On Peeling a Parsnip

Snowy garden

It’s quiet here in the kitchen. The back garden is covered in snow, there are no cars going up and down the hill. Everyone appears to have retreated into the warmth of their houses. I am tempted to put on Radio Four, but desist and am rewarded by silence. It’s very peaceful standing here by the sink preparing to peel the parsnips to go into the soup.

The vegetables straight out of my friend Joan’s allotment are gnarled and misshapen. For a moment I am tempted to discard them. This is going to be no easy task and I have a fleeting understanding of why supermarkets only stock “perfect” fruit and veg.

I will, however, not be daunted. Food is food and ruled by “sell by dates” we are too prone to throw away what is good and wholesome. Besides, these parsnips could not be fresher. So I begin.

As I cut through their awkwardness, trying to simplify their shape, I am reminded of Mimi, in “House of Shadows” and how when the Russians invade her home town, she fights her way through the queue to buy food for her family.

“White light dazzles as another image floods her memory. The sun beats down on her head. Already, she feels the sweat spring up on her shoulders, is aware of the dampness under her arms. Her hands grip the handle of her basket. “Please,” she prays, “let there be meat today. If only a bone to make stock.” The shopkeeper opens his shutters, the queue shuffles forward. Mimi brings the corner of her basket hard into the side of the woman in front of her and forces herself to the front. She will do whatever she must to make sure her family does not starve.”


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