I seem to have spent an extraordinary amount of my time this week shovelling shit - or rather creating a deep bed in the peach house for this year's Mediterranean beauties, and manuring the beds ready for this year's pumpkins and sweetcorn. It's spent mushroom compost mixed with stable manure, so has the not unattractive smell of horses combined with the fungoid pong of dark sheds and rotting wood. Crumbly, black and slightly damp, its texture is perfect. It just falls off the trailer into a huge pile on one of the beds, and from there its barrowed to the peach house and then the three other beds. (The bed set aside for root crops wont be manured, as we want fat luscious roots not green leafy top growth.)
Winter gardening should be done in layers - a couple of cotton camisoles, short-sleeved v-neck tee shirt tucked into trousers to keep your kidneys warm, sleeveless body warmer zipped up to neck, slightly too large fleece (for easy of upper body movement) zipped up to neck, woollen hat, heavy duty navy trousers to resist thorns, wind and water, and finally thick cotton socks in my beloved safety boots. After a few barrow loads, we were stripping off the fleeces, then hats, then body warmers; and at -1C we were shovelling in tee shirts, moving fast and fluidly on warmed muscles and the beautiful repetitive movement of experienced gardeners. When the head gardener came for a chat, on went all the layers as we stood about chatting and drinking coffee. The shallots and garlic have arrived together with the seed potatoes, but the ground is still frozen so they will wait in the glass house for the thaw.
And some red shallots were pickled following Delia's simple instructions; peel carefully, and cover with salt and leave to drain for 24 hours. Then wipe dry, and pack into jars adding a teaspoon of whole mixed pickling spices, then cover with malt vinegar. Seal and leave for one month before eating, and eat within three months. Perfect with late spring ploughman's lunches.
And last night I celebrated the end of my week without merci beaucoup enfant deux, who's away with the school doing sixth-former things. A couple of lamb steaks fried off in the ridged pan until a bit charred on the outside and pink in the middle, then handfuls of the tiniest button mushrooms dropped into the pan and given a good old shake about. Lamb removed to warm plate and half a tub of creme fraiche and lots of salt and black pepper added to the mushrooms and shaken about again to mix into a coffee coloured sauce. Lamb removed to plate of butterhead lettuce leaves, and mushroom sauce poured over. Yum yum in my tum. And lovely emails. Does life get any better than this?