Last weekend the 'beloved' was rummaging round in the shed and came across an old beer crate - to his surprise when he turned it round it was full of bottles of wine - my wine - my homemade wine. At one time I would turn anything into wine - and what he found were the last few bottles that I was saving for posterity.
Okay - I know that sounds strange - you don't very often see the words 'home-made wine' and 'posterity' in the same sentence, but there is a perfectly sensible explanation.
I was influenced by a a chapter in the book My Uncle Silas by H.E. Bates - called 'The Return'. This is a book of short stories based on the life of a real person.
Bates's Uncle Silas figure, and many of the lineaments of his character, were based on a real person named Joseph Betts, the husband of H.E. Bates's maternal grandmother Mary Ann. Betts lived in a village in the Ouse Valley, was born in the early 1840s, and lived to the early 1930s. The figure he portrays is Rabelaisian and robust, a true countryman of pithy and rogueish character, simultaneously earthy and whimsical, crabbed and wicked, yet full of humour and "strong original devilishness."
Inseparable from the text are the illustrations of Edward Ardizzone, which perfectly and brilliantly capture the gnarled quality and sly charm of the subject.
Two series of the short stories were adapted for television. The first aired in 2001 and the second in 2003. They featured Albert Finney as Silas.
But I digress - what is the connection between my home-made wine and My Uncle Silas you might ask. Well in the last chapter of the book Uncle Silas has died and his nephew has returned to his old home for a last look round. He sees it has all changed
"As I went up the lane to the house I looked for the old sign of things: smoke rising from the chimney; the old summer bird-scares, age-green hats on sticks and inside-out umbrellas and twirling shuttlecocks; scarecrows made up of odd legs of Silas's pants and bell-bottomed trousers and the housekeeper's ancient hat and chemises; the ladder in the late apple trees; the bonfire filling the garden and the spinney and the fields with smoke that hung in sweet-smelling clouds under the pines and the golden cherry leaves. I listened for the cluck of Silas's hens and the grunting and rooting of the solitary sow he had always kept in the black sty under the elderberries at the garden end. But it was very quiet, oddly silent everywhere. I could hear nothing."
The nephew tells a few lies to the new owner and manages to make his way into the cottage and down into the cellar where Uncle Silas used to keep his bottles of home-made wine.
"We were in the cellar. And suddenly I breathed. It was like the breath of another world: the wine and the dampness, the musty odour of ferment and dust and spider-webs. The walls were yellow in the candle-light. Big shadows fell and ballooned over them as I raised and lowered the candle."
The nephew finds the last of his uncle's bottles of elderberry and cowslip wine and pretends they are vinegar and harness oil and sneakily makes off with them. The only inheritance he has from his beloved Uncle. I wept buckets when I read the last couple of chapters and decided that I would keep the last of my wine in the shed - so that when I am dead and gone - whoever lives in our house next - will find my wine and wonder. Wonder who the person was that had lived here before and why on earth would they leave behind a few bottles of Parsnip wine and a few bottles of Elderberry. Now you know!
Out of curiosity the 'beloved' opened a bottle of Parsnip to see what the 1984 vintage tasted like. We were both pleasantly surprised - it was clear as a bell and looked and tasted like white wine should, maybe a little too sweet but definitely fruity and drinkable. So there you have it - if you have a few parsnips going spare - turn it into wine - and maybe keep one for posterity just as I have! CHEERS!
If you are interested in H.E.Bates check out this post here that I wrote some time ago
about book foraging and my collection of his books.