Allotmenting – and cooking for that matter – has taken a back seat for the last few weeks. After the storms blew over the best of the sunflowers and dahlias, I lost heart a little, and since then my time has been taken up with work (meetings now happening IN REAL LIFE! which is exciting but also exhausting after so long not seeing anyone), Harry’s birthday and a trip down to the Gower. Maybe it’s normal to get an energy dip at this time of year, with the days shortening and the light beginning to dim. But then this weekend the sun has come out and I realise that we’re not quite done with the season just yet – look at this basket of colour, harvested yesterday.
Once or twice a week I am gathering a flower haul like this, with multiple colours and shapes of dahlias, cosmos, sunflower, zinnia and chrysanthemum, and today I also added a few sprigs of lime-yellow dill to the basket. I place them in multiple vases in the dining room, the more clashing shades the better.
This week Harry turned three, with not one but two birthday parties (in Corona-times we have to limit the numbers of people who can get together at once). I did consider making one of those 3D ambitious Thomas the Tank Engine cakes but sanity took over, and I stuck to the good old-fashioned chocolate tray bake with chocolate fingers and 100s and 1000s. To be clear, no matter how small the number of guests, a child’s birthday party is TIRING. I am deeply looking forward to Monday and a rest.
But onto the ice cream referenced in the title. Last weekend we were in Mumbles at the edge of the Gower peninsula, hoping for a few days of peaceful rejuvenation amidst the sea air. Not a bit of it: in the six months since he last saw a beach, Harry has morphed from sand-phobic to CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF IT. I am rapidly having to rethink how we approach our forthcoming autumnal Cornwall holiday, for the usual cagoule-and-welly 30 minute beach experience is looking like it will become a full-day-outer needing buckets, spades, windbreaks, wet suits and thermos.
When one is knackered, and on holiday, there is always the promise of ice cream to keep energy levels up. And baked goods. And my goodness, do the Welsh deliver on the ice cream front. Verdi’s, on the Mumbles seafront, is an Italian cafe institution, serving up ice cream sundaes, semi-freddo cakes, custard slices (of which the Welsh are particularly partial, they were a regular feature in cafes) and proper coffee.
In fact, there are Italian-style cafes and ice cream parlours dotted across the Gower, and a little research tells me that this is A Thing. In the first half of the 20th century, immigrants from the small town of Bardi in the northern Italian mountains settled across South Wales, bringing cafe culture with them – and whilst many of these institutions have now closed, a few have stuck in out, passing businesses (and recipes) down the generations. This BBC article has more but what I would really like to do is take a road trip through the valleys, slurping my way through cappuccinos and gelatos, to find the true spirit of these independent Italian superstars for myself.
Also this week:
Harvesting: Cavolo nero, a scant handful of beans, raspberries, dahlias, chrysanthemum, cosmos, sunflowers, dill, zinnia. Also: Stripped back leaves from the bush tomatoes to let some light in, hoping for a few to ripen.
Cooking and eating: Birthday tea 1: chocolate cake, smoked salmon blinis, sausage rolls. Birthday tea 2: Full Tamworth buffet spread, my contribution was a mac and cheese with leeks and bacon and chicken wings marinated in yoghurt and ras al hanout. Baked porridge oats with blueberries, raspberries and coconut. Semi-freddo cake and ice cream sundaes at Verdi’s. Fresh mackerel and sardines bought from the fishmonger in Mumbles, butterflied and grilled, with fresh bread, salad and laverbread. Squishy focaccia sandwiches and chelsea buns from the Mumbles bakery.