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Monday, 23 September 2013

The Fruits of the Season – in Spain and North Yorkshire

I haven't quite finished with our Spanish trip yet. In fact, it hasn't finished with me: my legs are still a little stiff.   


I expected to see plenty of olives (above) as we pedalled our way up and down the mountains; and of course I expected the grapes (as below)

Actually, there were far fewer of those than I thought there might be. We read – somewhere – that the region’s wine industry had been severely curtailed by an outbreak of phylloxera.

Phylloxera is not a virus, nor a mildew, but a plague of tiny sap-sucking insects related to the aphid. In other words, evil little buggers. The infestation that came to the Valencia region wasn't in the recent past (as in the Loire Valley, where we were earlier this year) but over a hundred years ago, back in the opening decade of the 20th century. The disaster caused the locals to go into almonds – which I neglected to photograph – and olives, and it appears they have never really gone back to viticulture.  



I was delighted too to find plenty of fig-trees on the roadsides (above), and not a few walnuts, so we were never short of a tasty snack.

The big surprise, however, was the abundance of that quintessentially British wayside fruit, the humble blackberry, or bramble:


I even saw a couple of blackthorn trees bearing ripe purple sloes, but was travelling far too fast at the time to be slowing down and snapping photographs.

The harvest was beginning, and we occasionally saw the farmers, or their families, spreading nets under the olive trees and whacking the branches with stout sticks or, in some cases, a hefty rubber mallet. I wanted to join in. I always do where food-gathering is concerned. There’s little I enjoy more than harvesting edible produce, especially if it’s free. Imagine my delight when I visited my old mate Phil (aka Chainsaw) this weekend and found the trees in his wee orchard groaning under the weight of a huge crop of apples. Never let it be said that I allowed a friend to shoulder his burden unaided. I relieved him of – oh, I’d guess 30-40 lbs of Bramleys: a good cooker and a great keeper. I expect we’ll be eating them until next April or May. 

Before tucking into a hearty supper we celebrated the event – as harvesters have since the dawn of time – by visiting the pub, in this case the Star at Weaverthorpe, a steady one-mile stroll along the valley. We went for a quiet pint, and - it being my round – had the statutory second, and somehow found ourselves drinking a third. Quite how that came about remains a mystery.

‘What about supper?’ I asked, as I savoured a lovely fruity ale brewed in Nottingham. ‘Supper,’ pronounced the Chainsaw, ‘is under control. Fear not.’ (It is a fact that fear does tend to worm its way into my heart when I am unsure where the next meal is coming from.) Imagine my consternation, then, when the landlord produced a fourth pint for us. ‘Poured in error,’ he said, and thrust it into our willing hands. ‘No charge.’ 

By the time we wended our way back to Helperthorpe – wending is what you do when you’ve had three and a half pints on an empty stomach – the moon was bright, the skies clear, the air balmy and the road empty. We tucked into Phil’s beef and kidney stew – correction, we demolished it – then decided that a nightcap would be a good idea. Back down the road to the pub, which was now closed (officially). So we did what you do in rural parts: slipped in the back door and joined the staff for a last drink, in my case a divine shot of Talisker single malt.
Back along the road to my bed, where I slept like a dead man, as was only right.

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