Not so many years ago when I was a boy growing up in Scotland I remember you could distinguish the passing of the seasons by the nuances as they were dictated by Mother Nature.  My memory tells me we had more snow then and perhaps colder winters.  ‘Jack frost’ used to etch pictures on our livingroom window, which were punctuated first thing in the morning by a child’s fascinated touch.  Although still winter, snowdrops erupted through the soil as a harbinger of spring some months hence.   A box of tangerines delivered by my Grandfather told me you were in the depths of a Scottish winter and a boiled and mashed turnip provided a sweet counterpoint to haggis or roast beef. The defining announcement of spring was the vast carpet of daffodils that blankets much of the Banks of the Dee from the Bridge of Dee to Torry in Aberdeen.

Summer for me was visits to the farm of my Mother’s family and bowls of voluptuous, fragrant and soft strawberries which in good years ripened by the sun needed little sugar but mashed with a fork and accompanied by ‘real’ double cream were a gift of summer.  The raspberries and gooseberries of the season, the former served fresh the latter as a ‘fool’ were the equal of the strawberry.  And so to autumn, the first frosts of which could be felt early in September.  The fruit here was the bramble, for pies or crumbles along with the bramley apple.  Autumn for a young boy was the crisp rustle of golden leaves strewn on the pavements and paths and blown into banks and drifts to be kicked and scrambled through.  Seasons were dictated by Nature.  They provided the timeframe for much of our traditions.  They dictated the time of harvest and planting, the run of fish to our rivers and the birth of new life be it a lamb or a shoot of barley.

So why this burst of nostalgia? And what of it for La Rectoria?    I turned my hand to cooking and became a chef thirteen years ago.  I knew what a relatively small place Earth was before I picked up a knife and the daily deliveries to the kitchen door only reinforced that.  French beans, sugar snap peas and mange tout from Kenya and Tanzania, pepper, courgette and aubergine from Murcia Spain, immaculately graded new potatoes from France along with salad leaves.   So what?  But grapes from India, year round strawberries from wherever, tomatoes of dubious quality from The Netherlands, flabby farmed salmon and even Peruvian asparagus.   Our ability to obtain vegetables and fruit and other foods of almost any type whenever we demand it has both an environmental cost and is detrimental to their quality, as much of the produce is picked or harvested early so as to maximize it’s ‘shelf life’.

As a consequence of this and numerous other factors food is beginning to lose its meaning to many in the western tradition.  In the increasingly frenetic lives we follow food preparation and its consumption for the family unit is becoming as dislocated as many families themselves.  Personally we do the majority of our fruit and vegetable shopping in the Catalan markets.  The majority of the produce is indigenous and some markets stock produce sold by local farmers, Vic in particular has offered some lovely surprises.  However, much of the produce would appear to come from the agro-machine of Spain, its production often forced and therefore ill served.  The strawberries look great but to mix metaphors are ‘mutton dressed as lamb’, appearing in markets from early February.  The cherries are generally fantastic and we have macerated about 3 kgs in a spiced vodka syrup for use in puddings of various forms and fresh our son gobbles them up with great relish.  I do have trouble with the peaches and apricots in particular.  Apricots are fruit of the gods, golden and velveteen, succulent and soft, I have always dreamt of them as a fruit that provides a marker to what is good about a Mediterranean summer.  The reality is somewhat different when faced with reddish, milky yellow hard fruit which I can only guess has been picked way too early.  Not all is lost.  We have found ‘albercocs de pages’, grown locally and sold looking like an apricot.  Last night served up as ‘Apricot Dartois’ – blanched apricots placed on a bed of frangipan and puff pastry, topped with puff pastry and baked for half an hour.  Tonight with some left over frangipan I have made a version of ‘Pear Bourdaloue’, substituting the pears with apricots .

So where is all this going and what of La Rectoria?  I cook because I enjoy it.  Cooking can be therapeutic connecting  you in so many ways culturally and with agriculture and nature.  It is one of the major elements of the glue that keeps families together.  It can be a tool for social well being connecting families and communities.

We have not designed a menu for La Rectoria.  In all honesty it will be a mix of us the proprietors, Scottish and Catalan.  It will be British and Mediterranean – Spanish, French, Italian and North African.  I think we will attempt to keep the ingredients as local as is possible and seasonal.  We will not be happy just to feed you, but we want to provide you with fare that connects you with where you are.  Your meals will be served at one table, thus if you are a party of two or there are16 people in the house you will be sat with other guests, so that over simple food you can share experiences, parlar and come away contented.   Food and who we are  and how it defines us is a topic I wish to develop and will return to in future.

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