Monday 24 October 2016

The mushrooms were real, not picked by virgin elves

Published 14/10/2013 | 05:00

I HADN'T washed and peeled spuds in ages. And on Sunday I did it, thoughtfully, enjoying the muck on my hands, and the satisfaction with how easily it came off the potatoes and then how completely you could peel the spud. I became involved. Is this what they all mean when they talk about mindfulness?

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I think I felt connected with the land too, through the muck. You can keep your wine; this was terroir, mud on your hands. Climbing back into the earth. And I did it again and again, far too many potatoes for our little family. But I think I became for a minute like one of those artists who paints the same thing all the time. For a while, the world was not about breadth but about depth, going deeper and deeper through the repetition of looking at the same thing and doing the same thing to each spud.

Of course, most spuds don't need to be washed anymore. I had probably paid a premium for these because they had the muck on them. I had bought amazing-looking mushrooms as well. Even the woman who has the shop agreed they looked amazing, and she reckoned if they tasted half as good as they looked they'd be all right. They did. The last time I tasted mushrooms like this, I had picked them on the golf course with my dad and come home excited. They were deep and earthy and salty. Salty because I put loads of salt on them.

I like that the woman in the shop doesn't bullshit me about the food. There is no great story behind the mushrooms. They weren't picked at dawn by virgin elves. But they looked good; they were like a picture of a natural-looking mushroom. And we both marvelled at this without her feeling the need to do the hard sell or make any promises.

While I was getting the mushrooms the kid was getting the eggs out of the big basket in the shop. She had brought her own egg box, and without discussing it with me she went over and started picking them out. Her mother is going to teach her how to pick the right eggs.

We discussed on the way home how this stuff all came from a farm. And because of the muck on the mushrooms and the potatoes, and the odd feather on the eggs and the fact that they didn't come pre-packed, they felt like they came from a farm. And I think it helped the kid feel the terroir too, the connection to the land and the farm.

Even the shop itself, which is new, is making her connected. It is fancy, sure, but it is, at heart, a local shop, and the woman who owns it, whom I have known on and off for years, and to whom I am connected in various indirect ways, is, whether she knows it or not, a local shopkeeper. Having worked on the trendy edge of food for years she is now, hopefully for all of us in the area, home, to be a shopkeeper. And the things she does there, that could be regarded as fancy and modern and chi-chi, are actually just old-fashioned. She bakes her own ham, just like Mr Caplice and his wife used to do at the end of our road when we were kids, and it tastes like nothing you'd buy anywhere else.

I'm not a brownie person, but the wife and child tell me she has the best brownies ever. And you get the Sunday papers there. And most importantly, my daughter runs in and gets eggs and then goes over for a natter with the owner, and sees real pumpkins and funny-shaped squashes. And the shopkeeper gave her a bag of lavender to occupy her hands because I told her to stop biting her nails.

I know from my wife, who knows more people in the area than I do, that everyone hopes the shop will work out. We go there after swimming on a Sunday, when I might be slightly lazily hung-over. And I like the routine. Routine relaxes me and sets me free. And I like that my kid knows what a local shop is, and has that experience. It sets her free too. As against in a shop where I have to watch her every second. The shop is making a village of the place for me, and for her. It feels like Italy, where capitalism, in local communities, took fewer wrong turns than here.

And if I was a painter I'd go there every Sunday and get some mushrooms and paint the same picture of them all the time and not yearn so much to see more of the world.

Sunday Independent

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