So, I was trotting back to my car late yesterday afternoon, when my nostrils began to twitch. There, on the warm sub-tropical air wafted an aroma which hurtled me right back to my childhood.
Fall is my favorite time of year. I’ve said that ad nauseam, haven’t I! It’s definitely the only time I ever feel homesick – that is, homesick for England, as opposed to a more or less constant desire to be elsewhere, anywhere.
In the beginning, I think, I was one of those weird kids who enjoyed school (until the dreaded teen years of course). I always had a great summer break because of where I lived, but by September I looked forward to getting back to chums I didn’t see over the vacation and the smell of newly-varnished desks, the distribution of new books and the games of conkers in the playground.
Ah, conkers…….back to yesterday afternoon. I was in Puerto de la Cruz, and down by the harbor the chestnut vendors were setting up shop (yep, I know conkers and edible chestnuts are not exactly the same thing, but the memories are all mixed up in my head). There is nothing like smells, I think, to transport you back in time. I was suddenly five years old again, sitting cross-legged in front of my grandparents fireplace, feeling the warmth of the jumping flames, and eagerly waiting for the first chestnuts, which were sitting in rows on an iron grate over the fire, to be ready, and me ready to jump backwards if one popped. It was a childhood ritual, like the way the family “did” Santa or my grandmother’s parkin and treacle toffee for Bonfire Night.
Last night I waited, equally patiently. The first castañas were in the brazier, but not quite ready. I wandered off around the harbor, watched the scene as folk began their evening strolls, and lights flickered on in the surrounding shops, all the while the smell of roasting chestnuts teasing me.
To my shame, it was only about five years ago that I realized that chestnuts even grew on the island. I was attending an evening course in Puerto de la Cruz, and as we left one night we spied the vendors. The north is a long way to go for chestnuts, my friends, in case you wonder why it’s been so long. They simply don’t grow in the south, which accounts for my ignorance. Then, last year I discovered the delights of chestnut honey! Of course, this isn’t that plentiful, the season is short and there aren’t that many trees here, but it was love at first taste! This year, for the first time, I actually saw chestnuts growing in the forest areas of the north of the island.
“Ten minutes,” he’d said. I’d given him fifteen, because this was, after all, a Tenerife ten minutes. He gave me one to taste and of course I almost burned my mouth in my eagerness. It was perfect, and the memories tumbled back, not only of those childhood chestnuts but of marrons glacés, which are, without a shadow of doubt, my favorite type of candy….not that I can indulge that much. They are in short supply here happily.
He carried the container over to the bar and poured the contents into the pot, off to roast more, and I happily handed over my euros for a fragrant, hot paper cone, and some indulgent memories.
Now, I wonder if I have Nana’s recipe for parkin anywhere!