Christmas: a time to celebrate but also to reflect. And this year I was in more reflective mood than usual as I sat down to the festive fayre with the usual offerings from the garden to complement the turkey.
In terms of winter veg, I’ve had the finest crops of Brussels Sprouts and Parsnips ever. I love Brussels and at Christmas in particular they take on an iconic status as a mainstay of the Christmas meal. The OM would always ensure that there were enough home-grown brussels each year to feed the family – which was an increasingly tall order with four teenagers to satisfy. I don’t remember doubting my parents’ abilities to provide for us from the garden. I never had any great love for working the soil, let alone actually picking the veg. It seemed an impossible task to pick Brussels without getting soaked to the skin. It might have been dry for weeks (in Somerset? in the winter?) and still the plants somehow held unreasonably large amounts of water in their crinkled leaves, ready to be released on you as soon as you took the first sprout from the stem. And there was apparently an art to digging parsnips that required a long demonstrative lesson from The OM. He took personal pride in getting as much of the long tap-root out of the ground as he could, which required digging around the plant as if excavating a land mine. And we were expected to follow suit.
So my own current efforts in harvesting these two stalwarts of the Christmas table are influenced by the memory of these childhood experiences. But while I can happily pick Brussels in any weather (no such thing as the wrong Brussels – just the wrong clothing) I still feel a tinge of guilt when I hear the clunk of the tap-root snapping as I pull the parsnip from the ground.
But I have still been receiving plaudits from The OM for the standard of the produce and I, in my turn, have been boring my own family with constant references to the quality of the vegetables on their festive plates. I wish I could say it was down to anything I had consciously done this year to make the Brussels produce solid spheres of crisp goodness and the parsnips to germinate and grow with such fecundity. I guess I did choose two completely different types of sprout this year, for no reason other than the fact that previous crops had been so rubbish, but I practically threw the parsnip seed into the soil and hoped for the best. I must have missed the birds, the stony ground and the thorns because my parsnips have sprung up and increased, as some one far more worthy than me once noted. But this is no parable – these are real veg and they taste divine.
With the super sprouts and ‘snips I feel a certain closing of a circle. It was the destruction of heavenly sprouts from a plague of heifers which first drew me into taking on the Old Man’s garden, and The OM is of the opinion that his failing health will mean he will not see another Christmas. That remains to be seen, but if it proves to be so, I am chuffed that I have lucked out this year and produced something from the garden of which TOM would be proud. I can’t give myself a higher accolade than that.