Friday, 15 October 2010

On the rack

Sun dried rice on the rack, with its rain hat on

Late September and Early October sees Aizu heavy with green-gold rice heaved onto tall racks, every doorstep full of aka kabucha (red pumpkins), walnuts, mushrooms from the mountains and all the riches of the harvest. Compliment someone on their sweet potatoes and you will get an armful, and bags of chestnuts and fungi like nipples arrive unbidden. It beats shopping, a warm glow of cash free exchange, no strings attached.

Drying rice in the sun is said to increase the flavour and increase nutrition, and fetches a premium over the more common machine-dried version. Here most is grown for personal consumption and to send to children long gone to the city. What will they do when the old ones are gone too, and their fields rank with weeds? Rice is much more than a food. The kanji character for a man resembles a paddy, and means "One who derives his power from rice."

Daikon thinnings and beans, chilled and washed in an old bath

Our neighbour opposite gets an extraordinary amount of produce from a small patch of ground, an endless round of seasonal food being trimmed, grated, pickled or dried for that day's food or for through the winter. This week it included walnuts. Nothing is wasted. An old tiled bath is used to both wash vegetables and keep them cool until meal time. Thinned out plants are eaten, leaves and all.

Despite our towny incompetence and reprehensible laziness some food miraculously leaped out of our own garden this year, and sometimes we had the satisfaction of meals entirely home grown, with only minutes from ground to plate, which must have come as a shock to the aubergines. This week I astounded the waiting world with my first attempt at green tomato and apple chutney and managed not to burn the house down. Unfortunately a nice bit of strong Cheddar to go with it is 5,000 miles away.

Our benign neglect produced enough for a daily meal for months.

The plants seem to be as resilient as the people. For example, in attempting to be organic we don't spray, but allowed some black caterpillars to get the upper hand, and five rows of autumn plantings were reduced to rags. We assumed that was the end of both them and our veg cred with the neighbours, but returned from three days away to see them resurgent and thriving. Amazing. They must be adapted to tolerating the insects' life cycle, or we were just lucky....or, come to think of it, the neighbours may have taken pity on us and sprayed them while we were away. Hmmm. Much more likely, come to think of it.
Don't come the innocent with me, madam

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