After an intensive bout of Andalucian sun and lake-swimming, and an even more intensive bout of Andalucian produce, I’m feeling pretty fit and healthy. Even better, it cost little – in some cases entirely gratis thanks to my generous village neighbours. This is typical of rural Andalucia, where so many people have vegetables gardens which at this time of year are ripe with abundance.
As Andalucian villages are built following the old Moorish pattern of narrow streets to fend off the heat, the tight clusters of whitewashed houses mean no gardens, only huertas – a form of allotment or veggie garden on the edge of the village.
With Spanish clocks still running on central European time (said to be imposed decades ago by Franco to remain in step with Hitler et al) when they should really be aligned with Portugal and the UK (just look at a map), the sun is slow to rise in the morning, late to sink in the evening. That means these dedicated gardeners are off in the cool of dawn (that’s 7-ish) to tend their plots and pick bags of wondrous, juicy produce. Come the marginally cooler evening, villagers sit outside their houses in doorways, on the street or on a terrace to shoot the breeze and throw out a hola! buenas tardes! to anyone who meanders past.
At this time of year, we are at the end of the brevas (early fig) season, while normal figs are still plumping up nicely, as above.
Prickly pears, the fruit of the cactus (above), still have a way to go but it looks like a bumper crop is on course for later in August. And the almonds in their furry green cases (below) seem to be trotting along, ready for picking and cracking open in September.
Then there are the pomegranate trees, brought by the Moors from Central Asia centuries ago and which became the name and symbol of Granada – barely 80km from my village. At this time of year the scarlet flowers are nearly over and the fruit slowly ripening, as below.
Peaches and nectarines are already delicious and plentiful – in fact the juiciest were donated to my voracious cause / stomach by Clive Ridout, a Welsh chef who lives down the road with his Japanese wife, Maki at their beautiful Finca Las Encinas; his cooking courses make excellent epicurean use of a large organic garden surrounded by giant holm oaks. Luckily there was some produce left over for me – not just soft fruit, but also divinely sweet dark tomatoes and dainty round aubergines.
Meanwhile my beaming 75-year old neighbour Ana, as always, came to visit, proudly bearing garlic, huge onions, as well as purple plums, honey-flavoured black figs and sweet yellow cherries (above). Then came Tobi, another generous neighbour – in this case weighed down by a huge bag of 3kg or so of pockmarked and part bruised apricots. Again – not what would pass muster on an English supermarket shelf, sadly. They were still hard, so out they went into the fierce sun to ripen for a day or so…
Then, after peeling and trimming the damaged parts, it was into the stewpot with a dash of cane sugar and a drop of water. Fifteen minutes or so later the compote was done – and for the rest of our stay it was a daily fight to see who could scoop out a helping first. Absolutely delectable with yoghurt – or a drizzle of syrupy Pedro Ximénez dessert wine.
Finally, not to be outdone, along came moustachioed Francisco, another neighbour, proffering a kilo or so of green peppers with wondrously thin skin (not those rubbery beasts mass-produced in green houses) and no fewer than THREE gigantic marrows. Well, what could I say? the thought was there, and we managed to cook and consume half of one, but I’m afraid the other two ended up in the boot of the car – diplomatically – as token gestures to the car-hire people. Then it was back to Blighty, and less prodigious fare.