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Summer's end

"Moods, like seasons, change and the anticipation of something new and different is what gives life an edge." Delia Smith

It's my guru week. By which I mean my dish from an actual recipe is to be from one of my cooking gurus. Now I was going to go back to Elizabeth David, but then I decided I would focus on the next group of gurus. The next generation as it were. The celebrity chefs of the 80s and 90s. Maybe the 70s too. I mean Delia, Charmaine, Beverley, Madhur and Claudia. And this week it will be Delia's turn.

But this is not about Delia. It's really a contemplation on the end of summer, so beautifully represented here I think, by the photo which acts as a frontispiece to Delia's book - Delia Smith's Summer Collection. The last rays of the sun perhaps capturing the last fruits of summer by preserving them in sunshiny olive oil.

We are now 7 days - a week - into March. Into Autumn. For Autumn technically begins on 1st March here. Because Australia was colonised by the British the country sticks to the four British seasons of the year. But this, of course, is ridiculous as the country covers several different climate zones, from monsoon, to equatarial, temperate, desert, Mediterranean ... I'm sure there are more. And even here in Melbourne which has, to climatologists, a Mediterranean climate, or so I was taught in school; even here there are actually six seasons I believe. This division is based on the Aboriginal view, but I believe there is indeed good evidence for it. It goes like this:

  • February to Mid March - Late summer - what we are experiencing now. We think summer has gone but we are not quite sure. And February is generally the month with the highest fire danger and generally the hottest. Just when the kids go back to school.

  • April and May - Early winter - probably what I would call Autumn - it's not really cold and the sun generally shines. Possibly the best time of the Melbourne year.

  • June to Mid July - Deep winter - cold and dull, though never as cold as in Britain.

  • Mid July to August - Early spring - now technically this is still winter, but yes it does feel like spring - the sky is often blue and the wattles and cherry blossoms are in flower. It's very springlike

  • September and October - True spring - it rains

  • November through to the end of January - High summer hot but erratically so. And generally not much rain.

So yes it's silly to base our seasons on Britain's climate. Also to be noted is that some parts of the world don't have seasons at all - those in the tropics - the lands that span the equator between the two tropics. Although, of course, even some of these are not truly tropical in that every day is the same as the other. Many of them lie in desert zones for example. Climate is a complicated thing, and, as we know to our cost, it's changing.

As I mentioned - Australia covers a number of different climatic zones so it's interesting to see that our supermarket duopoly - in their current March magazines - are both pushing Autumn as a theme. Well perhaps 'theme' is a bit of an overstatement but looking at their editorials Woolworths begins with "summer is slowly coming to an end." and Coles with "Hello autumn". I wonder what the people in the far north and the centre think of that.

And they both focus on plums which are very much a southern fruit. Indeed most of them are grown here in Victoria. I have a feeling it's still mango season up north and soon to be water melons. Nevertheless the British heritage is so pervasive that both supermarket chains focus on the seasons as experienced in Britain. Not that summer in far north Scotland is the same as summer in far south Cornwall either.

As for Melbourne. Well Melbourne is notorious for its very changeable climate. Four seasons in one day they say, and yes I have very occasionally experienced that.

So summer is over - technically, and you would agree going on today's weather. Look at the forecast though and you will see that next weekend into early next week we are back up into the high 20s - almost 30 in fact with a relatively high fire danger on Monday. So maybe summer isn't done with us yet.

Every year I dread summer. Summer is bush fire season. High temperatures and not much rain. The last three years, including this one, however, have been cooler and so less frightening. Which is a relief. And yet, just to prove that we are never satisfied, it has also been a bit disappointing. Real summer clothes have not been worn much. I mean the sun dresses, the sleeveless tops, the cool skirts. Soon I shall be putting my summer clothes away, most of them unworn and bringing out my much more limited winter wardrobe. There will be few more outside dinners that make me feel that I am on holiday and salad will not be a temptation.

Delia begins her Summer Collection with cold soups, recognising that we Brits are not fans:

"I would like to make a case for them. perhaps because of the climate the British traditionally think of soups as warming and comforting, and chilling them therefore seems a contradiction in terms. Yet nothing is as refreshing on a warm day as, say, a gazpacho, which I always think of as salad soup, a way of sipping and savouring all the fragrance of a salad."

This one is her Chilled lemongrass and coriander vichyssoise, which at least is different.

The trick she says is to serve chilled soups really, really chilled. Tepid will not do.

But, as I said, I'm not really meaning to talk about Delia no matter how wonderful her recipes. I'm really wanting to contemplate the end of the summer and what that means food wise. Well summer doesn't really mean you have to eat salad and chilled soup all the time. I mean think of a real Mediterranean holiday where you might be eating hot dishes such as ratatatouille, or pissaladière, or bouillabaisse. How summery is pizza when you really think about it? Delia talks of summer food as a journey from asparagus to runner beans which made me think, that yes, if you really think about it, early summer food does begin with asparagus and it ends with peaches and nectarines here. Now we can really look forward to those autumn things, that people mostly consider to be summery - tomatoes, those plums, eggplant and beans, and later on new apples and pears - the pears are already here.

We are lucky to have seasons. I think it would be difficult to live in a truly tropical climate where every day begins with heat, becoming gradually more humid until it rains. You almost push through the atmosphere. And next day it will be the same. And the same after that, so not much chance of variety in food. Of course, today, if you have the money you can import all those other things that will not grow in the tropics. Nevertheless the food would not have much seasonal variation would it? Along with the weather.

Back here in Melbourne, though it distinctly feels as if Autumn is just around the corner if not quite here. A few trees are beginning to change colour - the non-native imports that is. The eucalypts stay the same all year. Today we have had a couple of seasons - a bit of a British like summer - the sun shone, it was warm enough to wear a T-shirt, but now the sun is disappearing and the temperature drops.

Yesterday we ate a curry which is a strange beast when it comes to weather is it not? It's the very opposite of Delia's cooling soups - warm, even hot, and comforting - and filling. And yet it's the darling of every hot country around the world. It was delicious even if I did cheat yesterday and use a curry paste from a jar.

And autumn is barbecue time. We can't barbecue in summer - well not a proper barbecue with wood. It's too dangerous and, moreover, forbidden. Barbecues are family things. Now that's something to really look forward to.

Hello Autumn.


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