Her name was Edna but the children called her Nettles. Summer was her favourite season when she would serve a favoured guest tiny alpine strawberries on buttery shortbread, freshly made toast with tarty gooseberry jam and juicy raspberries with cream and homemade meringues on dainty plates with silver forks, and tea from a prettily decorated, old porcelain teapot.
She would have picked those fruits that morning in her small, somewhat messy but always prolific kitchen garden. And you would sink into faded floral-patterned, feather-filled cushions on her ancient sofa that was draped here and there with crocheted patchwork blankets. And you would look at the family photos on the mantlepiece while she was preparing this tea of the gods for your benefit. The sun would stream into her warm wooden interior through the open French doors. And outside these windows there would be a riot of cottage garden flowers, all floppy and fragile and carelessly tumbling over a stone-flagged patio. She died three years ago but her memory lingers. She was a role model.
Recently, after spending an afternoon searching for ceps in France I thought of another mushroom hunt some 20 years ago in Ireland, which Edna had planned for my children when they were perhaps 4 and 6 years old. She was certain that the fields surrounding her house would be bursting with field mushrooms that saturday morning. I had my doubts because the autumn had been dry – a rarity in Ireland. But she proved right. Darting around in the dry grass in their red wellies the kids were thrilled to find plenty of mushrooms – all small and white and neatly buttoned up. They filled their baskets, elated with their bonanza of treasures. I was puzzled but relished their excitement.
It wasn’t until much later that I found out that Edna, finding no mushrooms in the fields early that morning, had gone to the market and purchased punnets of commercially grown mushrooms, then ‘planted’ them in little clusters around the fields before we arrived…