The wheel of the year seems to have nudged on a notch and it suddenly feels like we're peering at Autumn. I find myself taking refuge from the chilly air in a steamy kitchen, heated by a bubbling pan, all of which feels oddly familiar.
Fruit is finally ripe in the hedgerows, although it is somewhat eccentric and patchy, certainly not as bounteous as last year. When we were on holiday up north we filled a carrier bag with blackberries in less than half an hour on the way back from the pub, however, back in Norfolk when we visited Wortham Ling we struggled to fill a tea cup. More worryingly, a large number were dusty, malformed stubs, having not even developed to the point of tight green knots like their brethren.
Today, Willow and I went to carry on the cherry plum/yellow bullace harvest. Before our holiday we managed to quickly scrabble 2 kilos of just ripe cherry plums from our usual stomping ground and stored them in the freezer. My intention today was to finish the job but I struggled to find a single kilo of yellow bullace and a further kilo of cherry plums. Whereas last year we easily gathered a total of about 10 kilos in half the time.
I guess that illustrates how bad conditions have been this year which is strangely comforting with regard to the allotment as our harvests there have been well below my expectations. Even though the foraging returns are down on last year, they're still dwarfing the allotment returns - and all for zero effort.
This is the major advantage that foraging has. You turn up, you pick the stuff, you take it home. Then sit on your bottom til next year. Whereas the wan cultivated crops of the allotment demand constant attention like a whiny child, "weed me, water me, protect me from the beastly pests (scream)! "
Yes, but .....
The allotment offers a choice, I get to make decisions rather than exploiting opportunities. Man cannot live by fruit alone and the allotment offers luxuries such as carbohydrates and a savoury balance to the sweetness of all the fruit.
I've come to realise though, that foraging has something to teach me about the allotment. These fruit trees and wild crops just grow, they shrug and get on with it. Why? Because they happen to be growing in the right place with the right conditions. If they seeded in the wrong place with the wrong conditions, they'd just die and no-one would be any wiser, we only benefit from the successful specimens.
So that's going to be my allotment motto for next year. If it grows, it grows. If it doesn't, well then it's obviously not right for my plot. I think the approach to veg growing which dictates hours should be spent on the plot watering and weeding your poker straight rows in return for the thrill of potatoes and turnips is not for me. It's my hope that I can identify a range of crops which will be at home on the plot and not need too much hand holding but also conform to my other criteria - they must be interesting, hard to find or expensive in the shops, or have taste benefits from being eaten really fresh.
I am hopeful that 2011 will be rather more fecund than 2010, thanks to a smattering of additional experience and the love, care and shit we will be lavishing on the site over the winter.