There’s no such thing as a free lunch

 

Following on from my horticultural extravaganza of picking my own olives, a couple of days ago I was out in the campo with some friends to enjoy a paella and plenty of tinto under a bright blue autumnal sky. Well….at least I thought that’s what I was doing.

The patch of land about twenty minutes drive north of Valencia is typical of many in the area. Not so long ago a few thousand square metres would have kept a family in fresh vittles most of the year around, as well as a few chickens scratching in the dirt and a pig for the matanza, the annual ritual of killing it to provide the joints, sausages, innards and gizzards for the coming year. If it was big enough there would be enough olive trees for oil and nibbles, and almonds, oranges and lemons for health’s sake. A few hardy ancients still grow a cop of tomatoes and artichokes, but usually the only crop you see these days are weeds and withered branches.

Paco has lived in a casita, a tumbledown one-storey house, on his bit of God’s green acre for fourteen years. When I first came to Spain eleven years ago with barely a peseta to my name, I lived in one for about four weeks…and that was enough for me, so if nothing else, I admire Paco for his stamina and consistency. During the last few years he’s been slowly working his piece of land, trying to bring it back to life, and he’d invited a group of friends along to show what he was doing. I didn’t know him personally, but he’s a friend of a friend, and I’m always happy to go somewhere, have a quick shufti, nod at all the right places, and then sit down and scoff my face.

We did the usual preparatory shuffling of setting the table and chairs up and getting the fire going so Vicente could cook his paella, but just before I could settle my bones I was told we were going to pick a few almonds. “Well, that’s not so bad,” I thought; “warm me up a bit.”

Ever picked almonds? No, I thought not. A little word of advice here; it may look good in the tourist brochures when you are being enticed to shell out hard earned coppers for a bit of a rustic adventure, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty and have to spend your time doubled over or sat on your behind while getting showered with something as hard as hailstones, you begin to wonder if it might not have been a bit of a better idea to go to the nearest take-away for a kebab, and sit under the sun on your terrace at home to eat it.

About six of us jollied forth for the picking while Paco and Vicente cleared a patch of ground to plant onions. My first idea of casually selecting the nuts from the tree was soon abused when it was pointed out that we had to pick up all the ones that had fallen naturally, hence the doubling over. And there were hundreds of them. Someone handed me a plastic bag, and within a couple of minutes I gave up the doubling and arse shuffling, and got on my knees, partly in supplication to the Almighty to get me out of this, but mainly because I’m too old, too fat, and just too tired for all this harvesting malarkey. Too late to get out of it now, though.

So around I shuffled, grubbing in the muck and grass like a pig rooting for truffles. Pick up a handful, chuck ‘em in the bag and move on to repeat. After about fifteen minutes I leant back on my heals for a rest and looked around. Behind me were neatly placed piles of almonds. My first thought was that someone had been wasting their time simply piling the almonds instead of chucking them in a bucket, quickly followed by my second thought…Bollocks!, when I realised that I had a hole in the bottom of the bag, and the little piles where mine. Every time I stopped and threw some nuts in the bag, they stayed where they were, and as I moved on, dragging the bag behind me, I deposited small piles of nuts. I grabbed a bucket and went chuntering back to start again.

Not being one to tell my granny how to suck eggs, I always thought that the way to get the almonds off the branches was to whack the tree with a pole. But there again, that might just be for olives. I wasn’t the only one to have the same thought, though, because John – he’s clever, and knows about these things – turned up with a three metre length of bamboo and began to lay into the tree. A bit of warning would have been nice.

Not having seen him approach the tree with his whacker, I wasn’t ready for the cascade of hard shells that bounced off me. It didn’t do me a lot of damage, you understand, but I did feel a bit like Chicken Licken when he thinks the sky is falling in on him. Fair comment, though, he did apologise…and kept on hitting the tree.

After about an hour’s whacking and picking we decided to call it a day, as we’d filled four buckets. No-one ever tells you there’s a stage two to this sort of thing, do they? Well there is, and it’s equally as tedious, cracking the shells open to take out the kernel. After another hour, fortunately this time with a beer in hand, we’d filled four small jars with almonds. As with my foray into the harvesting and preparation of olives, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps those old chaps weren’t so daft after all to leave the land. Why break your back for a handful of nuts when you can pick up a packet all nicely shelled at the local grocer for coppers?

The paella was good, though.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web sites, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered.

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2 Responses to “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”

  1. sylvia pilath Says:

    enjoyable reading Derek, congratulations and keep writing

  2. valpaparazzi Says:

    Thank you, ma’am

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