COUN­TRY MAT­TERS

Sea­sonal tints and tasty to­ma­toes Joe Kennedy

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Viewpoints -

THAT ‘thought fox’ — the tail­less an­i­mal that was siz­ing me up last week — proved to be, in­deed, an omen.

On an air­craft out of Dublin, I was as­signed what must have been the last seat on the plane at the tail-end win­dow. This was a first for me.

I had honed my wits, hav­ing walked back upon my­self (so it seemed) from one ter­mi­nal to an­other. I won­der, will I ever dis­cover what the Dublin Air­port Au­thor­ity is up to? I am not alone, among the thou­sands with such thoughts, milling around that vast bus sta­tion.

Au­tum­nal shades are all around Europe and the great shed­ding pro­gresses un­ob­tru­sively, re­gard­less of air tem­per­a­tures. In Por­tu­gal the heat has been in­tense at a trop­i­cal 30 de­grees Cel­sius, but is now scal­ing back.

On the ground, there are large crinkly spat­ula-like flakes from the bases of palms, look­ing like dried seaweed among the maples and birches, still with a fad­ing green tinge among the dead and dy­ing leaves.

In a Caribbean-like heat, it is star­tling to see signs of au­tumn without any wind gusts scat­ter­ing the cop­per-tinged, yel­low-flecked mark­ers of change. Of course, there is a sym­phony of coloured fo­liage swirling across the north­ern hemi­sphere re­gard­less of tem­per­a­tures. Trees have amassed a sugar sur­plus in their leaves; drop­ping them gets rid of mois­ture and built-up tox­ins.

Be­fore the shed­ding sug­ars and nu­tri­ents go back into the trees for stor­age and what re­mains af­ter the chloro­phyll goes, are the nat­u­ral an­tiox­i­dants, yel­low and orange carotenoids and tomato-red an­tho­cyanin.

The sea­sonal colours are not re­ally signs of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion but of detoxing and pre­par­ing for a new start next spring — trees keep their buds on high where there is light for new leaf life.

The renowned English nat­u­ral­ist Richard Mabey main­tains that au­tumn is not about de­cay at all, but of pre­par­ing for a new be­gin­ning.

When the poet John Keats was dy­ing in Rome, in 1819, he found some com­fort in the “mel­low fruit­ful­ness” of the sea­son, some­thing uplifting and more warm­ing than the “chilly green of spring”. An Amer­i­can an­thro­pol­o­gist, Loren Eise­ley, asked if we could dis­in­te­grate like au­tumn leaves, would our at­ti­tude to death be dif­fer­ent? “Sup­pose we saw our­selves burn­ing like maples in a golden au­tumn,” she sug­gested.

Or­well, even, pro­duces an au­tum­nal sim­ile in Keep the As­pidis­tra Fly­ing as a girl wad­ing through fallen leaves ex­claims “they’re like gold”. Her com­pan­ion re­sponds: “They’re just the colour of tomato soup.” But the ripen­ing of to­ma­toes, fruits of the sun and source of pro­tec­tive an­tiox­i­dants, may be anal­o­gous to what hap­pens to leaves as the an­nual tints be­gin, led by beeches, sycamores and hazels.

Home gar­den to­ma­toes, in Por­tu­gal, are like ir­reg­u­lar coun­try folk in a Bruegel farm­yard paint­ing. They may be lumpy and rough-edged with none of the uni­form round­ness of su­per­mar­ket pro­duce, but they are full of the juices of earth with an al­most for­got­ten taste of an Ire­land of yes­ter­year. Joe Kennedy re­ports oc­ca­sion­ally from Por­tu­gal and Spain

AU­TUM­NAL SIM­ILE: George Or­well wrote glow­ingly of the cur­rent sea­son

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