(Hey, everybody – Friday was such a mess on the blog, I’m leaving Lee’s post up for Monday. Enjoy!)
I was intending to write about the new Patricia de Nicolai men’s scent, Patchouli. However, the diminutive store (synecdoche or its friend coming up, folks) either forgot to post it as per my polite phone request (they’re so lovely there), it’s lost in the post, it’s been delivered to the wrong address (two very similar addresses nearby mean my post does tend to wander) or it’s been held up in one of the interminable postal strikes that seem to happen in London all too frequently, and all too unreportedly. October, I hope.
Given the above, I’ve pulled a topic out of the bag. There’s dirt under my fingernails and soil in my socks (does soil have negative connotations across the pond? – if so, I’m sorry – I don’t mean poop), and the scent of change in the air. Yes, it’s that late-summer-becomes-early-autumn moment and I’m going to tell you how it’s been smelling down my way.
First, of vegetable gluts. The problem with growing food on a plot of land near others who do the same, is the rapid spread of pests and diseases. I’m used to plagues of cabbage whiteflies, the caterpillars that chow down on my brassica more readily than I do, the flea beetle holes that pepper my rocket/arugula. Normally, tomatoes succumb to blight by July here. But this year, perhaps because most of my fellow allotmenteers gave up on tomatoes after three terrible years of curling leaves and wizened stumps, I’ve had no such problems. That near acrid aroma of crushed tomato leaf and freshed picked fruit has filled me to bursting, and I’ve had pounds and pounds of tomatoes for immediate consumption, pasta sauce making, chutneys and pickles. The best producers have been a mixture of old faithfuls and surprises – cherry tomatoes Sungold and Gardener’s Delight, and Kellogg’s Breakfast and Marianna’s Peace in the surprises (all thanks to C for the seed for the last two). But the best of all has been Black Krim, or Black Russian, a gorgeous heritage variety that produces vast, sliceable beefsteaks, green-black on top to pinkinsh orange underneath. Slightly salty, rich and smooth fleshed, they’ve been one of my summer highlights. And I have two waiting for me, with basil and olives, for my supper tonight.
Ripe corn, starchy sweetness. Small green peppers, that galbanum hit before the fire strikes. The clean cool caress of a cucumber, picked young. The strange otherworldly perfume of French beans, whose aroma reminds you of their tropical origin. More mint than I can cook with, slice into salads and turn into cordial. The milky sap of multicoloured lettuce leaves.
And now, the smell of turned earth is starting to dominate. At home, in the back garden/yard, I’m relandscaping. Removing plants that have become dominant, getting blistered hands from mattock-swinging action and making room for more colour and more light and more scent. But for now, the most striking scents are the parsnippy nuttiness of pulled roots, the mentholated quality of cut down eucalypts, the incredible hit of petrichor, artificially produced. It’s parched here, and I’ve broken my self-imposed hosepipe ban in order to dig out plants. I miss that smell or rain on earth. We’ve only had meaningful rain twice in three months.
But my favourite smells this year have emerged from a newfound love – pickling and preserving. I’ve made plum and ginger jam, green tomato chutney, quince and squash chutney, pickled shallots, pickled garlic, sweet cucumber relish. Spice, sugar, vinegar. Yum.
What smells are ringing your bell and knocking on your door, right about now?