Family, Magic, Welsh


Granny, Dad and Uncle A

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She died just over two years ago and at this time of year I am reminded of the early autumnal atmosphere and odd misty sense of homecoming that surrounded the family as we joined together for the first time in many years for her wake and funeral. It took place in west Wales where, bar for a spell in Windsor where she worked in service to a Countess Orssich, she lived all of her life.

Throughout our childhood, my brother, sister and I were driven around Pembrokeshire on our summer holidays and sometimes over Christmas. And each time, on the way to visit our cousins in the countryside near Narberth, we would drive across a road which was something of a flyover. Underneath it was a field, marshy and ungrazed where an old tin shack was abandoned, collapsed and decaying. Each time we drove across, Dad would say to us, ‘Granny used to live there.’
We never believed him. And we never believed Granny either. It wasn’t until much later when we realised that they had both been telling the truth. Granny’s early life was poor and hard and there’s not much point in glossing over it. She dug the earth toilet. She waked five miles to school, even as a tot, and later on cycled everywhere. She cooked and cleaned and nursed and economised, bringing up three, not always healthy, boys. She sent them away from Pembrokeshire to seek their fortunes and each time I return it is with a sense of melancholy. The old earth, the old country, the deep connections with rhythms of nature and the slow turning of time or pull of tide seem unable to keep up with what is expected of human beings in the 21st century.
After a long and difficult year, I have attempted to honour my grandmother today. I doubt she would have had much sympathy for any of the plights I have found myself in. She could be a hard woman at times, never afraid to tell a blunt truth when it suited her, but she knew how to grow children and working men. And I loved her.
This week I have been presented with the harvest from my father’s garden and that of my best friend’s mother. There were runner beans, long and fat, the last of the crop; tomatoes; broccoli just going over; a dubious looking marrow; thick skinned cucumber; pears past their best; huge cooking apples and immense stems of rhubarb. I have made a soup with the broccoli and half the marrow. The fruit has turned into a crumble and the tomatoes are roasting in the oven with garlic and vinegar.
I have hardly cooked this last year. It is a symptom of malaise that is part of an ever nastier circle – if one doesn’t eat well, one is missing the nurturing, strengthening love of the earth. If one cannot cook for one’s family, one cannot easily heal them. The less one cooks, the worse one feels.  And so, with the rather tough love of my grandmother pushing at me, I have a harvest feast to serve which we will eat whether we want to or not, and regardless of whether we deserve it. Happy birthday, Gran.
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Roasted Tomatoes
Whatever tomatoes you have left which needs using up either from the fridge or the greenhouse. This is a good use for fruit just turning.
Chopped garlic
A little oil
Rosemary and bay – from the garden if you have it, or whatever else is to hand.
Sea salt
Chop and mix all together and put in the oven at whatever temperature it happens to be at. Mine was at gas mark four today to accommodate the crumble. It’s hard to spoil these – if they go soft, whiz them into a soup or sauce. If they’re still firm, serve them on a bit of toast with an egg or on the side of a piece of fish.
Harvest Soup
My way of making soup really is designed to use up whatever I have received a glut of. Do not go out and buy special ingredients for this.
Today’s veg included:
Half the very large and suspicious looking marrow
Two heads of broccoli
An onion
A carrot
The last of a bag of frozen peas
Fry the onion and garlic
Put all the other chopped veg in the large pan and stir together
Add water from the kettle to cover the veg, season. I tend not to bother with stock cubes and the like.
Today’s herbs included chopped fresh rosemary, a bay leaf and some very nice turmeric I found in the drawer as well as a bit of frozen basil I had left over.
Cook until vegetables are all soft, then blend down and add a touch of milk or cream.
Autumn Crumble
Again, don’t fret too much about the fruit. Go with what needs using up in the fruit bowl and add tinned or dried fruit if pickings are slim
Today’s combination included the pockmarked pears, two foot of rhubarb and half a mean looking bramley apple.
Peel and cut out anything undesireable and cook until soft on the stove in a little water and sugar.
Crumble topping – 8oz of flour (I use a gluten free blend which works fine but doesn’t brown so nicely as wheat), 3 oz of butter, 4oz of sugar. If you have golden or brown sugar, even better, but use what is to hand. Rub together all the ingredients until they are like breadcrumbs.
Place the fruit in a dish and cover with the crumble. Sometimes I draw a symbol in the top to add a little magic to the proceedings. Today it was a chi rho.
Cook at gas mark 4 for about forty minutes.

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