In celebration of Nigel Slater’s Greenfeast: autumn, winter publishing this October, we asked some 4th Estate authors to write a few words about veg-minded living.
Angela Saini, author of Inferior and Superior:
“My parents moved home a lot when I was young, but in the garden of one of our houses – my favourite, thinking back – was an old plum tree.
It was only a small semi in an east London suburb, but every year the branches of its miraculous tree would sag with fruit, falling so thick we couldn’t collect it fast enough. Its plums weren’t the shiny, black, round ones I saw in the supermarket, reliably uniform in flavour and appearance. These were long, deep purple, often with a hint of green, and unpredictable – sometimes soft and jammy, other times hard and tart.
We collected bucketfuls each summer, more than we could eat, and being honest, by the end of the season, more than we wanted to eat. But that tree felt like a wonder, a magic porridge pot in happy service of our grateful, fruit-loving family.
Fruit is the overriding food memory of my childhood and a lingering thread connecting us to India, where my parents were born. In Delhi, where my extended family still live and I did, too, for a while, fruit is everywhere, carted through streets by vendors in the mornings, cut and sold in plastic bags for passers-by, juiced in kiosks with sprinklings of chaat masala. There’s something democratic about fruit. I dare the best cook in the world to invent a dessert more perfect than a ripe strawberry. Yet it grows happily on cow dung.
In our home growing up, my parents’ affection was expressed in the care and abundance with which fruit was served. Plates of delicately sliced oranges and apples, bowls of peeled grapes (yes, mum conscientiously peeled our grapes), fresh smoothies before they were fashionable. At the right time of year, we would work our way through boxes of soft yellow Pakistani mangoes, squeezing the pulp directly into our mouths. Even now when I visit my parents, there will invariably be cut fruit on the table.
In the early months of my pregnancy, when I couldn’t stomach much, I would occasionally eat plates of oranges and apples for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now with my son, I can’t wait for soft fruit season so I can dish him cute bowls of berries like my mother and father used to. He loves fruit, and I imagine given how much I ate while I was pregnant, it’s juice that courses in his veins.
Foraging for blackberries, I can see the same look of amazement on my son’s face that I had as a child around that fertile old plum tree. I, too, remain in awe that nature offers us this perfect food without our asking. It’s just there, growing nonchalantly above the wall beside our home, next to a busy road. When I consider the damage humans have done to our environment, the carelessness with which we have erased so much of the flora around us, I can’t quite believe that nature somehow still treats us as family. That in these wild berries, served fresh, she still shows us her love.”