Thursday, 1 October 2009

Veggie trouble

Why bother to eat weeds then there are so many perfectly pleasant vegetables?

To stir-fry nettle tips, toss dandelion leaves in salads and munch fat hen from the woods (can't recall it's Latin name but it's definitely edible and salady) just seems unnecessarily esoteric when you can tuck into lovely pile of steaming runner beans and a jolly good King Edward-based champ, buttered swede and carrot or brilliant shredded Savoy cabbage.

And it must be said that sprouts are an absolute joy.

But who, in their right mind, would want to eat a thistle?

People around Roscoff love them. There are hectares of them growing in the fine sandy soil. Artichokes along with rose onions, are the local speciality vegetables.

Artichokes are outstanding architectural plants thrusting those proud green global heads skywards. The stems are enormous. They could have been designed to be Oberon's mace but Oberon would have to be a pretty beefy king of the fairies to hold one up without getting a bad back.

The leaves remind me a lot of acanthus, beloved of William Morris and used often in his designs.

So as I was taken out for a birthday supper in Roscoff, it seemed only fair to try the local produce and go for the artichoke starter before the seafood platter and (and I was hoping it would be good and it was) that gorgeously custardy Far Breton tart.

Of course I'd had previous artichoke experience. From memory, they were an inch or or long, a soft kind of leafy thing pickled in some kind of vinaigrette. I'd had them from various delicatessens. Tasty. I imagined they must be extracted from deep within the giant heads that we'd seen in the fields.

The artichoke the waiter placed in front of me was bigger than anything we'd seen growing outdoors. They must expand when they're cooked because this baby filled the entire plate; a substantial round of green bracts that looked like a half-closed water lily.

There was a small pot of mayo-type sauce alongside. DT man tucked into his “safe” choice of fish soup, much amused.

I cast a furtive look at the nearest diners. No-one else had a giant green vegetable in front of them. I would have to experiment. I gingerly picked at one of the bracts. It came away easily. It was far too tough to eat but there was a fatter bit at the base which was quite nice if dipped in the sauce first.

Mmm. Not unpleasant. I continued until there was a pile of greenery to one side and my diligent plucking had revealed a central boss that just looked odd - like I'd revealed a small alien craft which might fire up, lift vertically, laser me in the eye and shoot out of the window.

Think about it. If aliens are among us, vegetables would be a damn good place in which to hide. Especially if their craft can withstand boiling water.

By now, I'd lost interest in green things and was thinking about langoustine and another glass of fizz. I pushed the remains to one side.

I had sent a pic of the artichoke from my mobile to no 2 son in London. We send each other food pics to make each other envious. He was still at work. He was much impressed and even texted some advice on tackling it.

'S'ok.' I replied confidently. 'It is done. I have eaten it.'

I could have sworn that I had eaten it. The waiter had other ideas when he came to clear the plates.

“But madame...” he cried in consternation.

“ 'ave left ze art!!”

Bloody drama queen, I thought. It might be art to you sunshine but seventeen leaves is enough for anyone. He was taking the Pissarro.

He shrugged and made one last desperate effort with me.

“But ze ART....ze art is ze best part!”

I waved it away and he took it, rolling his eyes (men have been doing that at me a lot lately but he was the first) and muttering Frenchisms under his breath.

“He's cursing you,” grinned DT man. He loves it when I upset other men. It helps him feel less victimised.

“E is saying 'ze bloody eeenglishwoman she knows nuzzink.'”

Wrong on both counts. I'm Welsh and I know when I've had enough thistle. Thistles are tricky.

Much easier to ask for a plate of onions next time I want to try the local veggie without getting into trouble...

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