brit back


Mid July in rural England is harvest. I grew up in rural Suffolk. As a child I and my siblings played all summer long in the fields of gold and the quiet lanes near our home. As we prepared to go back to school the long warm days were broken by a brief frenzy of activity - the annual grain harvest. For a couple of weeks the narrow country roads became lodged with rumbling tractors and huge combine harvesters which we were fascinated with. The wheat fields we had played in were dotted with stacks of hay bales which we climbed all over without ever - in those days - being stopped. Then they became blackened infernos of burning stubble and the air filled with lazily floating flecks of ash.

Of course in southern Spain the summer season was very different. In the Axarquía the local crops of olives, almonds and more recently avocados were all harvested in the winter months when the hillsides around us reverberated with noisy farm machinery. Only the relatively modest grape harvest or vendimia marked the end of summer while we were living in Andalucía.

Accordingly the vine which snaked over our yard and provided us with the coolest green shade in the hottest months became heavy with dark purple bunches of muscatel grapes. Then Juan, our landlord, would turn up with crates to take them away to turn into rough wine or mosto. Hmm. I never liked it…

In the scorching heat not much grows. I remember going into our local greengrocer’s in Riogordo at the end of August one especially hot year to find not a green vegetable in sight and very little else on the shelves, scarcely even a tomato or aubergine or pepper. Our home-grown produce had long since shrivelled away and died.

Here, by contrast, the second half of August is marked by abundance. While the burning of stubble has long been prohibited something I remember well from childhood seems to have proliferated. These are the little makeshift stands where keen amateur horticulturalists sell their gluts and passers-by are asked to pay by dropping coins into an honesty box - a system that is gratifyingly still not abused, for the most part.

I love them and will always stop if I spot something for sale on the side of the road. This summer we have bought home-grown large and small potatoes, gorgeous swooning red dahlias and pastel stalks of gladioli, tiny courgettes and huge marrows, yellow and purple plums, all manner of berries, grapes, tomatoes in many guises, French beans and early apples.

By the end of the growing season desperate gardeners are giving away their wares. Recently we filled an entire carrier bag of runner beans from a laden wheelbarrow parked at the end of someone’s drive. “PLEASE,” read the handwritten sign in urgent capital letters, “TAKE THESE AWAY!”

In contrast to the deathly waste ground of our vegetable patch in the summer in Spain when we saved every precious scrap of water for our animals and the perennial flowers and fruit trees we grew in pots our garden here is now packed full of our own produce including greens such as chard, kale, spinach, rocket and lettuce. Even better, and unexpected, is my tomato crop. We are bursting at the seams with every size and shape of the red fruit. In tomato terms this is my best year yet.