When I was ten, I would do almost anything to get out of eating greens. Mind you, in retrospect I think I was displaying precocious good taste, my mother’s use of the word ‘greens’ being very probably an offence under the Trades Descriptions Act because green they certainly were not. No, given the kind of treatment that only my mother could inflict, they were a kind of dirty grey-brown, smelly and slimy. Appetising, non? All the more bizarre, then, that my mother’s whinging, foot-stamping daughter has turned into a green freak, mad about growing them, cooking them, eating them … and, er, gathering them (come on, if nature is going to provide me with food without me slaving away over hot soil or crawling round in the soil by moonlight picking off slugs, then who am I to argue?).
Having been somewhat preoccupied with other matters, such as fitting The Most Complicated Shower Door In The Universe, we've been neglecting the potager somewhat of late, so that its lovely, pristine, dug over and manured state has turned into a field of weeds. But as I noticed this morning as I was standing nearby painting three concrete posts (don't ask), they're not just any old weeds. They're fat hen weeds.
Also known as Lambs Quarters or by its botanical name Chenopodium Album (but you knew that, didn't you?), fat hen is apparently one of the most ubiquitous and widely distributed plants on earth: it’s been a staple in the diets of many countries for thousands of years. And it just loves potagers and allotments and vegetable gardens of all kinds - I think it sees them as a challenge. It can be used in the same way as spinach, and is good simply cooked with butter and nutmeg, or in a gratin or tart. In the resto days when I actually (sigh) had time to cook (and people paid me ... sigh again), I used to make fat hen gnocchi; at the end of a long hot réno day though that just felt like one fiddle too far, so tonight it found its way into a frittata with some local cheese, the last of last year's crop of butternut squash, a handful of left over corn and some crème fraîche. And tomorrow it will turn itself into a fat hen risotto, made using stock from the weekend's roast chicken (aaargh - I'm beginning to sound like Nigel Slater).
And then it will meet an unhappy end under the hoe.