vin anyone? Everyone is invited.

Oh and this: a small addition. Her friend Clare has a new website. She is a very good writer. Do visit. When Granny gets round to a long overdue edit of her blogroll, you will find her there, too.


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