Thursday 24 September 2015

Bitter leaves

"You haven't planted fagoili nani, have you?" he asked.
"A mixture some dwarf, others not" I replied "I'm saving the beans for when I next see you..." the statement left floating in the air. 
The promise of beans could not redeem the fact that I was not there. My visits, although frequent, always judged as too infrequent. 

I baked bread, I made jam, I cut flowers that I'd grown from seed - new unusual flowers that I knew were unfamiliar to him. I tested myself - it came to me more easily than I'd expected. Plants felt simpler to deal with - the care and attention I lavished upon them rewarded me over and over. I hunted websites to find the seeds of fantastical bitter greens, puntarelle, so much more exotic sounding than chicory, food from childhood, strange but embedded in memory.

I planted the seed. I nurtured the plant - watering, weeding. I thinned the seedlings - and ate them as miraculously transformed micro greens. I tentatively tiptoed around them - ever attentive to those that grew in tandem - cutting and tying in sweet peas, wigwams for borlotti beans, earthing up leeks, deadheading cornflowers. Slugs and snails shunned their bitter tender shoots in favour of less demanding greens. The resident foxes used these higgledy piggledy rows as a chicane to slalom through.

Perhaps it was my impatience, so eager to share this long forgotten taste memory I produced an immature offering.

"This is not what you think it is." he said "This is the wrong plant."
"I think it's still a little young - do you remember what it should look like?
"Not like this"
"But on the seed packet..."
"Seed packet, what do they know? No you've got the wrong plant. It should be puntarelle brindisina"
"I'm sure that's what it said on the seed packet"
"Daniela they can say what they like on the seed packet."

I search on the website, I produce the postage stamp size image and the name is there Cicoria catalogna puntarelle brindisina - "oh yes, that's right" he says.

We prepare the puntarelle, cutting length ways along the white stems, discarding the leaves plunging them in iced water, waiting for the signature curl. I pound anchovies in a mortar add his red wine vinegar and olive oil from his groves in Sicily - I elicit his involvement "does this taste OK?" I ask "Mm lovely" he replies.

We sit down to eat the food grown by me - the promised borlotti beans "solo questi?"  he asks "it's late in the season now" I reply. A simple fair - the luxury of super fresh food - no need for lavish embellishments. The wonderful mealy, creamy consistency of fresh beans, gently simmered in a scant covering of white wine and water, bay and garlic. Then a dash of that same olive oil - so strong and robust it negates the need for further condiments. Next comes the salad. He serves himself cheese. We eat the salad. He does not. He picks out a scant curl and refuses anymore.

The rush of adrenaline extinguishes all appetite. I feel the prick of scalding tears sting my eyes. His careless gesture negating all. He is old and frail, physically weak but wields a power way beyond any I can muster. The telephone rings. His attention is distracted. The moment has passed. He knows he has hurt me - he tells me I am wonderful - this is not what I want to hear.

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