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.
Lisa Appignanesi, author of Everyday Madness:
A Many Coloured Feast
‘Back in the mid-nineties, I lived around the corner from a street market in Paris. Most mornings, I’d head out early for a coffee. But well before the first pungent whiff had come my way, my eyes were startled wide open by the various stall holders’ displays of fruit and vegetables.
It sometimes seemed to me they had taken as much care in their arrangements as Caravaggio in his famous Still Life on a Stone Ledge. Perhaps they had wittingly or unwittingly learned from him or he from their 16th century brothers – so often was the shiny dark stripy surface of melons punctuated by the bright red or orange of a couple slashed in half to show the ripe seeded innards.
Peaches came in precarious pyramids, flushed pink and yellow, next to them figs in regal purple and modest apricots bathed in soft yellow. Tomatoes blazed nearby, a flame of red against the brash green of their six-pronged tips and the carefully stretched cucumbers of the next row. Elongated red peppers lay beneath their yellow kin, at their edge a round basket of white asparagus. Best of all, came the hillock of green artichoke, as artful in its segmentations as its name.
One vendor seemed to have the imagination of a series composer: the white-tipped green of spring onions, next to the brash green-leafed carrots, next to the green and white of cauliflower, then more carrots and so it went till you reached the assortments of lettuce, curly and mop headed or stiff and elongated, followed by the darkest green of broccoli. Beneath that lay all the subtle shades of potato and the humble onion.
I sometimes think I spent as much time feasting on these arrangements as I did going to galleries and when I did get to the latter, I would think of how I could arrange all that succulence at home.
Biting in seemed secondary to all this. I confess, I didn’t do much complicated cooking that year. It was just as delicious to eat things raw, or for the children dish up some carrots quickly poached in a little buttery water and cinnamon, followed by a crunchy salad tossed with olive oil and a dab of vinegar. But then I went to the Fete du Potirons in the Berry, the region of France in which George Sand spent so much of her early, then later life. I don’t think I had any idea back then that there could be so many shapes and sizes and knobbles and colours of pumpkin and edible squash. It even seemed to come in the shape of those old bottles we call gourds, as Caravaggio obviously knew. I took some home to dry and others to cook, mostly into soups – ever, as autumn sets in, the most satisfying of dishes.
When I returned to Britain and as the century turned, we seemed to become perhaps even more interested in food than our French friends. So I’m still making squash soup or chopping them and whatever is to hand into quinoa and any grain to hand. And when the season allows, I feast my eyes and our tums at the remaining market stalls. Bring on the recipes.’