Today, I enjoyed a dish that I haven't had for years. On the weekend my brother kindly gave me a beetroot from his vegetable garden and after poaching, cooling, slicing and sousing I've just eaten it. With sardines on toast.
"Duw, duw, bloody ambrosia! Nectar of the gods..." is the praise I would have heard around the table as a child when we had something so delicious. "Duw, Taid would have given his pension for a piece of beetroot like that" more recently. However, whilst we used to have beetroot prepared in this way quite often, I don't recall it being praised in divine terms.
But even without my extra-sensitive sensory appreciation I'm sure it would taste very good - nutty, sweet and sharp. Great colour too, of course. The only difference between this and the dish of my childhood is that I used balsamic rather than malt vinegar: an Islington twist which does actually improve it, the balsamic bringing out the sweetness a bit more.
All this talk of vegetables reminds me of Veg Talk, a Radio Four programme of some genius that ended a few years ago. It gave vegetables their due: 30 minutes a week of in-depth investigation of their sources and uses. Excellent stuff which helps disprove the allegation that commissioning editors aren't willing to take a risk.
It's due to this much-missed programme, that I have a soft spot for its former presenter and Shrek-lookalike Gregg Wallace (left with friend) now of Masterchef The Professionals. This affection doesn't seem to be universally shared however: see the comments on my recent Masterchef Professionals post. 'Bald, cockney veghead' would have been fairer.
I hope this hostility isn't down to any lingering resentment of vegetables being given national air-time (I remember people like Andy Kershaw being particularly scathing about the non-hardcore Veg Talk). As testament to the fact that vegetables are worthy of serious, even poetic consideration here is Robert Louis Stevenson's quirky but quite beautiful 'To a Gardener' (written, by the way, in Hyères):
Friend, in my mountain-side demesne
My plain-beholding, rosy, green
And linnet-haunted garden-ground,
Let still the esculents abound.
Let first the onion flourish there,
Rose among roots, the maiden-fair,
Wine-scented and poetic soul
Of the capacious salad bowl.
Let thyme the mountaineer (to dress
The tinier birds) and wading cress,
The lover of the shallow brook,
From all my plots and borders look.
Nor crisp and ruddy radish, nor
Pease-cods for the child's pinafore
Be lacking; nor of salad clan
The last and least that ever ran
About great nature's garden-beds.
Nor thence be missed the speary heads
Of artichoke; nor thence the bean
That gathered innocent and green
Outsavours the belauded pea.
These tend, I prithee; and for me,
Thy most long-suffering master, bring
In April, when the linnets sing
And the days lengthen more and more
At sundown to the garden door.
And I, being provided thus.
Shall, with superb asparagus,
A book, a taper, and a cup
Of country wine, divinely sup.
God, that sounds good.
UPDATE: Two stupendous words - totally and refreshingly new to me - as well as some typically pleasant vermicular reflections, all linked to the subject of this post, can be found here.