Sunday, May 24, 2015

Scapes, Balbec, octopods

Three things which have brought much pleasure.

Leek scapes. Our retired farmer usually brings me a bunch of leek plants late in the summer, which he has grown from seed and has spare of. I've usually got a bed free for them by that time, the broad bean patch is good having been well tilled and nitrogen-fixed, so they're a useful and appreciated resource through the winter. This last lot I must have planted at the right phase of the moon or something, as they grew well, stayed rust-free and went on well into spring without bolting. However, they did start throwing out these rather elegant flower buds eventually. At the back of my mind was the idea that perhaps these were usable, so I looked them up, found various suggestions, and that they are known as scapes, so I threw one into the soup one evening as a test, and found that it was good, so gathered a whole bunch and steamed them on their own.

I'd long heard about leeks being known as poor man's asparagus, but not fully understood why. I've had good results steaming the small ones and dressing them with vinaigrette (one made with hazelnut oil with a few toasted chopped hazels on top is pretty sublime), but these flower heads really do have a texture and flavour which easily rivals asparagus. It would be well worthwhile to let the plants bolt every year; in fact it would almost be worthwhile just to be able to use the word 'scapes'.


Just finished the second of Patrick O-Brian's Aubrey Maturin series, Post-Captain, now fully hooked, and glad to know that, if I'm spared (as my granny used to say) I have the rest of my life for the remaining eighteen and a half. I enjoyed the first very much but found I couldn't always quite see the ships for the rigging. The third is on order, which posed a small dilemma as I actually find I especially enjoy reading them on Kindle, where somehow I obtained the first two for some kind of promo-price, because the on-board dictionary, though frequently confounded by some of the more technical sea-going vocabulary, is useful - I rarely, I can say without bragging, need a dictionary when reading novels, but P O'B is an exception, - as is the facility to search for previous references. However, the Kindle prices from now on are more than I'm prepared to pay for an e-books when I can buy second hand more cheaply, so print on paper it is.

Anyway, one small thing that made me almost squeal with self-satisfied joy was when, late in the novel, seeking a target on the French coast on which to exercise the Lively's guns, Aubrey decides to lay waste to the small battery just off 'the little port of Balbec'. Unlike most of the French locations mentioned, Balbec does not in fact exist, save in the pages of Proust, where it is the chic seaside town where Marcel goes with his grandmother, and falls in love with Albertine, among other things. Not only is it gratifying to one's vanity to spot such an arch kind of literary joke, but I also rather enjoy the conundrum of Balbec's existing in Napoleonic times as a little fishing port, then a hundred years later in Proust's time having grown into a famous resort, while O'Brian re-conjures it eighty years on from that as it was a hundred years before... etc etc. You don't really need science fiction to play about with the space-time continuum, any fiction can do it.

(This observation has also enabled me to help rekindle momentarily, and gain some small kudos among, a small Ravelry discussion group of formidable women amongst whom I am a mere tyro, who have put down their knitting mostly to read the entire canon of the Aubrey-Maturin novels, sometimes more than once. The group calls itself 'The Lesser of Two Needles')    


Knitting: Sumer is icumen in, and this tends to mean either cotton knitting, which I have some of on the go but which you can quickly tire of, as can the tendons, or socks, which are light and portable. A belated present for my old friend Glenn, who when he visited with partner and dogs earlier this year, was bearing a very delicate and interesting small tattoo of an octopus, which he had copied from an ancient Greek vase painting, on his upper arm. This put me in mind of the time, some twenty-five years ago, when he and I were traipsing round the Peloponnese in the tracks of Patrick Leigh-Fermor, and we lodged for some days (the next bus out was the other side of the weekend) in a small coastal hotel, and every evening we asked the middle-aged spinster daughter of the house what was for dinner, and she showed us the pots in the kitchen, and every night she showed us the same pot of stewed 'octopoooos', so that by the third night octopus tentacles and the suckers on them had parted company and the latter were floating about on the top.

So, octopods being something of a theme, I made him these socks, for a biggish birthday, a bit late.

They are based on this pattern, but only really the chart and the general style, the helix knitting being somewhat beyond me. In spite of being quite fine wool, and the fairly tight stranded knitting, they came out rather large (they're on my feet in the second photo), but he says he has been wearing them as slipper socks, and will try them inside wellingtons too.


Zhoen said...

Those are amazing.

I have leek scapes... I wonder...

Lucy said...

Thanks Z. Eat those scapes! when they're fairly new you can eat quite a long way down the stem, and still chop the lower leaves as usual. The last few I harvested were rather woody apart from the scapes, but still OK stewed and frozen for soups etc. I've left a small corner, about four plants I think, as it seems you can 'perennialise' them, collect the seeds, or the offshoots, or something. They really are a useful crop, especially when you're big soup eaters and rather lazy gardeners as we are, nothing eats them apart from us.

christopher said...

We eat scapes. Another lovely post from you, my friend.

Roderick Robinson said...

I'm rushing to and fro between Hereford and Hay and can allow little time for comments but I can't tell you how much pleasure this post gives me. I see exchanges stretching all the way to Christmas. No need to worry about the studding stun-sls, the beckets, the booms and the rest; it's a bit like having a tapestry decorating your walls which there's no need to constantly inspect in detail.

I just finished the whole lot again (Fifth time?), before Hay started and so am up to date.

And yes, just imagine a 14 lb cannon ball landing on Proust's head.

And the needles, and Stephen's caution about the future ("the God between us...") and Jack's enormous kindliness towards Stephen

Rouchswalwe said...

Only six more octo-socks to go! (hehehe, a wee bit o' Octopus humour there). Thank you for the leek info. I've been searching for soup ingredients with zip.

Nimble said...

Oh the rigging! I learned to skim when the ropes and knots were being wrangled. But I respect your search for meaning and specificity. Have fun with the seafaring. Handsome socks!

Anonymous said...

Lucy, the socks are a sensation, and a very precious gift indeed! So comfortable and the imagery is spot on! Glenn xx

Avus said...

"Octopod" - Kipling, who was a pioneer motorist at the dawn of the last century, named his first car "the Octopod". Yours is the first time I have ever seen it in use subsequently in print.

Pam said...

Very impressive socks (wow) and I LOVE the description of your anniversary. Wonderful!

Crafty Green Poet said...

Great socks!

Have you ever cooked with foraged wild leeks?

Lucy said...

Thanks again

Christopher - always lovely to hear from you. I gather things like scapes are often available on farmers' markets in the US.

Robbie - I was looking forward to sharing that one with you! The tapestry idea is just right, endless detail and colour and intricacy, but yes the characters too, the drawing of which (including, say, the captured French lieutenant only in it for a moment before he dies, rapidly but vividly sketched in a few adjectives) seems to get better.

R - but then you'd have 64 feet! The scapes are too good for soup, for which ordinary leeks are invaluable, though it must be warned that eating too many can have a deleterious effect on one's digestion, enough wind to send Aubrey and Maturin a couple of times round the world!

Nimble - yes, once I've quickly glanced at the opening labelled drawing of a sailing ship,I too tend to just regard it as background noise. Hwvr, it's not just the technical vocabulary, P O'B uses many strange, obscure and now largely obsolete words in other contexts too, as well as those from Irish and other European roots. Wonderful stuff.

Glenn - aww, so glad!

Avus - I didn't know that about Kipling's car. The knitter who designed the pattern said
'I love how many different forms of the plural octopus there are. The Oxford English Dictionary lists octopuses, octopi and octopodes as all correct forms. Although, technically octopi is hypercorrect, coming from the mistaken notion that the ūs in octopūs is a Latin second declension ending. Being perverse, I prefer the rarer form of octopodes, which is the ancient Greek plural, oktō-pous being from the Greek, meaning eight-foot.'

Knitters are often very brainy and knowledgeable people, we have a lot of time to think about things! Vis the knitting O'Brian readers.

Pam - thanks on both counts!

CGP - thank you! It's so satisfying to make things, as you know. I've never come across wild leeks, not sure we have them here. But leeks are very much a Breton staple.