The happy eater Jay Rayner

Au­tumn’s glut of fruit and veg­eta­bles is too much for this glut­ton

The Observer Food Monthly - - CONTENTS - Jay Rayner ja jay.rayner@ob­server.co.uk OFM

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

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