AUTUMN

Vienna, 31 October 2020

Autumn is a wonderful time to go a-gathering. The last of the year’s fruits have ripened and are ready to be eaten – a cornucopia of Nature’s goodies waiting to be sampled!

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In the various hikes my wife and I have been making during this autumn season, we have been taking advantage of this bounty, gathering fruits that have (more or less) fallen into our laps.

Our gathering started with grapes; not table grapes but wine grapes. I would admit, if my arm were twisted, that we took a few bunches from vines that were waiting to be harvested.

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But we soon discovered that quite often there were bunches at the very bottom of the vines which the harvesting machines they use nowadays didn’t catch.

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So we helped ourselves to those. I mean, they were obviously not going to get picked, and there was no point letting them rot on the vine, right? We ate white and red grapes indiscriminately, grapes that had been destined to become Zweigelt or Blaufränkisch in the red wines, Riesling or Grüner Veltliner in the whites. They were full of pips and had thick, rubbery skins but were wonderfully sweet.

Later on, we walked along hiking trails flanked by walnut trees

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The ground below the trees was thick with walnuts still in their blackened husks.

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So many walnuts! It was terrible to see this bounty given to us free by Nature just being left to rot. So we got to work and collected several bags’ full, which we brought home to eat – waste not, want not, as my grandmother used to say!

my wife’s photo

That being said, I cannot in all honesty claim that they were a good find. Most of them were small, hard to crack, and the meat inside clung for all it was worth to the shell, a meat that after a while left a metallic taste in your mouth. Once we had dutifully finished our trove of nuts, my wife went out to buy some commercial walnuts, to remind ourselves how easy they were to open, how smoothly the meat fell out of the shell, and how delicious their taste was – sometimes, I have to admit, the products of the agro-industrial complex are tastier than the original …

Lately there have been apples and pears. In so many spots on our walks we came across apple or pear trees growing by the side of the path, groaning under their load of fruit and dropping them to the ground.

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All these gifts from Nature, just going bad … It really broke our hearts to see this waste. I suppose the trees were planted in a time when more people lived on the land and when they grew more of what they ate. Now there is hardly anyone left in the countryside and those who are left can’t be bothered to pick the fruit from the trees their ancestors planted. Well, in memory of those ancestors, we gathered up a bag or so of both. The apples were really delicious: red-cheeked and slightly tart in their sweetness, just the way I like them.

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Not for me the vacuously mild Golden Deliciouses of this world!

The pears were not so good. A few are mixed in with the picture of our walnuts: small, green-skinned, with a flesh which was both granular and set the teeth on edge. But my wife whipped up a fruit salad, mixing them with some of the apples and adding a sprinkling of sugar and a dash of lemon juice. Mm-mm-goood! (pity we don’t have any gin in the house; a slug of that would have made the salad even more delicious).

The fruit-picking time is nearly over. Now it’s leaf-watching time. This afternoon, we immersed ourselves in a world of yellow, gold, and russet (not too many reds in this part of the world).

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We finished where our autumn adventures had started, in the vineyards, yellow now but with a dash of red.

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The leaves are falling faster and faster, driven off the trees by wind and rain. Soon it will be time to search out mugs of glühwein, the hot wine toddy of this part of the world.

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Hopefully, if lockdowns and other Covid restrictions allow it, we’ll be able to drink the winter season away, waiting for Spring to roll around again and the cycle to start all over again.

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WALNUTS IN DALI

Beijing, 24 March 2013

I mentioned in a recent posting that I had just come back from a business trip. This was to Dali, in the province of Yunnan, or to give it its full name the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. My first day was spent in the city of Dali, which sits on the southern shore of Lake Erhai. I was there to hold discussions with the local government. I was pleased to be back in Dali, which is a pleasant city, in contrast to most Chinese cities. For one thing, the site is really quite spectacular.

Erhai Lake-3

There’s also a nice old city, which hasn’t been swept away by revolution or later by capitalism. It’s been considerably prettified for the tourists, but it’s still a nice place to walk around. I didn’t go there this time, but I had seen it during my last visit to Dali. There are some well-known old pagodas

Dali-three-pagodas

and nice “old” roads and buildings – with, of course, lots of shops for tourists.

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What was really nice this time was that, like in this photo, the fruit trees were in bloom: a sight for sore eyes after cold and dreary Beijing. It will be at least a month, possibly a month and a half, before we see the same thing in Beijing.

Last, but not least, this area of China is one of the few, perhaps the only one, where there is a local tradition of eating cheese! They have always had cow and goat herds here and they routinely drink and eat dairy products. The cheese is a bit odd, and they tend to eat it fried, but it is still cheese.

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The local government has a good eye for location. They built the prefecture’s government complex on top of a hill which drops steeply into the lake. So the buildings have a beautiful view of the lake. This is what you see from the car park in front of the buildings.

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It was the same view I had sitting in the government banquet hall that evening. The hall has been built with a huge window giving onto the lake, and so as I and my host carried on a stilted conversation I could watch the night slowly steal over the lake.

But I had not gone down to Yunnan to admire Erhai lake and Dali. I was there to talk … walnuts. It may surprise the reader to know that China is the largest producer of walnuts in the world. A good portion of these are grown in Yunnan, and a good portion of these are grown in Dali prefecture. So the next day, I was driven to a valley on the other side of these mountains

Erhai Lake-1

to visit a walnut orchard and a walnut processing facility. From the discussions I had held the previous day and from further explanations I received on the way, I had a handle on the basic problem. The government had encouraged the local farmers to plant walnut trees, as a way to increase their incomes but also to reforest the prefecture’s hills.

walnut orchards-1

Now, as more and more trees reached maturity – it takes about ten years for a tree to produce walnuts – the government realized they had to find something to do with all the walnuts which were about to flood on the market and depress prices. They were asking our help to find markets outside China.

To reach the walnut orchard, we climbed up, up, up the steep hills enclosing the valley, through one switchback after another. When we reached the top, I gazed around me and was terribly reminded of Liguria in Italy. I was seeing walnut trees rather than olive trees, and instead of the glint of the Mediterranean Sea far down below me I was seeing rich valley bottomland planted in vegetables. But the feel was very much the same, the feeling of being perched on an edge and risking to tumble down at any moment.

After a few moments, Farmer Liu arrived. He immediately opened a red packet of cigarettes – still the official sign of welcome in rural China – and offered a cigarette to all and sundry. I felt rather bad for him that all us city slickers, Chinese included, politely refused. Before coming, and knowing roughly what the Dali authorities wanted to talk to me about, I had phoned a colleague who knew about walnuts and had him coach me. So I was now able to pepper Farmer Liu with some not-too-stupid questions and understand his answers. After some ten minutes of this, Farmer Liu invited us to enter a small show room where we sat down and ate some of his walnuts. I was struck by how much more pitted the walnut shells were, almost as if they had been dunked in acid

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I think this will be a problem outside of China, where people are used to relatively smooth shells. But the flesh was delicious.

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As I ate, I looked around at the various products on show, wondering which of these could find larger markets if suitably produced. I mentally nixed this product made from sliced walnut shells.

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I don’t see this catching on outside of China, or even outside of Yunnan …

Walnut oil?

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Possible, although it can’t be used for cooking, which would be the big market; when heated it takes on a slightly bitter taste. It can be used in cosmetics, though, which could be a good market

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or in suntanning agents

walnut-tanning agent

There’s also walnut milk, which – like almond milk – is really a mix of very finely ground walnut and water.

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Maybe this should be left to the national market. It’s becoming increasingly popular here, and I’m not sure how easily exportable it is.

How about walnut butter, cousin to the better-known peanut butter?walnut-butter-1

Definitely for the export markets. The Chinese don’t eat nut butters.

And so my eyes wandered around the shelves, while my hand dipped the walnut pieces into a delicious honey dip. The honey was creamy thick and pale yellow, really, really lovely. And then my mind began to wander, as I sat there enjoying the spring sun and the blossoming fruit trees outside the showroom.

We’ll find solutions, but not right now.

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Erhai Lake-1: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/97/Erhai_Lake_Dali_07.JPG/1280px-Erhai_Lake_Dali_07.JPG
Dali-three-pagodas: http://i1.trekearth.com/photos/5043/three-pagodas-in-dali.jpg
Dali-old-town-1: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/03/4e/7d/14/dali-gucheng-the-old.jpg
Dali-old-town-2: http://www.interasia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/China-yunnan.jpg
Cheese: http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7169/6430350689_80c3790afb_z.jpg
Erhai Lake-2: my photo
Erhai Lake-3: http://www.chinamaps.info/images/Attraction/Dali/Erhai%20Lake.jpg
Walnut orchard: http://en.kunming.cn/index/image/attachement/jpg/site162/20110609/001f29dcfe6f0f5acab506.jpg
Walnuts in shell: http://www.justeasy.com.cn/img/upload/20120312/051416082793.jpg
Walnuts partially unshelled: http://www.yspl.cn/UploadFiles/2011-12/yspl3/2011122009130516038.jpg
Walnut handicraft: http://www.gd-wholesale.com/userimg/23/3568i1/walnut-vase-331.jpg
Walnut oil: http://masvidaquenunca.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/mas_vida_que_nunca_stop_al_catarro_aceites_vegetales_y_frutos_secos.jpg
Walnut-cosmetics: http://www.buycosmo.com/images/products/04/79/59/47959_buyuk_zoom.jpg
Walnut tanning oil: http://www.adoretanning.com/images/detailed/1/Summer-Tan-Self-Tanning-Lotion—Dark.jpg
Walnut milk: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Y5j66WGE3zk/UGpSGSLThjI/AAAAAAAAJ1g/9zblIgnPBzg/s1600/milk1-600×576.jpg
Walnut butter: http://cdn.livesuperfoods.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/thumbnail/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/p/r/pre-walnut-butter_1.jpg
Walnut on the tree: http://cdn.livesuperfoods.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/thumbnail/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/w/a/walnuts_30.jpg