Thursday, 22 November 2012
Here I am in my Czech home trying to write a novel and procrastinating, so I'm writing a blog post instead. The weather outside is grey - November is a naff month here, by which I mean English weather, grey, foggy, cloudy with occasional rain. Winter hasn't really arrived yet, with that wonderful white crisp snow with skies so blue and clear you could furnish an entire navy with trousers. The village is alive with people getting ready - draping their garden plants with conifer branches and cutting firewood. But one preparation is already completed - the preparation of conserves.
All through the summer and autumn the Czechs have been making jams and marmalade, bottling fruit and vegetables and of course drying mushrooms. I too caught the bug for the latter - mushrooms were sliced and dried on trays or hung on string over the stove. And the result: I have a large kilner jar full of sliced mushrooms the consistency of foam rubber. As for fruit, well I have no need to lift a finger. My Czech friends will always bring me jars when they come to tea. And not just one jar either, a carrier bag will open and at least four jars will be produced. I am very grateful during these winter months - there is somehow nothing so warming as toast and jam.
It seems to me watching my Czech friends that they cannot bear the sight of food going to waste. What we would discard, they harvest. Baskets of bruised windfalls are gathered and every tiny bit of good saved and turned into delicious food. Perhaps it dates back to those years when food was not abundant. I am sufficiently old enough to have been brought up by parents who knew rationing and know the impact it had on their attitudes. I still feel guilty when I do not finish my food. But the Czechs do seem to take it to extremes - in Czech cellars and pantries there are jars and jars of the stuff.
When my lovely friend Hannah died she left shelves full of jars and several freezers full of mushrooms and vegetables (mostly runner beans). Knowing that they would otherwise go to waste, I took a basket of jars home with me. After all those saucepans she ruined making the stuff, it was the least I could do.