In which I preserve

I often think about how ancient survival strategies are probably still encoded somewhere deep in our chromosomes, cryptic and dormant but with the potential to be roused by the faintest of stimuli.

For me, recent unrest in the world has woken up some vestigial feelings. Social and traditional media are full of black times, news feeds spewing out calculated falsehoods, threats, abuse, close-mindedness, propaganda, pessimism – and ever other kind of -ism you’d ever not want to see in one lifetime. I try to walk a fine line between keeping informed and protecting myself from the worst of the onslaught. Otherwise, it’s impossible to stay productive – despite the more relaxed summer academic vibe, I still have a million and one tasks that need doing, and a team of scientists to supervise with a clear head.

Brexit is one of the things in the daily onslaught that worries me the most. I wouldn’t classify myself as either of the two patronizing categories currently in circulation (“remoaner” and “remainiac”), but I did vote for Britain to stay in Europe and I am heartily concerned at how terribly the Government is handling the negotiations. I don’t believe there will be any sort of apocalypse afterwards, but I do think it could take a few decades for the nation to stablize – at which point I’ll be gone, or close to, from this planet. I know that I am far better off than most, but still I am saddened that my chances at a pleasant denouement after a long life of working so hard will likely be materially harmed by a generation of sluggish economic growth.

This is my rational mind talking. But somewhere deep within, my body is preparing for some sort of immediate disaster come March of next year, no doubt fuelled by speculation in the media about supply-chain problems immediately after Brexit. (Actually, I’m not sure it’s even irrational to think there might be a period of food shortages, with trade so finely balanced and with retail supermarkets not being geared up to storing or refrigerating anything extra.)

Seeing as I spend so much of my spare time in a hard-working garden, it’s probably not a surprise that I’ve been thinking more carefully than usual about the bounty of fruits and vegetables currently glutting around me. In fact, I’m almost obsessed – hence my idea that instinct might be kicking in. Richard and I always have done lots of preserving: jams, jellies, pickles, chutney, wines and ciders. But this year it’s felt different to me, more relevant and urgent. I may joke that one day soon we might be trading quince jelly for ammo, but underneath the humor is something imperative that I don’t understand and am loathe to dismiss outright.

So I pick far more fruit than we will ever need, sacrificing precious reading and writing time to labor long after evening has fallen, scratching my hands on brambles and stinging my ankles on nettles. I save sweetcorn cobs desiccated by the draught to grind into meal, even though extracting the kernels is a tedious business. I research the best way to crack open sunflower seeds en masse. I collect coriander seed, linseed and fennel seeds for seasoning or infusions. I get more serious about saving seeds from the heritage vegetables that we currently have, preparing and drying and labelling them carefully in white envelopes for germination next year. Our fruit drier is going 24/7 – plums, figs, apples, chilis, whatever’s going – and Richard has lots of fermentation in progress, gurgling away in the corner of the utility room. We sow winter crops now in beds cleared of summer’s efforts, and think ahead to what will go in come early spring. And above all, we enjoy what we have in real time: fresh pesto from our basil pots; salsa verde from tomatillos, onion and coriander; deep-friend courgette flowers. Joshua wanders around in paradise, picking and eating what he finds, and will grow up thinking this is normal.

Or, I can only trust that it will remain so, even after we leave.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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