Having always been a member of the Grass is Greener Society, there came a point last year when I began to resent our vegetable garden. I stopped being thrilled by green shoots or being outraged as the pigeons snapped each broad-bean tip. I made lettuce soup from the glut, without love, and begrudged the runner beans for always peaking in the week when I had no time to pick them. I expected, and got, tomato blight. I hadn’t learnt that more than two courgette plants is folly and I swore at the stubbornly barren asparagus bed. What I really wanted was to live in a house without these tyrants.
But now, six months after moving into a rented house with a courtyard for a garden, I’m missing it terribly. I can’t pretend I’d have been out there, digging in the rain, but I would have been turning down the corners on seed catalogues and the idea of wet, sticky earth seems very appealing. I just needed a bit of a breather.
I suspect this is why I was seduced by the Seville oranges in the supermarket, having steered clear for many years. I’m the only one in the family who likes marmalade and, as we’re usually given a pot by a friend who takes the business so seriously she flies to Seville to get the oranges, making my own would be superfluous. It stuck in the craw to actually have to buy jam jars-I know we have at least 50 in storage (I realise nothing about this sentence makes sense), but I handed over the money and came home full of enthusiasm.
I finely sliced the peel while Zam and Alf squeezed the fruits. We decided to make half quantities, but argued over whether this means you reduce the cooking time. We looked up various recipes and, because we couldn’t agree on the best technique, decided to make his and hers batches. I blame the competitive edge that has crept into all our cooking following Masterchef Australia, which is our nightly viewing. We’ve developed such loves/hates for each contestant that I feel it very strongly when everyone takes against Deb. Alf says she’s only got herself to blame, but even so…
There’s something of the Good Old Days in the kitchen as we squeeze and stir and put pips into muslin bags. The telephone rings and my sister, whose village has been cut off by floods, delivers the latest. Residents are no longer allowed to attempt to drive in or out because the sandbags can’t take the bow wave. Dishwashers and washing machines are switched off. Baths are banned.
A rota has been set up for the daily baking of coffee cakes and delivery of soup for the Accredited Community Safety Officers in the village hall whose help has been invaluable (they’re about to be axed in the next round of spending cuts). They’ve wheeled old ladies over sandbags, taken children to school, helped man the pumps, worked hard and are always cheery in the freezing cold, soaked through as the rain continues.
It would be unfair to say that she’s never sounded happier, but I definitely feel a streak of envy at the wartime spirit in a village that, already a friendly community, is being drawn ever closer. Providing they can survive the next few weeks in the same spirit, the floods of 2014 will probably become a happy legend.
All this ties in very nicely with the golden liquid now being poured into the shiny new jam jars (only three, but Will says that will last a couple of years, so we decide against the second batch) and I’m practically singing Vera Lynn. Then, the shred starts floating to the top and I’m about to ring my sister back for help, when I receive her text ‘And now the power’s gone’, followed by some language I don’t think was used in the Good Old Days. I switch on Masterchef and wonder if life might be better down under, where they seem to have a limitless supply of prawns and exotic fruit.
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