Monday, August 20, 2018

Sound onions and Tomatilloes


'Sound onions ' used to say an advertising sign on a stall in the Northcote Road vegetable and fruit market where I did all my shopping 50 years ago on the way home from work in Belleville school in Wandsworth. 

Fresh from Teacher Training, in own rented flat in West Hill Road off the Merton Road , a 39 or 77a bus ride away from work near 'the Junction' I soon learned that I knew nothing at all about vegetables, or cooking or Afro-Caribbean culture or what 'halal' meant : all so different from my East Riding home, and my Ripon College. 

I came from a village where the bus to town came three times a day , but on time, to live in an urban village network where the buses came every 10 minutes. Sometimes three  buses had just been at  once, so there was a 20 min wait , but  one could get a train to the Festival hall on the South Bank in five minutes and so be from kitchen to Lionel Rogg or Jacques Loussier in half an hour after a busy day at school . Flatmate and I used to go about twice a week to concerts , and every Saturday to Galleries and Museums and shopping down the Kings Road . The shopping for fresh food was  done every day , and the variety of produce was as much a novelty for me as the buzz of 60s London.

Szechuan pepper tree
It is  the Northcote Road street market that I mourn most when I  travel around London now, on great buses with my Old Lady pass, to Museums and Art galleries , but no more street market now in the Northcote. 
Filey thankfully still has a Greengrocer where I buy all my fruit and veg that I don't grow on my allotment , but nothing will ever replace the  didactic experience of encountering Yams , Sweet Potatoes, Plantain and even courgettes for the first time.
In Mrs Gaskell's Cranford of 1850s , oranges were a rare novelty, the rich landowners grew them in Orangeries, in World War 2 a scarcity of bananas led to the death of our family Parrot, and a lemon was a luxury . There seem to be no fruit or vegetables  not be imported into the UK now. We get one variety of Aubergine, grown in Spain ,in our local shop, but in street markets of Leeds and Bradford I see many varieties . I see Chickpeas and Gogi  berries, we are growing both, but the highlight of spouses summer is that the Kiwi vine he planted 25 years ago is finally fruiting in the Filey windy climate after a really hot summer. We have 2 Szechuan pepper trees, one now 30cm tall ,from a 5cm plant which arrived mail order in February. This one in the back yard is doing well , better than the one in my cold frame on the plot.
Always heartened by an article from the RHS magazine of 1990 ,which I keep on my Gardening bookshelf , I am delighted that the Okra plant given me by friend Ann C is doing well in the heat. I, like the author of the article 28years ago , have never managed to bring my plants to fruit . The irony of this years success is that although I still make curry , we have gone off the taste and consistency of Okra. The rest of the article is concerned with the production of Horny cucumbers which in 1990 could be obtained as seeds from Chiltern Seeds, now no longer it seems . Though an oddity , they have not been discovered yet as a Superfood. Not so the Cucamelons, being feted online this year. Dear friend in Wensleydale gave me 2 plants. They are rampant around the greenhouse and bear marble sized mini melons. We don't rate the taste , superfruit or not , so I've pickled them with a recipe from James Wong.
Every year I write notes for the following year . last year I wrote
 'do not grow more than 3 Courgette plants' 
and so I didn't . Three have been more than enough. I will write next year, belt and braces,
'do not grow more than 2 courgette plants'
I am picking 4 every day , so Chutney production is in progress , using the tomatilloes , hot chillies, the poblano Chillies and the courgettes . My original idea was that we would eat Mexican recipes from Rick Steins BBC  TV programme . Another bright idea bites the dust , as we have not fancied lots of hot food this summer, and spouse and I tried to like the  breadcrumbed Poblano Chillies stuffed with cheese and deep fried , but they are an acquired taste . The Poblano chillies are not as exotic as they seemed on TV, and deep fried cheese is only one step away from a deep fried Mars Bar in our fat free diets.
As for sound onions, I only realised today the significance of the phrase, for this year my onions on the plot have not been sound, and neither have those of my neighbour on the next door plot . Many have saddleback ends , from watering after a period of prolonged drought . Next year I will not water at all , or will water regularly . I shall put a note in my book .