in the days before lockdown the news was full of reports of panic buying in the uk and, to a lesser extent, here too. loo rolls disappeared virtually overnight. in a video call with our eldest son I talked about possible difficulties to come when food buying. ‘don’t worry, mum,’ he replied, you’ve a freezer full of ratatouille!’ a bit of an exaggeration but yes, there are certainly several packages out in the cave freezer.
back in the 70s we lived on a small co-owned housing estate opposite the village church. we were all young families and one of the mums discovered that there were allotments behind the church with several free and only 50 pence yearly rent. the domestic freezer was fast becoming the must have piece of kitchen equipment and we chatted about how lovely it would be to grow and freeze our own produce rather than haunt the new frozen food shops popping up on every shopping parade. lou, my husband, took some persuading that this was a good idea..all that digging he mutteered. however, he finally gave in and once he became the renter of a large patch of weed covered ground his inner mr mcgregor burst through. so much so that i had to beg to be allowed a small corner to plant herbs. our first bumper crop was cabbages. lots and lots of cabbages. i remember days of chopping, blanching and bagging up cabbage. i assume we ate some too.
from then on every garden we subsequently owned has had a vegetable plot plus various green houses, cold frames, soft fruit netting etc etc. our present garden is no different except it is the biggest so far and extends into an orchard with several elderly but still productive fruit trees. so every summer lou is out there planning and planting, sowing and swearing over things that don’t grow and things that attack his precious produce. i have learnt to say yes, when offered yet another lettuce. refusal brings on a hurt look and a ‘shan’t bother growing any more’ retort.
gluts are an occupational hazard.. we live in a region of rain and strong sunshine so everything grows…a lot. plant one courgette plant and it will behave as if it wants world domination. turn your back and you will find a marrow-size fruit has bloomed overnight. i have searched the internet for recipes and we have tried everything from courgette quiche through to spicy courgette chutney (not at all bad!). when we had a small restaurant in the village we pressed our surplus onto the owner/chef. this is usual in our countryside. offers of fruit and vegetables reach their zenith in the autumn as everyone is inundated with potiron (pumpkin) and squashes. the courgette syndrome all over again! we once had a pumpkin plant that escaped onto the railway embankment where it festooned itself amongst the brambles and bushes hanging its yellow fruits like so many lanterns at Chinese new year.
but the ratatouille is a deliberate act of preserving for later by us. lou grows onions, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines as well as the aforementioned courgettes so I have all the ingredients to hand. I cook great vats of the stuff and use it later in a variety of different dishes. sometimes we even eat it straight. ‘mush’ is how it is denigrated by ‘that’ son. ‘waste not want not’ I return. the ratatouille is joined by a lot of soup too. those pesky pumpkins plus chicken, thickened with lentils and split peas, a favourite of mr McGregor. every roast chicken dinner is followed by the boiling of bones and the making of soup! and fruit. lobbed into the freezer for making crumbles later. much later.
so this enforced stay at home has meant I have been rummaging in the freezer to use up anything that could still be considered edible without bringing on a bout of food poisoning on top of our other worries.
and look what I found. bought on our last trip to blighty (at christmas, go figure) just in time for good Friday…. result!