Having made a pledge to myself that I would write this blog on a weekly basis, I promptly did what I am wont to do – i.e. the exact opposite. I loathe rules, and feel compelled to ignore them. Even the ones I make myself. It’s a terrible affliction.
However, I was told off by my mother-in-law the other day about the absence of this blog and when I checked it turned out that almost THREE MONTHS has passed since I last wrote it. Oops.
Off the top of my head here is a swift précis of the past few months:
August and September continued hot and dry and sent me into a heat-induced torpor. My tomato crop got attacked by a vile pest called tuta absoluta, which sounds like a gangsta rapper but is actually a nasty little moth whose maggots decimate the foliage and ruin the fruit. So that was annoying. Aubergines and cucumbers and french beans continue to crop in profusion and it turns out you definitely can have too many aubergines. The optimistic potato bed that I made out of a bag of sprouting potatoes from the bottom of the fridge did brilliantly and yielded a lovely crop of new potatoes, which was a bit of novelty for October.
My neighbour has continued to torture me with buckets of apples and pears and also quince and I had a disastrous attempt at making quince cheese (marmelada) that I don’t want to talk about. Last week she brought me a pile of huge wild mushrooms and I worried that she was giving up on torture and going straight for murder, but I checked their identity in my book, hoped that they were in fact parasol mushrooms and not death caps, and taking a giant leap of faith we enjoyed them very much fried in butter and garlic, without any side effects, such as death, at all.
This week she offered to show me where they grow, and I quite liked the idea of that – imagining a secret spot on the edge of the village somewhere. I arrived at her house at the arranged hour to find her husband cleaning out the car in preparation for my arrival. Off we went, Dona Madelana, Sr. José and me, stopping en route to pick up Mr. Nice Old Farmer, Sr. Antònio. We drove several miles to a forest on the other side of the next village next to a massive pera rocha (pear) plantation which , it turns out, belongs to Dona Madelena. Who knew? In fact, apparently, the whole mountain belongs to Dona Madelena, I think. She kept pointing at it and smiling and saying ‘a minha montanha’, anyway. Then we spent two hours scrambling about under the brambles in the forest looking for mushrooms and eventually, after several hours and having been caught in a torrential shower with no coats, we found six. Between us. They are big ones though – each about the size of my hand. I think she was a little embarrassed because she had assured me there were masses of them so she started raiding her own orchards and despite my protestations, filling my bag up with apples that I really don’t want. Then she presented me with a bouquet of a lovely plant with unusual red berries, that I’d never seen before and that she found growing beneath a eucalyptus tree (Butcher’s Broom, I’ve since discovered).
We eventually climbed back in the car and headed home, but when we arrived at her house she INSISTED I come in and INSISTED on giving me a guided tour of every room in her house including her bedroom and en suite bathroom, and talked me through every picture, every bit of catholic paraphernalia and every houseplant, until eventually she got to the massive overbearing wooden cabinet filled with all manner of shiny things and from which she produced a decanter of homemade ginjinha. I tried to refuse but she looked so shocked and hurt that I capitulated, thinking perhaps we could get drunk together as a bit of light relief, but she only poured one glass, informing me that she hadn’t had alcohol for thirty years due to her health, at which point she produced a SUITCASE full of her medication and proceeded to talk me through every drug, ailment and hospital visit she had endured in her entire life.
I should point out that although I’ve been attempting to learn Portuguese for two years it turns out I’ve learnt virtually nothing at all and can hardly understand a single word and neither can I make myself understood. This doesn’t seem to bother Dona Madelena in the slightest and she chatters away and I nod and she keeps talking. Occasionally I find she’s staring at me because I’m nodding when I think I should be shaking my head, but she’s not put off. Eventually, I managed to mime that my husband was a violent tyrant and would be expecting his supper on the table so that I could escape, and after kissing me profusely she INSISTED I take ALL the mushrooms and ALL the apples, as well as the bouquet, leaving the rest of them with precisely zilch for all their efforts. I tried to refuse, I really did, but she would have none of it, and looked affronted by the suggestion. I felt terrible. Oh dear. What am I going to do with her?
At the end of September my youngest daughter and her boyfriend arrived to take care of the animals and the garden whilst FF went on a golfing jolly in the Algarve and I spent a week visiting the fabulous gardens of Lake Como, which, apart from an unfortunate incident involving my passport, was really lovely (www.lucewomangetsabout.blogspot.pt).
This month we’ve had some torrential rain and also some fierce and terrifying winds. The rains brought a huge sigh of relief from the garden and, peculiarly, everything has started to grow and shoot and self-seeders have germinated all over the place. Turns out that in Portugal Autumn is the new Spring. Unfortunately the storm we had flattened two of my six purple sprouting broccoli plants which I was reeeeeally fed up about, but the good news is that I lifted a load of root vegetables to make space for the stuff I’ve sown or am about to sow (favas, peas, cauliflowers, spinach, beetroot and carrots) and they have been wonderful. I love lifting root vegetables – it’s like digging for treasure. You never know what you’re going to get. Huge parsnips, enormous sweet potatoes (munched a bit by voles, annoyingly), plump beetroot, plentiful carrots, Jerusalem artichokes and mammoth celeriac. So this Autumn it’s been all about Boulangères and Dauphinoises in front of the woodburner. Lovely.
Keats obviously didn’t live in Portugal. Mists and mellow fruitfulness? Hah. Torrents and torturous glutfulness more like…..