"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
Pure Colour Olhao
19 November 2015
London`s autumn streets swarm with black ant-like crowds dodging and diving from shop to shop as if buying has become as serious as life itself Of course my well over 50 perspective is skewed but no way is my city as rough and exciting around the edges as it was in the 80s` when my dodgy Molton Brown bob and frilly white New Romantic shirt were cool. No Boris bikes to take me to our broken down Georgian wreck in rather grubby Spitalfields . Our youthful optimism and passion for rescuing beautiful architecture also unwittingly prepared the scene for the influx of the current hipster generation; you can hardly move between the foodie pop ups and designer handbag displays. Thankfully Olhao, remains a source of solace and visual inspiration and the Saturday market with its life, understatement, colour and fabulous fresh produce beats any West End/East End foray.
Figs from the flat capped owner`s garden - all shapes and sizes none of which would pass the supermarket test for shape and uniformity
The Saturday Olhao market is in itself a wondrous gem. Yet amongst the makeshift counters and shady awnings it`s the one-offs ,a simple woven basket of glossy fresh white eggs or a bundle of roughly tied herbs from the seller`s garden that are the most special, at least, for me. A posy of wild flowers, dunked haphazardly in a plastic washing up bowl is everyday, yet artful and intimate, far from the supermarket `mixed seasonal bunch` . The creators of Olhao`s market couture tend to be the beady eyed older ladies whose stock is less plentiful, and bountiful then some others, but they sure know how to make a few oranges rock on a bed of shiny green leaves.
Daisies, and snails.
Buy a bundle of bay leaves - so good for flavouring meat and fish stews.
Petite piri piri peppers are packed with fiery energy. Be prepared. NB And are even more dangerous if you buy them in jars dried and crushed.
One red onion is beauty in itself don`t you think? It should should be called purple , deep mauve , fuschia even, anything but red. I bring a paper bagful home from the market to make an edible autumn display on the table. This depletes over the week with glossy fried onions for gravy with sausage and mash, stirfry with crunchy sticks of carrot and white cabbage and Sunday`s last beef slivers. I`m addicted to Sharpham Park pearled spelt, and it is just the thing for making a risotto with chopped red onion, beetroot and goats cheese.
Lido blue sky, Jerk chicken on the breeze , and through the park gates a fluttering gold
horizon on the hill , Sunday in Brixton is just
as freeing and refreshing as a walk in country woods. I am a country
girl in my heart but for all the delights of rural beauty and peace my head
soon tires of petrol hikes to the shops and sinister ice on winter
lanes. Give me the people life of urban encounters: a late night war
story from an Eritrean minicab driver, fellow dog walkers
smiling in four legged connection; a close friend and glass of fizz
one road crossing away; or Antonia and Casey at Beamish and Mcglue
who dispense good coffee and local chat. And from the spreading rash of
betting shops in the high street to a potential feast of films in a
new Picture House cinema, these are all elements of my village life in the city.
It`s been a good week for exhibitions: : Whistler`s fog scenes on the river at Battersea; more colour at Tate Modern with Paul Klee and then to Albermarle Street and Tim Wright`s powerful painted figures .
GARDEN NOTE : Apart from a few floppy pink rose heads. colour is leaching from the
garden beds. But the sycamore is flaming and the grass thick and rich
green, a last growth spurt before winter draws it back into the earth
to wait for Spring. Boxes of tulip and allium bulbs are packed in the cool of the larder.I have a weekend earmarked for planting them and putting the garden to bed. NB see great pictures by Caroline Arbour`s in a new book on Virginia Wolf`s garden .
Inspirational autumn colours in the park above, and pink Cosmos, below, growing in the Community greenhouses, below.
QUINCE JELLY: I simmer the dentist`s quinces in water for a couple of hours and let the cooked fruit drip pink juice through muslin into the pan. I add 500ml juice to 600ml of sugar and stir the mixture over the heat until setting point .The hot jelly cools and sets in jars by the fridge. The dog sniffs but doesn`t touch, too hot. I plan to share the jelly out to foodies at Christmas. It`s so good to eat with roast meat or to stir into gravies.
Sunday morning market in Estoi a few miles inland from Olhao. It`s hot by 11, I need my hat (a pleasant need it is too) and the breeze carries a richly textured smell of churros frying, horse dung and spring flowers, from the sprawling market site on the edge of the village. Everyone is here: gypsies in black waistcoats with black flat caps and thick beards; farmers from little fincas dotted about the countryside; children; dogs; lovers; groups of men in hunt of jamon and beer from one of the many food stands.
In contrast to the piles of bright kitchen plastics , ribbons and trimmings, and rails of trashy print dresses, the salt cod
bachlau and garlic stall is a sea of cool whites and is the one I head for first of all. Slabs of creamy fish and bundles of papery white garlic bulbs streaked with purple, are assessed by customers who will later cook up a rich fish stew with these staples of the Portuguese kitchen. I like to slice raw salt cod very thinly (after rigorous soaking to get rid of the salt) and serve with thin slices of orange for a simple tapa.
I also gravitate to a van wreathed in baskets. The stall holder employs her mother and others who still know how to weave in the traditional way .I imagine quiet industry with bundles of dried grass on tiled floors in village houses where orange blossom scents float over whitewashed walls. Baskets like these feature heavily in my house- for storing vegetables in the kitchen , winter bedding on top of the wardrobe in my bedroom, and for accessories stowed away under the bed. I shall be looking out for the baskets and the van at one of the other local periodic markets - any excuse to top up my basket supply.
And there`s more: trays of vegetable seedlings, fruit trees, caged chicks, hens, even a sorry looking pair of swans. The highlight for many- including me are beakers of red wine , grilled chicken, jamon, or cheese at makeshift restaurants with dark awnings that give the scene the look of one vast outdoor Arabic souk.
Clumps of grass between the cobbles and pantiles sprouting wild flowers show winter in Olhao was as extreme in rainfall as in the chill we endured here. So releasing to peel off wool layers and sun bathe under blue sky spring busy with swallows, tweeting sparrows and swooping nets of silvery homing pigeons . We trundle to the market and load the Rolly Rolser with armfuls of wild flowers, eggs, asparagus and oranges.
So good to eat with sun on the face sea in the air. This demands something celebratory like buying a net of
amejoias boa for clam and tomato pasta. I shower and soak the shells in the sink, picking out any broken ones. They feel smooth and cool, with a promising weightiness like solid chocolate eggs.
I chop tomatoes, garlic and fry until soft. Some pepper, dregs of white wine from last night, and then the sauce is ready for the clams. Steam under the saucepan lid, shake frequently and after seven minutes or so the clams open like buds in a speeded up film to reveal tender flesh and juices with a fragrant shellfish taste
We spoon clams and sauce over bowls piled with
spaghetti or any other long type will be right. This is an athletic dish: twirling strands of dripping pasta around one`s fork, sucking the last bits from the shells. It takes me back to being 18 and the
spaghetti vongoles of my first Italian summer.