Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mystical, Magic, Mythical, Occult - Mistletoe

It was on the 19th of April 2013 when I roared into the house to tell Margreet the great news. What great news?
            Earlier I had been watering the garden and, in the kitchen, planting Gardeners’ Delight tomato seedlings into individual pots for summer growing outside.
            But I had just witnessed something outside that, as a keen gardener, I had tried to do, but never – ever – managed before – something that I had been attempting for most of my life.
            I was crying with joy. And as I entered the house, Margreet was astounded to see this grown man cry so copiously – with joy. I had done it at last. I had grown mistletoe.
            I am not sure that one grows mistletoe at all. One plants the berries acquired from Christmas decoration in the junction of apple tree spur and stem – in the vain hope of success.
            Either the seeds in their berries fall off, or are eaten by birds – which is rather strange because the berry juice is so sticky that it has been used on branches to catch birds for the pot.
            Anyhow, for quite a few years now I have tried to get this mythical parasite to take hold in a host apple tree, growing in a pot, and given to me by my son, Pete – with  no success.
            Over those years I have tried just pressing the sticky berries into the joint of trunk and spur. I have tried fresh berries and berries dried out over the Christmas holiday (found shrivelled up on a rubbish skip). I have tried binding them in with string. String, being unsightly, I have painted over it to match the apple tree bark, and I have tied in berries and covered the unsuitable-looking light-coloured string with rubber solution (Copydex) and rubbed soil over it before it had set. The string binding for these experiments had, over time, either rotted away or been cut off to prevent strangulation of the tree.
            For the last two years I had not taken up the challenge, firstly by forgetting to try, and secondly because of the unavailability of the berries in the market. That was it – failure and lost enthusiasm.
Then, about to enter the house on that fateful day, and passing my two fruit trees in their early flowering state, I looked at where I had sown berries on the potted pear tree (no success) and then the pillar-shaped, Italian apple tree. And there, pointing straight out of the apple’s bark, and several inches away from where I had placed the seed, were three green sprouts – firm, erect, and one with two typical mistletoe leaves (quite unlike apple leaves) at its point.
Having recovered from the initial shock, and still with tears in my eyes, I telephoned my gardening expert sister, who was as excited as I was to hear the news.
I would dearly like to recall exactly which of my planting methods succeeded. But as I had not tried for two years, at least it is now known that the gestation period must be at least 2 1/3 years.
How will this evergreen parasite progress while feeding on a deciduous apple tree in a pot? We shall see.
Ancient lore tells that the crop should be harvested at midnight on Christmas Eve and the result kept for a year. But I am already thinking too far in advance.
The whole aura of this fascinating Eurasian parasite is shrouded in myth and primitive lore.
How will it affect our lives?
What portents lie in store?
What magic will ensue?
What ancient rites does it now need?
What life-changing spell will descend on us with this given sign from ancient gods?
How exciting.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Roadkill has, it seems, become a fashionable subject of interest. It means that whatever you run over in a car, or find in the road, you do not leave it there but recover it, take it home if edible, prepare and eat it. This is food for free and the hygienic clearing up of mess.
            That is all right in the country where you might have unfortunately struck a pheasant, rabbit, duck, chicken or hare. But it is not everyone who would, or even be able to take advantage of it.
            Presumably one might leave a badger where it lay, and a deer would be a bit bulky to be put into the boot of a car, should you have been lucky enough to have survived the crash.
            It is different in town.
            The animals in question are foxes, cats and dogs – hardly edible, any of them. A single feral pigeon would barely be worth recovering, even if it hadn't been pressed flat already.
            James May’s internationally famous cat, Fusker, with whom I had a considerable tussle, suffered from roadkill at the end of our street. Despite wearing an identity collar, he was probably dumped in a rubbish bin, and certainly not eaten.
            So one doesn't expect to be coming across much edible roadkill in London.
            Well, it so happened that when walking on a Chiswick pavement recently, a cucumber lay in my path. “Roadkill,” say I, and picked it up, displaying it in my hand as I proceeded, should its rightful owner appear and ask for it back. No one did.
            So I shared the roadkill with my sister, and have just consumed my half of it, cubed and mixed with the flesh of an avocado, all coated with a vinegary vinaigrette. – first class London roadkill I would say.
            I felt quite in vogue with my action, and fully up to date with present-day mores.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Poisoned food?

Self-satisfied, self-promoting, over-acting, and with too complicated recipes, television chefs put me off watching their cookery programmes.
            I'm sure (hope) that away from the kitchen, where cooks belong, these show-off performers are all delightful and modest people when at home and not in front of the cameras, and that the food and skills they display to their TV audience are of great use and entertainment.
            Recently, when scouring the various TV networks with my remote control in search of an interesting programme, I landed on a cooking one where sausages and offal in skins were boiled slowly in fine stock to make, firstly soup, and then a feast of the objects that had been boiled in it (just my kind of cooking).
            This seemed to me a good enough idea, and why not boil offally things that have made certain nations famous?
            I took the specialities of three countries for my test dish – Scotland, Spain and Ireland.
            The stock/soup was made of pressure-cooked bones, spices and chopped-up pigs’ trotters. This was strained into a bowl, and overnight became a thick jelly with a top layer of fat, which was discarded.
            Adding water and my international goodies, I intended to start heating up the dish when guests arrived for 6 o’clock drinks – but forgot to do it.
            When our friends had departed (drinks in our district mean come at 6 pm and leave by 7.30 pm - 8 pm), I started the dish that I should have put heat under earlier.
            Because we were hungry, I failed to give it enough time at a slow boil. The result was not as hot as it might have been.
            At two in the morning I rose when my body decided to rid itself of what seemed to be most of my insides. Had I poisoned myself, and with myself, Margreet?
            Still feeling rather unwell, I kept a worried eye on Margreet – who, to my relief, continued to sleep soundly and breathe steadily.
            Thinking that my digestive tracts were, by then, completely empty, I was surprised when the evacuation continued - from top and bottom.
            I then realised that it was not my cooking that was causing the internal turmoil, but the widespread norovirus, for which I understood there was no cure other than paracetamol and patience (period of tumult, day of bed, next day up and around).
            Even though innocent of cooking with noxious poisons in this case, I have been quite put off from trying the dish again.
            I will now be even more determined than ever not to watch cooking programmes on television.