Week 34: Carob
The latest in the ‘learning something new’ department: composting. Horse left us a great many presents, and to begin with I forked the stuff straight into the earth. Then I discovered this was wrong. You have to compost it first. So we bought a composting bin, an annoying, unwieldy contraption but, I decided, better than creating a carpet-covered heap. At least if my compost doesn’t work, or festers, or gets fly-blown, it’s a contained disaster. I followed the rules, and in went Horse’s gifts along with the required layers of dry stuff, peelings, eggshells, etc. We’ll see what happens.
While I was forking my way through all this horseshit, I noticed a great many, rather pretty – despite their setting – shiny brown seeds. After a while, I got it: carob seeds. How Horse had truffled out the dried old bean pods! No wonder he liked to shelter under the carob trees. Clever Horse.
I had already been falling in love with the carob. It’s a pretty tree, with spreading, sheltering branches. We have several on our land.* Right next to the house is the beautiful one whose tree trunk you can see here. Even in January bright green new leaves are appearing among the older, duller leaves. ‘Carob’ has associations with the dreadful, chocolate-substitute health-food products of a good few years back but here, where it’s a valuable crop – relatively, that is, given that most farmers get next to nothing for their produce – it is made into sumptuous chocolaty cakes and puddings that don’t need to pretend to be substitutes for anything. We like a spread you can buy made from almond and carob; very good on Husband’s bread.
The tree’s Portuguese name is alfarroba. Its German name is Johannisbrot: John’s bread, after John the Baptist. Among the carob’s many other names is the ‘locust (bean) tree’. It would seem that when John spent time in the wilderness eating locusts and honey, he was actually eating carob and honey. For those of us who’d rather eat chocolate than locusts – surely most of us – the story of his time in the wilderness begins to take on a different shade.
Next discovery: incredibly, the ‘carat’, that measure of gold and diamonds and other precious stuff, comes from ‘carob’. Those perfect little seeds, as seen among Horse’s leavings, are so uniform in size and shape that they were once used as tiny units of measure. They are the work of nature, so they will not be perfectly identical, but in earlier times they were good enough.
I spent most of last week alone in the house at the end of the world while Husband was in Germany. I felt completely safe. One day, I saw an old woman I’d never seen before. She was small and slightly bent and wore dark clothes and a headscarf topped by a tallish hat. She waved her stick at me and asked me a few questions. I picked up the words ‘house’ and ‘cyclists’ – packs of cyclists occasionally tear through here – but understood very little else and just had to smile at her foolishly. Then she said my house was nice, and asked me if I had any company at home. I said I had (although at that time I did not). She gave me a roguish look and said something else. This not-understood something else was very nearly accompanied by a nudge-nudge. Her elbow came out towards me and though she thought better of digging it into my side, the amusement in her eyes was very clear. Then she went down the path to the river, still talking, and waving her stick at me to say goodbye.
* When I say ‘our land’ I feel rather like the flea that claims ownership of the dog.