Thursday, 15 October 2009

The simple joys of beetroot

Having recently spent six weeks in hospital, on and off, I'm savouring certain experiences far more intensely than I would have before. Funnily enough, it's the more everyday, Pooterish things that hit me with the most force. Forget fine wines, patés and sweetmeats.

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.


Sean said...

I await my Nectar tonight, Great British Rhubarb crumble no less.

Yup I Know Rhubarb originates from Mongolia, but it is us the great Britions that had the genius idea of growing in the dark...marvelous stuff Ale!

worm said...

wow! that made me hungry reading that! (even with that photo!)

I too absolutely adore beetroot - especially because I think that when its prepared really well it has a depth and intricacy of flavour that to me is the best out of all vegetables

I purchased some homemade beetroot jelly at a country show the other week, and it had my whole family jumping round the kitchen with amazement at the fantastic flavour of hot, sweet and sour that seems to set off every tastebud in your mouth at once

Anonymous said...

Was I the only person who believed that Veg Talk was an "ironic" Radio 4 comedy programme, sort of The Day Today with more vitamin C? I found it hard to believe that it was genuinely devoted to the further reaches of the vegetable kingdom. But, on Radio 4, as you've observed, anything can happen.

Gadjo Dilo said...

God, it does sound good, you're right (though I found the word "pea" to be a little bathetic after all the build up in the second stanza....). I shall defend Radio 4's Veg Talk to my dying day, and that Andy Kershaw as a Lancastrian should know better.

Bunny Smedley said...

Esculents - that's a word worth having.

Gaw said...

Sean: I had no idea rhubarb comes from Mongolia. But I'm sure you'd agree, it only amounted to anything when it combined with crumble.

Worm: Beetroot jelly that made you all hop around the kitchen - sounds potent!

Anon: I think Veg Talk sort of transcended irony. Quite an achievement. Great title - not clever in any way, just talk about veg.

Gadjo: I think in a paean (pun!) to vegetables bathos is fairly unavoidable. Anyway something grander like 'marrow' doesn't scan. Also 'pea' ties very nicely into the first line of the next stanza's double rhyme.

I think Andy was going through a bit of a DDH at the time.

Bunny: Isn't it a nice one? Practically makes your mouth water. As it deserves greater exposure, I'm going to try to work it into my everyday conversation. Wish me luck.

Gaw said...

It's been pointed out to me that the poem is laughably crap. It's a valid point of view. I do think it's rather ridiculous (surely mostly intentionally) and a bit clunky, But these add to my enjoyment. Is it a good bad poem?