Natural history adventures sailing the culinary seas...

Monday, 31 October 2011

Adventures in Meddling

Crunchy gold, rust and red tree shrapnel is carpeting the pavements, darkness is falling at four-thirty, wood smoke is permeating the valley, and autumn is well and truly here. Being alternately mud-spattered or wrapped up in voluminous knitwear at this time of year is strangely comforting, but before settling into such a rhythm, I spent rather a lot of October gadding about...

It started off in glorious Grasmere, before quick jaunts to Scarborough's shores and ghost hunting with Pudding Pie in York, a delightful trip to Brussels and Ghent, before the main event; East Anglia, the scene of so many MSc moments. Given that I am, alas, once again without work, what better way to spend time than bother those of you who do have eco-geeky jobs? So I started off with Mrs Teacup, who now works in community development for local food in Suffolk. She took me to an allotment, which is getting turned into a community orchard, and we happily weeded away in cold sunshine, while other volunteers dug a very big hole.

If you like orchards brandish your garden forks! Well, that's one.

While at Mrs T's, I gazed with interest upon two huge platters of Medlars, gathered from a tree in Dunwich. They were being left to blet (rot to a delicious ooziness) before being eaten. She very kindly gave me a few, and they've slowly been ripening to collapse in my fruit bowl. Tonight I ate my first 'naked' Medlar, and it was lovely. It has the grainy texture, but not the juiciness of an overripe pear, and tasted delicate, almost like partly cooked crumble filling. There is a particularly evocative and almost joyously lascivious description of the bletted Medlar from an enthusiast who urges one to 'nip the medlar in its side as if you are a vampire and its tender, turgid, russet-skinned being is a plump neck. Now suck its guts out.' Ooh er.

Blet you darn Medlars!
Next up was Mr Watervole, who is very busy and important working for the National Trust at Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast, looking after its glorious wetland haven for waders, vegetated shingle, and decrepit abandoned MoD buildings. And a really big nuclear bomb. Mrs Teacup and I got to experience the Orford Ness ferry, saw much damp red Salicornia, watched diggers build new lagoons and walked through the strange shingle at sunset.

If you ask nicely you can ride in the Landrover...
A short, flat train ride took me to Norwich, where I headed to Goat Manor, home of Luscious Lemon, the lovely Grazing Officer at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. On a truly beautiful blue Saturday we cycled through narrow lanes to Buxton Heath, one of the sites she looks after. In search of the ten or so Dartmoor ponies that graze the heath we wandered around in thick afternoon sunshine, avoiding the mire, but finding no equines. Finally, on our way home we screeched to a halt on our bikes, spying the cheeky faces of the ponies peeking over a gate at a side entrance. They were rather enthusiastically curious, and quite boldly surrounded us. Unfortunately this suggested that they had been fed by visitors to the heath, which is not ideal for semi-feral beasts... Hopefully with a little more interpretation (my favourite!) on site, they will start to keep their distance from people again.

A golden evening on the heath.
They all have names, I just can't remember them...
A rather momentous moment for the blog now, as the first actual Battenberg makes its appearance. . Not homemade, but made especially delicious by eating it off Ms Lemon's wildflower and moth covered crockery! Well deserved after finding two lonesome and chilly Green Brindled Crescents (Allophyes oxyacanthae) in the first moth trapping session at the Manor. One day, it'll be a carefully hand constructed chequered creation gracing the tea table.

Mrs Teacup I hope you approve!

Now that the season of conkers, treacle toffee and dragon breath is upon us, it's time to reacquaint ourselves with those sustaining foods that will, ahem, cushion us against the winter. Behold, the veggie toad-in-the-hole! Oh, there will be more...

Mmm, fluffy and pillowy.