On winter days, there’s no finer sight than that of one’s child eating homegrown vegetables.
I say this even though my child is a child-substitute, is hairy and will eat almost anything, taking the big bits through to the sitting room to eat on the rug.
No, I’m not talking about Mr Mandy Sutter. I’m talking about Dog MS, in whom the Reluctant Gardener has found an unexpected ally when it comes to eating up allotment produce. Let’s face it, Dad and Mr MS have disappointed in this regard.
Mr MS, despite being the designated ‘filth man’ in our household, has been squeamish when it comes to picking or preparing allotment vegetables. When it’s his turn to cook, he comes home from Tesco’s just as he always did with a shrink-wrapped head of broccoli and an extortionately-priced four-pack of baking potatoes.
‘WHY BUY GREENS WHEN THERE’S ALL THAT KALE AND CABBAGE TO EAT?’ I shout. ‘AND WE MUST MAKE AN INROAD ON THOSE TURNIPS!’
Having expected brownie points for making the tea, he looks dismayed. ‘Yes, but where are they?’
‘Where do you think they are? At the allotment! ‘
‘You mean, I’d have to go down there and pick them?’
It’s no good blaming the weather: he was the same in the summer. Later, when I come back with a semi-frozen cabbage and five turnips (I’m still harvesting, snow or no snow) he’s not convinced. ‘But they’re covered in muck!’ Then he says he’s forgotten how to peel the turnips, even though I’ve shown him a hundred times.
Dad is no better. I have tried to slip him a turnip three times now.
‘The thing is, love,’ he said in September, eyeing the unfamiliar vegetable, ‘I’m still on salads.’
I tried again in October. ‘The thing is, love,’ he said, ‘I’ve adopted a new health regime. I breakfast like a king, lunch like a lord and dine like a pauper. Turnip doesn’t fit in.’
In November, when he finally went ‘onto stews’, he at last accepted one of the freshly dug gleaming purple and white roots.
When asked in subsequent weeks how he was getting on with it, he merely said, ‘it’s in the fridge’.
But then he went online and found Mr Neep, a site devoted to ways of making the pungent peppery taste seem palatable. Today the turnip still lives in his fridge, but he chips little bits off now and then. Progress, yes. But at this rate we’ll be eating turnips well into the next century.
Of course, both gentlemen enjoy turnip when it has been picked, cleaned, chopped up and incorporated into a delicious meal by someone else. Which is all very well, but it isn’t my dream of allotmenteering. Not only do I have to grow the bloody vegetables, I have to cook them too.
I once asked Mr MS what he liked best about me.
‘Your stews,’ he said.
Another dream shattered.
Thank God for Dog MS. Vegetables don’t have to be cooked for her to enjoy them. They don’t have to be cleaned. They don’t have to be prepared. They don’t even have to be dug up.
She has always appreciated fresh produce. And she is good at working things out. When offered grapes on a stalk, she discovered how to pull them off one by one, rather gently, with her teeth. Later, she discovered how to mount the settee and take the whole bunch out of the fruit bowl herself, but that’s another story. When the blackberries ripened, she watched me picking them a few times, then was out there picking them herself.
It’s too icy for Dad to visit the allotment at present. So I take Dog MS instead. At first, things aren’t ideal. She barks a lot and is frightened of the chickens. Being a shepherd dog, she likes a task (such as warning passing males not to piss on our fence posts), and there’s a limit to what a girl can do on a winter allotment.
But while I’m checking my fleece tunnels, things go quiet and I turn to see her amidst the greens.
I’m about to shout until I see the cabbage stump cradled between her paws; her green tongue.
‘Good dog!’ I say.
Later, sated with cabbage stalk, she digs a big turnip and munches her way through that. It takes a dog a while to eat a raw vegetable: their teeth aren’t designed for it.
We pass a harmonious, if chilly hour. And I can’t help feeling proud. One always hopes one’s offspring will inherit one’s own values. Or as Dad would say, she’s a chip off the old block and no mistake.