Despite days of snow and frost and -5ºC temperatures, there are stalwarts that grace the garden in winter, and I love them all the more and treasure them for hanging on despite everything the fierce weather throws at them. One of them, amazingly enough, is a Mediterranean native – the artichoke – a group of which is stoically braving (knock on wood) the elements on the slope behind the house which is very exposed. Placing them there was an experiment to see if they would do as well as those planted against a south-facing wall. The ten plants are on different levels to see whether the slope and drainage affect their winter hardiness.
Among the earliest to bloom in the backgarden is the Kerria, a Japanese shrub, and it rarely disappoints. It is now graced with a few cheerful yellow flowers on bright green stalks. The two days of double-digit temperatures have nudged a few into bloom and there are more buds at different stages of plumpness, just biding their time. I find it exceedingly heartening to see this spring bloomer putting forth a few flowers intermittently throughout winter, months ahead of its proper season. It was rather difficult to catch a non-fuzzy photo yesterday as although it was a mild day, the gusty winds were tearing away and whipping at the plants and the trees .
What else caught my eye in the garden yesterday? A bluebell in bloom, moss that I’d been inducing to establish itself on a stone wall (painting the surface with yogurt and sour milk for the past 3 years), catkins on the twisty hazel, lichen on the trunk of a fruiting cherry which looks rather poorly (I suspect it is ridden with honey fungus — the same thing that has already killed several trees), and the brilliant white bark of birch trunks. Fat raindrops began just as I succeeded in taking a non-fuzzy photo of the Kerria flower, and I hurried inside to warm up.
I had forgotten to put on a coat and a hat, silly of me. A pot of rosebuds, Cretan mountain tea, and a couple of hibiscus petals warmed me up nicely, and the colours of the tea and the perfume of roses went well with a bowl of yogurt and quince syrup. I had intended to make the quince juice into jelly, but changed my mind and left it at the slightly gelled stage – and it makes a very tart-sweet and perfumed addition to yogurt. In a bowl made by potter Michael Moses with a turquoise glaze that puddles into the same colour of the quince syrup at the bottom, it was lovely eye candy as well.
Later I found some forlorn apples in the fridge and since they were no longer crisp enough to eat as they were, I was inspired to try to recreate the baked apples M and I had enjoyed at the tiny Iranian restaurant a month back. It was a hybrid of my Catalonian friend Carme’s Pomes al Forn. (Carme had generously shared a few of her family’s recipes with me for the first edition of the World Cookbook.) It was a good chance to make use of odd nuts – a few pistachios, one (!) pecan in the shell (an escapee from when I made M’s cake obviously), some slivered almonds. Chopped finely and mixed with mulberry syrup (yes, another neglected pantry item just waiting for the right moment for use), enough quince syrup to bind, a dusting of cinnamon, a few squirts of lemon juice — the nut mixture went into the cored apples and were baked for 40 minutes at 160ºC. Oh, I almost forgot – instead of capping the core with the cut-out stalk ends, I fashioned “caps” from marzipan and stuck pistachios for “stems.” With yogurt for me and ice cream for M, we had them later.
For the lovely colours of flowers and plants and fruits (and their scents and flavours as well) that cheered up my day yesterday, and for being around to brighten these dreary winter days, I am very grateful.