I always think of the equinoxes as perfect points of balance, a few moments of equilibrium between dark and light before we tip into longer or shorter days. Looking around the garden, fields and woodland this week there is certainly a sense of balance in all things, as though we have one foot planted firmly in both seasons.
The swallows and their friends are still piercing the evening skies with their arrowhead silhouettes but the garden resounds with the robins’ autumn song once more. We are still enjoying sitting out and eating on warm, sunny evenings but the mornings creep in a little cooler, a little mistier, a little later.
There are plenty of sights that still sing of summer . . .
. . . and those that hint at the changes to come.
In terms of what we are eating from the garden, a game of blindfold ‘guess the season’ would be interesting at the moment. A salad from the last outdoor tomatoes, a young cucumber, several types of sweet pepper, a yellow courgette, young Florence fennel, mint and chives was a crisp and colourful palette of summery flavours. A tray of roast vegetables – more courgettes and peppers, onion, garlic, aubergines – felt summery in a ratatouille sort of way until the starchier heavyweights of potato and butternut squash made their presence felt. Spiced red cabbage braised with pear and toasted walnuts and a dish of buttered leeks . . . ah, now that definitely suggests autumn is in the air. What a wonderful, delicious time of year it is!
It’s a busy time of harvesting. We have spent several hours picking and podding kilos of beans for the freezer. These will be one of our main staples in the months to come; they are such a versatile and nutritious food, whether cooked and cooled for salad bases, thrown into soups and stews or made into hummus-style dips. We love fabada, the regional pork, chorizo and bean stew, and it’s comforting to think that this winter’s version will be all the more authentic for having grown our own crop of creamy white Asturian fabas.
The first walnuts are falling and it’s a case of beating the wild boar to them, not easy when our main stand of trees is across the meadow and out of sight. They have certainly been partying like pigs if the rootlings and snoutings under the trees are anything to go by but we don’t begrudge them their nightly feasts, there is plenty for all!
We have a tremendous crop of pears this year, the branches are drooping under the sheer weight of fruit. Research tells us the best way to keep them is in a very cold fridge and as we just happen to have a spare one of those under the house (one of the more useful things we were left here) we have been filling it steadily over the last few days. Having tried and failed to grow decent pears in the past, these are such a treat and will be our main hard fruit over winter.
Mind you, we are still enjoying a good crop of summer fruits and of course, the mighty kiwi harvest is waiting in the wings.
Something else which has been waiting in the wings is our new stove, aka Beast III. It has been installed for several weeks now, sitting proudly beneath its new state of the art slate-clad chimney (a final little creative flourish from our builder!) but we still need to finish decorating around it and obviously it has been far too warm to even think about lighting it. Cue one blown element in our electric oven this week and suddenly the Beast has taken centre stage, warm weather or not. Oh my goodness, what a difference to the old stove and chimney set up we have been struggling with. Here’s a novelty: all the smoke goes up the chimney, all the heat comes out into the room, it is hot enough to cook on within minutes of lighting and maintains a steady heat. Gentle enough to simmer a rich slow-cooked sauce, hot enough to bake bread and crisp homemade pizzas, constant enough to keep the kettle singing merrily. I’m singing, too; I don’t want to rush towards cooler weather but we are going to be so snug this winter, it makes me smile just to think about it. 🙂
Returning to the theme of balance. One of the things I love about travel and living abroad is the opportunity they offer for cultural exchange, opening eyes and minds to new possibilities and broadening horizons. It fascinates me how similar human beings from different parts of the world can be whilst at the same time, even the tiniest cultural differences can define us in interesting ways. Seeing and experiencing the ways in which different nations live and work helps to put everything into perspective, to maintain a balanced view of my native country and others I have spent time in. I have never understood the view that just because someone does something in a different and unfamiliar way, it’s wrong. No, it’s simply different . . . and maybe we should try it ourselves? On our long car journeys of recent months, Roger and I have often joked that if you could take the silky smooth surface and camber of a French road, add the super-visible road markings and signage of a British road and the courtesy and patience of Spanish drivers, you would have the perfect car journey!
So where is this going? Well, one of the things I have noticed since moving to Asturias is the distinct lack of litter compared to the other countries in which I have lived; yes, there is some in places but on the whole, people here work very hard to keep their beautiful principality clean. Rubbish bins and recycling points are plentiful in public places and are used and emptied regularly, even in more remote areas; popular beaches are litter-picked and raked daily; you simply don’t see people throwing litter down on the street or out of their cars and that’s what makes the difference. There is a deep pride and respect for the environment that I feel is sadly lacking in other places. Stopping for a picnic lunch near Bordeaux last week, I couldn’t help but take a photo of a bag of rubbish that had been dumped on the grass in a litter-strewn picnic site. The site had an empty, lined rubbish bin that no-one seemed capable of using. The irony of the message on the bag can’t be missed. What a strange species we are.