The happy eater Jay Rayner
Autumn’s glut of fruit and vegetables is too much for this glutton
Autumn arrives, flaunting its abundance, and on my many friends’ allotments branches bend under the weight of their fruit. Accordingly, my front step fills with gifts. There are supermarket carrier bags stuffed with gnarly apples and pears. There are cardboard boxes overflowing with runner beans or courgettes the size of police truncheons. I look upon this mottled crop with appropriate feelings of gratitude. To my friends and neighbours, I say thank you.
Deep inside me, however, there is something else: a profound sense of inadequacy, a feeling that I am not quite made for these times. Because what the hell am I supposed to do with it all? Do not, for a moment, misunderstand me. I am not in any way anti-allotment. I recognise the profound pleasure they give to those who have them. They are a superb educational tool and the work involved is brilliant for both physical fitness and mental wellbeing.
There’s just one problem: all that bloody produce. I know exactly what my response is meant to be. I’m meant to swoon at the orgy of food preserving that lies ahead of me. My heart should go pitter-pitter-pat at all the lactofermentation possibilities. Everybody lacto-ferments these days, don’t they? You are not a true citizen of the world unless you have developed a close relationship with a pulsing, fizzing jar of green matter festering with enough bacterial matter to start a small war.
Instead, I want to hide under the duvet until the shameless fecundity has died away. Please don’t force me to start sterilising jam jars. I’ll only end up with serried ranks of chutney I can’t use. We’ve all been there. After an afternoon of boiling and stirring and getting every surface sticky, you find yourself staring at enough homemade condiment to get you through the siege of Stalingrad. For a couple of weeks you feel virtuous, as if you have served the seasons well. You are Mother Nature’s doula. The process is genuinely fulfilling.
Now you have to eat it all. With smug satisfaction, you start by pairing it with the obvious, things like cheese and cold meats. Look at me, celebrating nature’s bounty. Soon you are dropping spoonfuls on the side of hot dishes, as if it was ketchup. Then you start mixing it into stews. Before you know it, you’re pouring it on to your cereal or stuffing it down the side of the sofa or smearing it on the cat. Anything to empty the damn jar. Your gaze turns slowly to the shelf. There are another 47 jars to go.
Now the un-choreographed dance of the jar exchange begins: here, have some of my beetroot jelly. You’ve brought me some courgette jam? How innovative. My, I would never have thought of making kimchi out of broccoli. It’s all so onerous. This is not only my problem. The question most regularly asked on The Kitchen Cabinet, BBC Radio 4’s food panel show, is about the using up of gluts. The answer is so often chutney.
I could point out that mass agriculture was invented specifically to avoid these problems. It enables the wide distribution of large-scale production. But again, that would make me sound like I’m down on the grow-your-own thing and I’m really not. But it does have consequences, namely the tyranny of the glut, and I don’t have the stomach for it. There’s only one solution. I’m going back to bed. Wake me when autumn is over.
Before you know it, you are pouring chutney on cereal, smearing it on the cat