La Granja

In Practice, Production on September 21, 2011 at 10:16 am

I suppose I may have given the impression that life in Spain, if one sets aside the gut-wrenching bunny grief, is all romance and fried fish. Gaseosa rivers, cotton candy clouds and so forth.

But there are hardships.

We don’t always get our favourite table at our favourite bar. The water down at Playa Chica can be a little on the chilly side, from time to time. Not every weekend involves wallowing up to our greedy chins in the unrivalled, intoxicating locations that Andalucia has to offer (just most of them), and parking can be a problem.

And so much to learn! What a schlepp! How to distinguish between varieties of olive, for example, or which kinds of fish are best for the grill and which for a stew. What on earth is the difference between a langostino and a gamba, anyway? And what’s for the best; tortilla de patatas con cebolla, or sin cebolla? I don’t know. It’s all so tiresome!

We look to the future with optimism. We refuse to contemplate failure! But… not every endeavour is destined for success. There will be difficulties, setbacks, and none of our projects to date have illustrated as much so vividly, with such melancholic eloquence, as the farm.

It isn’t a particularly big farm. Its situation on our ornamental balcony was always going to dictate a certain economy of space (four plant pots and a rectangular tray), but we had such high hopes! We envisaged towering tomato vines, the kind of thing Jack would have been proud to climb, and lush expanses of herb that blew and rippled in the wind. We saw ourselves getting out there – one at a time obviously – with a bucket and filling it with pert little pimientos de Padron for feasts on the roof.

I mean it’s the Mediterranean, right? Peppers, tomatoes, herbs – it’s not as if we got crop selection wrong. In a town where the fattest palm trees you ever saw sprout up over incredible, aged rubber plants and ferns, and where there is hardly a wall that isn’t draped in bougainvillea, we thought we might be able to grow a thing or two.

Not so. Even the beginnings were mixed, though there were encouraging signs. Our tomatoes and peppers were divided between two plastic and two terracotta pots. It turns out plants aren’t big nature fans – preferring the plastic to the porous, earth-emulating terracotta. The tray we sowed with parsley and salad leaves and indeed, a mere month later, we enjoyed a small salad. I also got to sprinkle something with parsley at one point. But that was it. It’s a wasteland now, that tray. It looks like something nuclear happened to it.

The real kick in the teeth has been the tomatoes. If there’s one thing you learn about food in Spain it’s the value of a good tomato. Spaniards turn their noses up at tomatoes that we would fight over in the streets of Dublin. None of your force fed, perfectly round, perfectly red and perfectly tasteless versions here – in Spanish stores they are big and ugly, irregular in shape and often sold almost green. And they are delicious; a reminder of what a tomato tastes like.

And that’s just as well, because we’ll be getting our tomatoes in stores for the foreseeable future. As soon as our stalks had achieved a respectable height, and just as my real excitement began to kick in, the mould came. It crept upwards from the base of the stems like a boa and strangled the life out of them. The last time I had the heart to look out there was a single green tomato hanging from the end of one of the straggling, rickety, disease ridden stalks.

A single tomato. And not a tomato really, though I imagine that’s what it looks like to the casual observer. To me, it’s pure green recrimination. It isn’t going to grow any more. It isn’t going to redden, or ripen. It’s just going to hang there and taunt me with what might have been. And then it’s going to rot. I’m certainly not going to eat it, not with all that mould on the plant. No, not a tomato. It doesn’t deserve the name! It’s tomato shaped disappointment. (Update: I looked out. It’s rotting).

The peppers are where we have had some positive results, but don’t get excited. After the plants in the terracotta pot died I concentrated my efforts (water) exclusively on the plastic pot, and indeed the two plants there remain. They don’t look good, but they remain. I don’t know if you’re familiar with pimientos de Padron but they are a Spanish speciality and they are sweet and tiny. We’ve managed to produce three.

I’m looking at them now – what am I supposed to do with three pimientos de Padron, I ask you? There isn’t a dish in the world that would benefit in any way from the addition of three of these miniature capsicums. They should be served in heaps – piled up in mounds and sprinkled generously with rock salt. I have no use whatsoever for three of the things and neither does anybody else.

They’ll be left there to rot – either that or I’ll get one of my notions and fry them for solemn ritual consumption, pestering K into sitting there with me and eating them in some kind of daft ceremony, following an appropriate speech. We’ll have to halve the third one, I suppose, unless she lets me have it.

Anyway it’s not all romance and fried fish, is what I’m saying.

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  1. That was soooo amusing and just what I needed!

  2. Great post – reminds me of how tough it was when I first moved here. Like you, I chuckled about it too!

  3. For some ungodly reason, I can’t grow tomatoes either. I hate to complain because it is definitely a first world problem, but I wish I knew what I was doing wrong. Robin, you are right, some of the most unattractive fruit/food is often the tastiest.

  4. I love the visual of you and K – napkins tucked into your shirts – sharing a miniature pepper. A proper Charlie Bucket meal.

    As always, enjoyed every line. I would say Kent and I would love to visit, but I feel like we already have.

  5. So… how many fish are you eating each day?!

  6. Ahh… I know what a bummer that can be to put your heart and soul into your little vegetable plants and never get to enjoy them. Our tomato plants never grew past 2 inches this year for some reason. Last year we enjoyed the best tomatoes from our plants that now I can’t stand store bought tomatoes.

  7. I’ve never been much of a vegetable grower – or gardener of any kind. Too impatient. Thank heavens for the stores. And ugly, irregularly sized tomatoes!

    • Yes, with all the stores, not to mention markets, here there’s no particularly pressing reason to grow our own. Still stings though, the abject failure of it…

  8. Sounds like an epic failure, but at least you tried 😉

  9. You hooked me from the olive troubles. Smart, funny, intelligent — an excellent post all around! Hats off to you (and the capsicums)…

  10. Ahhh – sounds like my attempts at growing things…what is the difference between a langostino and a gamba anyway?

    • I believe langostinos are a little larger/longer, something like a Dublin Bay prawn, and gambas are the shorter but fatter shrimp. Good fresh gambas are that little bit more sought after and so a bit more expensive.

  11. When we lived in San Diego we put so much time and money into growing the most beautiful tomato plant (which we kept in our sad excuse for a front yard). The poor thing had a bug infestation, but we saved it, then hail threatened to destroy the leaves and we saved it again. It produced three shiny tomatoes, and we watched them ripen every day. One afternoon we decided that we’d pick them the next morning and then spent the rest of the evening excitedly discussing the delicious tomato-and-avocado sandwiches we’d have.

    The next morning we went outside and they were all gone. GONE! Some bastard tomato thief stole our precious tomatoes under the cover of darkness!!

    Which is a long and elaborate way of saying that I empathize with the loss of your tomatoes, Robin. May you some day find peace and success in another tomato plant.

  12. I now have a garden and shall try to grow tomatos… next spring. London is getting chilly…

  13. Growing Tomatoes In PotsShould You Consider Growing Tomatoes In Pots?Growing Tomatoes From Seed IndoorsGrowing Tomatoes From Seed La Granja […]

  14. […] this rather dank little flat with its five small rooms. Two of them are windowless. The balcony is merely decorative, the roof terrace communal. The water pressure is poor and last year mould grew on the walls. […]

  15. […] some tomatoes, peppers, rosemary and lavender. Another farm. It can’t go worse than the last one. I have visions of myself on the patio come September, lost amidst the kaleidoscopic blooms, […]

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