The book recommendation algorithm at our library is surprisingly good; recognizing my interest in edible gardening, in particular fruit, it suggested “Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard” by Nigel Slater. If I were to ever write a book that combines my three loves of gardening, cooking + baking and photography, this is the kind of book I hope it would be. The prose is as delicious as the recipes, the photography rustic yet elegant.
Apples “… their skins a tapestry of moss green, sage and amber, their flesh crisp, acid-sweet, and full of character.”
and “The trees will be loved too, for their lichen-encrusted branches, tissue-frail blossom, and quiet benevolence.”
Side note: I have ordered my hardcover copy, this is a book to be lovingly held and lingered over.
There are no pictures in the book of shapely, perfectly colored apples tumbling out of artfully arranged baskets. Instead they suggest that the author just stepped into his garden and lovingly captured images of his harvest, endearingly ugly in a jumble of colors and sizes. For me this is especially heartening. You see, I have a 3 year old Garden Delicious (yes Garden, not Golden) apple tree. This is a genetic dwarf, developed by Zaiger’s Genetics of Modesto, California. The tree has only produced a grand total of 8 apples in the two years we have had it. The apples have been rather unattractive – small, green and yellow striped, with just a touch of red and somewhat lopsided. The flesh however was surprisingly good, “crisp, acid-sweet, and full of character”. I used to worry about how the fruit looked, being so used to the waxed perfection of grocery store apples. However, after reading about apples described with so much love, and all the delights you can make with them, I am happy to brush aside such concerns.
Cherries “bring with them a certain frivolity, a carefree joy like hearing the far-off laughter of a child at play.”
And when reading of a cherry pie “with soft sugar-dusted pastry and a river of unpasteurized cream running slowly over its warm crust” who can help being impatient for cherry season to arrive so you can bake such wonders.
Figs, blueberries, pears et al have been treated with the same love, respect and awe. The meat and fruit recipes, to be honest, I will probably not attempt, particularly the ones calling for pheasant, guinea fowl or rabbit. The dessert recipes are all tempting and simple.
In the meanwhile, the clementines in my backyard are ripening nicely. Every day their color seems to be a shade more orange. Last year, I started picking and eating the clementines in early January when they looked perfectly ripe and tempting. However, they all tasted bitter. After some frantic Internet research, I learned two things – one, don’t have citrus fruit immediately after brushing your teeth, a mouth freshly rinsed of toothpaste and citrus juices don’t combine well. Two, even when appearing to be perfectly ripe and coming off the tree easily, citrus fruit continue to increase in sugar content over time. So a few weeks later, the fruit had ripened properly to the sweetness and wonderful flavor I associate with our backyard clementines.
My potted Violette de Bordeaux fig, which I bought as a tiny twig last year with a couple of leaves, outgrew the pot it was in and now has 10 or more figs on it. It has been in my plastic greenhouse most of the fall and I intend to keep it there through the winter. Also, I got carried away and now have 5 more figs in pots or scheduled to arrive in the spring – Petit Negri, Celeste, LSU Purple, Peter’s Honey and Mary Lane. All of them I chose for a diversity of flavor and texture e.g. Mary Lane is also called Jelly fig, because it is seedless, Peter’s Honey figs are supposed to be as sweet as honey, and so on.
Among the flowers, Clematis Niobe has produced a huge off-season bloom. Winter-blooming jasmine is starting to form tiny buds. We have it growing around one of the supporting posts of our patio, and for a far too brief period in late winter, it perfumes the entire patio with its delicate fragrance. Hyacinth shoots are just beginning to poke their heads out of the ground.
The brisk air and mellow sunlight of winter is lovely, but I am impatient for longer days and for the garden to be bursting into life again.