A simmering pot of soup wards off the iciest winter wind.
This is the darkest, wettest, loudest month and the month when everything goes around in circles.
I look up from digging and see curtains of rain swish shut across the front of the hill. The hill amplifies the wind and hurls its moans back at me as I struggle to lever carrots and beetroot out of their soggy beds. I am at war with the blackbirds, who build dugouts in the soft soil of the potato bed and kick their tailings onto the paths. Leaves from the now naked silver birches gyre and swirl on the parking spaces in front of the house and the cat whirls like a dervish, around and around, chasing them. And all this spinning makes me angry.
I don’t know why. I get angry with the wet clothes flapping in my face when I peg them on the line. I’m angry when I cross the motorway bridge and my skirt and coat blow about like flags. I’m angry when cars accelerate past and spray me with dirty water. Right now I’m angry with my waterlogged soil and the sluggard sun. I wipe the sticky clods off the spade then look at the last tree tomatoes glowing on the battered branches like lanterns. They halt my spin-drier mind and I pick them and take them inside to heat-pump heaven. I slice them and sprinkle them with sugar and leave them for tomorrow’s breakfast.
I also make soup. Stirring a giant pot of soup is like inventing a new galaxy. I peer into the vortex of pea and ham, or borscht, or pumpkin and coconut cream, or vichyssoise, and this swirling motion calms my soul. I always serve winter soup in beautiful bowls you can wrap your hands around. Soup is for hugging. Soup gets us through the winter.
I soon feel better and grab a dog and rush out to a beach. If you can’t beat the wind and rain, you might as well join them. That’s the only attitude that works in July. In my raincoat and over-trousers I’m as shiny as silverbeet leaves in a storm. I toss sticks and the neighbours’ dog runs into the roaring breakers. Afterwards we sit in the car swaddled in towels and I sip coffee from the Fuel coffee cart. Okay, it’s Wellington. There’s good coffee even on the most deserted winter beaches. We’re not really roughing it. We’re city people.
You do see strange things in your soup pot. I have never seen a vortex in my soup; I see bubbles. My soup seethes like a brew in a witch’s cauldron. I’ve found “eye of newt and toe of frog” a little hard to procure this year so I have been making my brew with bone of sheep, shred of vegetable and harvest grain. I call this combination bone soup and I brew it in a large stockpot on the wood stove.
To make bone soup, I roast mutton bones and, when they’re nicely browned, I submerge them in salted water and boil them for a morning. At lunchtime I add grated onion, carrot, potato and pumpkin, along with pearl barley, lentils and seasoning, and I simmer the brew all afternoon. The soup is ready to eat on day two but, like a good port, it improves with age.
I temper this recipe with a warning. Do not attempt bone soup in your city kitchen unless you have a wood stove or one of those slow cookers. Bone soup could be ruinous for your power bill. How sad I feel for a house without a wood stove. My old range labours all day, heating the water, warming the kitchen and cooking our meals. I love her dearly. So do the mice.
We don’t like to admit to mice but warm country kitchens always attract mice in winter. Even the most fastidious of housekeepers can be invaded. My friend Mrs E was recently called to do battle with mice when a Scottish guest squeaked, “Oooh, my dear, there’s a wee broon moose in the hoose”. Mrs E set a battery of lethal traps on the site of the moose sighting and waited. A few hours later, a little mouse was snapped in the trap. Now, my friend is very resourceful; she’s not the sort of woman who needs to call a man in to change a tyre on her car, but confronted with a dead mouse in a trap she’s helpless. Mr E was immediately summonsed in from the farm, by text message, to dispose of the corpse. Unfortunately for Mrs E, Mr E does not keep his mobile switched on when he is busy.
Story: Janice Marriott & Virginia Pawsey