It was when I first stepped in a supermarket that I realised that life in England is atemporal. I knew about the weather of course, how a sunny morning that suggested June would turn into November drizzle, the mercury reading February all the while. Four seasons in a day, the English proudly told me. Four seasons, always the same day is how it seemed to me.
The South might get the odd ray of light, but, north of Milton Keynes at least, the sky seemed to offer all the colour gradations of an early computer colour card. People around me looked insouciant, their choice of garments declaring the calendar a merely administrative construct. A coat and heavy shoes on a balmy afternoon, a T-shirt and sandals on a freezing night. In the whole island, the only entities that seemed to recognise the changing of seasons were the trees.
But it was walking into a supermarket that did it. It was early September, but people were buying, and presumably eating, oranges. It could be watermelons in February and plums in May if you fancied, and apparently, they did. It wasn’t that imports, greenhouses, or the symmetrical growing seasons of the hemispheres were concepts unknown to me of course.
It’s just that, where I came from, nobody felt the need to do away with the seasons like that. I knew that one had oranges in the winter and apples in the autumn, melon in the summer and berries in the spring. But if you love grapes, my new English acquaintances would ask me, why restrict yourself to only having them for two months a year? I love Christmas trees too, I would respond, I don’t keep one around all year long.
As with produce, so with cooking, and as with cooking, so with wine. Perhaps it is because they are so intertwined in my mind. There are, of course, a few things I will eat and drink year-round. Pizza in all its guises, or pasta with some red sauces, like Amatriciana and Puttanesca, come to mind. Chianti and white Burgundy always seem to be around (though the latter is more than one wine). There is never a bad time to have Champagne. But the majority of time, I eat and drink seasonal – or at least, following whichever of the four seasons the evening lands on.
Like many small acts of superficial self-deprivation, the benefits outweigh the costs, not least of which you always have something to look forward to. In what can be the most melancholic of seasons, autumn, this becomes particularly pronounced. I guess most people are thinking of it as the end of summer, the temperatures dropping and the days becoming shorter. Kids back to school and the next holiday still months away.
Me, instead, I am thinking mushroom tagliatelle and Nebbiolo, grouse and Pinot Noir, venison and Cornas. By the time I’ve got my fill, it will be winter, the season where gluttony is excused: Beef Wellington with Bordeaux, and ox cheeks with Bandol, and Amarone with the Christmas Day leftovers.
When spring rolls along, it will be courgette fritters with Carricante and lemon sole with Chardonnay, and roast lamb with Tempranillo, or Xinomavro, or Syrah. And before I know it, it will be summer again, and all the fish I can eat and Assyrtiko I can drink.
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