It’s hard to think of cheering jobs in January. Everything is frozen and wilted and Spring seems a long way off. One job that does hold out the prospect of happier, sunnier days is pruning my vine back. I found an old vine strangled by brambles but still growing at the very back of my plot. After a hard pruning I trained it over a little structure to the left of my shed. As well as producing a mass of tender green leaves for making stuffed vine leaves it provided heavenly glaucous shade in more scorching summer moments. It also provides the makings of great barbecue as the vine trimmings can be used as fuel.
Cooking over vine twigs is nothing new. On the continent vineyard workers have long known that the dry resinous stems of the vine give a wonderful taste and aroma to meat grilled over them. This summer we cooked a t-bone steak over vine twigs in the back garden. It was an evening to remember. The air was warm and clear and after building a fire with ordinary coals I let them sink down to a warm glow before putting on the vine twigs and then the steak. The twigs flared up quickly with bright orange flames then glowed red in a delicate mass before collapsing into a cloud of grey ash. The latter I later fed back into the soil (wood ash is very good for soil). We ate the steak with freshly grated horseradish mixed with cream and black pepper and some waxy yellow charlotte potatoes dug that afternoon.
After reading the great herbalist, soil doctor and anthologist of gypsy lore, Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s entry on the vine in her indispensable, Illustrated Herbal Handbook for Everyone, I will now be picking and eating the vine tendrils whenever I visit my allotment. She makes high claims for the vine which she calls the “supreme food and medicinal herb” and whose leaves she describes lovingly as being like “cool, green, healing human hands”. According to Bairacli-Levy the vine is a general tonic for the whole body but in particular anaemia, infertility, impure blood, eszema, lymphatic ailments, dystentery and constipation.
She goes on to say that “when the human body has become sick almost beyond reasonable hope of recovery, there is still, to my mind, one recourse: for the patient to retire to the neighbourhood of some vineyard where grape are cultivated by natural methods and there to follow a grape cure, living only on the fruit (with a few vine leaves and tendrils also) and drinking only pure water and perhaps fresh goat or sheep milk.” It may not have been scientifically proven but it’s encouraging to think I have such powerful medicine readily at hand