Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fruits of the Earth

‘Old people can make ink from those –what do you call them?’ Jose Eladio the headmaster pointed to some strange-looking fungus growing under a tree. In front of the school, one or two trees of the pine variety are confined to square patches of earth. Spindly toadstools with frilly black edges had sprung up beside them.

The growth and harvesting of plants is something I’d been aware of in China, where Í´d watched farmers on the hillside opposite my flat. This had been forgotten in London, near a market supplying exotic fruit and veg from across the world and a supermarket full of canned and frozen goods. I was reminded, now, that plants are also a source of dyes and inks.

‘This time of year they also gather the kind you can eat’, said Jose Eladio. He added that the local people went out to collect them when certain weather conditions prevailed, such as showers followed by sun, to sell later. ‘Twelve Euros a kilo. It’s money for free!’

Next day a notice outside an upmarket restaurant in the historic centre advertised a week of speciality mushroom-based menus.

On Friday I took part in a harvest myself, ‘Come, Sheila’, Jose Eladio announced at break time. ‘We’re going to take the olives from the school tree.’

Some days before I´d been given a tour of an area the size and shape of a city allotment, not at its best in early November. Three large cabbages grew in an otherwise bare middle part. Some rosemary and other hardy herbs and thin trees grew around the perimeter. Conditions here don’t encourage luxuriant growth.

Between the silver and light green leaves of the olive tree, though, shiny oval black berries were clearly visible. A single pupil-volunteer held a plastic bag and helped the teachers pick, whilst his classmates played football. Here’s a young horticulturist-in-the making, perhaps.
The tree wasn’t big, and Jose Eladio could reach the highest berries.
I love olives, so I tasted one I´d picked. I immediately hurriedly spat it out; it was horribly bitter. The science teacher explained they’d need several days of soaking and changes of water to make them edible.

They’re now on the draining board in the staffroom, a timely reminder for a Londoner that olives don´t just come from tins and jars.

1 comment:

Jose Eladio said...

Sheila, I've spent some minutes reading your blog and I can say you: perhaps you don't speak spanish but you're learning a lot of about Spanish people and their ways of life.
It's a pleasure read your impressions about everything that happens around you.
See you later!