Last year we had the summer of the chilli peppers, named in recognition of a compact bush which offered up a lavish harvest of little red fire breathers. They resembled Smurf hats and they were so plentiful that, rather than allow them go to waste, it was necessary to preserve them in oil or chop them up to make a fiery paste.
Such was their power, that only a small spoonful of paste is required to turn the heat up under the simplest of dishes, guaranteeing an eye-watering response in unwary diners. There is still so much of it that supplies should last well into next winter, enlivening curries and adding a warming glow to stews or casseroles.
Isn’t nature wonderful, with each year as distinct in its character as a set of fingerprints? Back before the summer of the chilli peppers, we had the summer of the aubergines when great black gleaming orbs grew in profusion in the polytunnel at the Manor.
Medders raised the plants from seed and, after popping them into the earth, he gave them no particular attention beyond ensuring that they had enough water. Then one day he realised that he had a bountiful crop on his hands.
Before the summer of the aubergine, there was the summer of no courgettes. Normally the courgette plants with their yellow flowers are a staple of the vegetable production line. Given adequate protection from spring chills, they are just about the easiest thing a gardener can attempt to grow – but not in that year.
As usual the plants grew sturdily, taking up far too much room with their big rhubarb-like leaves. As usual they put out a lively display of flowers, giving all concerned reason to expect plenty of courgettes. But then, unusually, the flowers dropped off and the courgettes failed to bulk out, the little green fingers turning from a healthy shade of green to mildewed grey.
In the past there has been the summer of the raspberries, the summer of the beef tomatoes and the summer when we worked out how to protect the redcurrants from thieving blackbirds. No one in the family will ever forget the summer of Leviathan, a marrow so big that it took four people to heave it into a wheelbarrow for onward transmission to the Bridge Castle Show.
So what about the summer of 2022? The current chilli bush is not patch on last year’s. The aubergine plants are in flower okay but with no guarantee of fruit. The courgettes are plentiful, as ever. So this has to be the summer of the cucumber.
The approach to producing cucumbers this year was erratic, with one specimen grown from seed, another acquired on a whim as a neglected offering in a pot from the bargain shelf of a local supermarket, a third bought at a car boot sale, and a fourth purchased at high expense from the up-market garden centre.
And the marvel of it is that they have all thrived - or should that be thriven? Either way, we are not short of cucumbers, mostly straight ones but we have had a couple bent like horseshoes too. We have smooth long cucumbers and stubby with knobbly skins. We have more cucumbers than we can eat. Isn’t nature wonderful!
*** Worst joke ever, a new contender. And you thought the one about Gilbert O’Sullivan on the Galway train when he wanted to go to Kerry was bad? Remember the dreadful punch-line ‘Athlone again, not Tralee’? But this woeful latest really takes the biscuit. Be advised that, though it will never register high on the giggle-metre, it makes slightly more sense if read out loud…
The Trifle which won the principal award in the household section at the Bridge Castle Show was certainly a magnificent piece of work. It was spectacular, topped by a scattering of Hundreds-and-Thousands on a sea of bright yellow.
After the decision of the adjudicators had been announced, the ingredients of The Trifle held a swift meeting to decide which of them should make the acceptance speech. They nominated Hundreds-and-Thousands, though Hundreds-and-Thousands was reluctant and pleaded inexperience in the art of public speaking. Eventually, the shy orator was prevailed upon to do the honours, taking the microphone and launching into their speech:
‘On a custard as I am…’