Autumn might have officially arrived but summer still calls the tune here. These days are so beautiful, the landscape a wide canvas of vibrant greens and blues, gilt-edged with sunlight.
My need to be outside and drink it all in is overwhelming. You can get tipsy on this warmth, drunk on the fresh air laced with the spicy scents of sun-warmed pine and eucalyptus, or the sweet wild mint where the cattle tread. Nature’s aromatherapy. It’s intoxicating. I find myself drawn again and again up the bosky lane, into the green-glossed woodland, still so lush and full; it’s barely flirting with the idea of autumn yet.
I feel the allure of the coast, too, like the inexorable pull of the tides. We wandered along the coastpath, eating our picnic perched high on a clifftop, watching the waves hurl themselves against the black rocks in a fury of foam and spindrift. Don’t be fooled by that sullen sky: it was 28C and a little cloud cover was a blessing!
Holidays over, the beach was deserted save for a few other wanderers and the usual flock of proprietary gulls; I love the emptiness of it all, the wildness of this rugged coastline, the salty, ozone breeze, the untamed, feral energy of the ocean.
There is something about wide open spaces at this time of year that creates a huge burst of energy within me, a rising tide of childlike exuberance and joy that makes me want to run and shout and turn cartwheels for the sheer love of being alive. One day, I’ll grow up. Maybe.
Home again, and there was a restless fidgeting about the squash patch, too, a definite hardening of stems and shrinking away from plants that suggested something was afoot. Time to harvest those bountiful fruits before they started to do the job for themselves. Our lane is indescribably steep (which is why it’s surfaced with ridged concrete rather than tarmac) and it is no exaggeration to say that several kilos of squash bowling down the mountainside in a bid for freedom could cause untold damage, possibly fatal. As I am extremely fond of our neighbours, that is a thought too dreadful to contemplate so it was without doubt time to get busy. Operation Squash Harvest happens in two phases. First, collecting them from various patches and places and gathering them all in the courtyard (the only flat area we have) ready for washing. This took me some time, partly because so many of them weighed more than a small child and partly because they were spread far and wide. In fact, I even ended up slithering up and down the meadow several times to retrieve a number of sizeable ‘Crown Prince’ which had leapt the fence and were heading for Portugal. Jairo’s gorgeous cows watched me with a hint of disdain in their liquid chocolate eyes as if to say, ‘Silly Moo’ (in Spanish, obviously). Quite right, too. After what felt like a pretty comprehensive workout, it was time for a roll call.
On the left, thirteen ‘Crown Prince’ and five ‘Self-set in the Casa Victorio Compost Heap’ (we think a cross between ‘Guatemalan Blue’ and ‘Crown Prince’); on the right, six ‘Russian Pink Fairies’ (if you’re thinking dainty Anna Pavlova in gauzy pastel tutus, forget it; we’re talking Olympic shot put champs here); two ‘Olive’, one of which is a mutant torpedo; two ‘Moranga Coroa’; one ‘Lumina’; one ‘Georgia Candy Roaster’; one ‘Zapalo Plomo’; four butternuts, either ‘Harrier’ or ‘Hunter (we’ve already eaten several straight from the garden); finally, one rather pathetic ‘Redondo di Tronco’ which came as a bit of a surprise as the plant appeared to die some months ago. There are more to come, of course; they will appear as the foliage dies back – I’ve already added another ‘Moranga Coroa’, another ‘Olive’ and several butternuts to the haul. Phase Two involved carrying each and every one up far too many steep steps to the horreo and organising them onto the balcony where they can cure in the sunshine over the next few weeks. Hard work, yes – but what a wonderful sight to behold, and once again I was touched by that miracle of gardening that starts with a handful of insignificant-looking seeds and ends in an abundance of fresh, wholesome food.
Much as I love a touch of mindfulness, the business of seeds means gardeners always need to have one eye on the future. To that end, I’ve been planting the polytunnel with crops that should give us little fresh pickings all through winter: mixed salad leaves, spicy baby leaves, mizuna, rocket, wild rocket, spring onions, rainbow chard, beetroot and kohl rabi. It’s our first complete winter with a tunnel here so it’s all a bit of an experiment; I’m excited to see what happens and hopeful that we can keep the bugs and beasties away.
There’s been a frenzy of activity in the village bean patches this week so naturally I felt the need to follow suit. The climbing borlotti beans are still ripening and creating a rather fabulous splash of colour against a backdrop of rusty sunflowers but the Asturian beans were definitely ready for harvesting. The traditional method used here is to strip the whole plants from the poles or strings up which they’ve grown and hang them in tidy bundles on horreo balconies to dry completely. It is such an efficient and effective way of doing things, not least because it saves teetering on a ladder on a steep slope, trying to pick beans several feet above your head. This begs the question as to why the latter method is precisely the one I’ve been using and I have to admit it all comes down to organisation (or possibly, a distinct lack of it). Instead of drying the beans, we prefer to freeze them for the simple reason that it avoids those frustrating ‘aaaargh!’ moments in the winter kitchen when we have planned to cook fabada – that most comforting and traditional of Asturian dishes – only to find we’ve forgotten to soak and pre-cook the very ingredient from which it takes its name.
Sitting and podding the beans in the afternoon sunshine is a seasonal pleasure, accompanied as I am by the soporific buzz of bumble bees, the lazy flutter of peacock butterflies and the melodic scales of the robins’ autumn song. I’d forgotten how lovely these beans are, so big and creamy and delicious, not tasting quite like anything else.
There is an abundance of chillies, too, setting the garden and tunnel alight with their flaming brilliance. I’ve been freezing them in piles; if I’d been a bit more attentive to labelling earlier in the year, we could have separate cayenne and jalapeno bags but as it is, it’s pepper pick ‘n’ mix time. I’m drying some, too and what a wonderfully therapeutic task it is, sewing them into strings (yes, yes – I probably need to get out more).
There is something so wonderfully fundamental about gathering a harvest, such a basic yet significant activity, a rapturous festival of the miracle of nature. There have been many times this year when I have doubted the promise of plenty and yet here it is once more, food in abundance. Squash, onion, beans, chillies . . . soup mix in a bowl, the kind of ready meal I love.
It almost makes me hanker after those cooler days with the woodstove lit, the enticing smells of comfort foods emanating from its soothing depths . . . but not yet. Just look at those bright blue skies and luxuriate in that balmy heat. Autumn? No thanks, I’m definitely not ready yet!