I really feel sorry for anyone who has started to 'grow their own' this year or last; you haven't had it easy, it's either been too dry, too hot, too cold or too darn wet. It's easy to moan about what hasn't grown and get very down and fed up about trying to be self-sufficient in fresh fruit and veg.
The thing is, there never is a year when everything grows and produces a wonderful crop, so it's best to grow a variety of the different crops and there's bound to be a few that do quite well. There will probably be one or two that surpass all expectations. You could call it Biodiversity, I'm going to call it Philosophical Gardening.
Here's an example . . . Gooseberries.
Some years, well actually most years, they are a bit tricky to get to crop well. If it's warm and a little bit humid the bushes get mildew and the fruit get covered in a horrid fungal bloom. Then, as if that isn't bad enough, the leaves suddenly disappear! Munched, seemingly overnight, by a marching army of Gooseberry Sawfly larvae.
This year (while we've all been hiding indoors, keeping warm and sheltering from the storms) our 'Invicta' Gooseberry bush has been flourishing, growing big spiny new shoots, lush shiny green leaves and lots and lots of fruit. Untroubled by mildew and wriggly maggots, the fruit have swelled and the branches hung down under the weight of hundreds of plump green bristly berries.
On Saturday afternoon I decided to pick all the Gooseberries from our single bush, the yield was 2.5 kilos! I sat in the shade and while listened to the Wimbledon commentary on TuneIn Radio on my iPhone, I nubbed the Gooseberries.
Spending all that time looking at Gooseberries, made me realise what strange little fruits they are. What was the flower stalk is that thin olive-green stem ending in a tiny trumpet shape; the fruit bit is like a green balloon, the remains of the dry shriveled petals are still attached to the end opposite the stalk.
I put one half of the Gooseberries in the freezer and with the other I made Gooseberry and Elderflower jam (River Cottage recipe as shown here). It smelled gorgeously flowery as it cooked.
I put a dozen Gooseberries aside to be 'life models' . . . I wanted to record how Gooseberries, which you'd think are as similar as peas in a pod, are actually each unique. I remembered what one of my art college drawing tutors used to say as he paced behind us during life classes, "first, the strange shapes; the strange shapes".
At the end of the day there were five jars (and a bit over for Sunday breakfast) of beautiful, complex, sharp, sweet, Gooseberry and Elderflower jam. A jam of such distinction really deserves some scones and clotted cream!
And here are the strange fruits . . . each one a little different from the others.
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