Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Ask a Silly Question

Fifteen or so years ago we lived in Vienna. Sometimes - although not as often as we ought to have - we would go on a Sunday morning to the English church in Jaurèsgasse. The main attraction for us was the vicar in charge at the time. His name was Jeremy Peake and if the Church of England would only provide a few more clergy like him I might become a regular and devout member of their flock.

Anyway, one day we turned up and found the church decorated with autumn leaves and vegetable squash and wrinkled apples. About twenty minutes into the service Jeremy Peake asked the smallest children to come to the front of the church so that he could talk to them especially. Three or four under-sixes pattered up to the altar rail, among them our youngest daughter. When Jeremy asked if any of them knew why the church was decorated the way it was that day, her hand shot up. 'Because it's harvest festival', she said, without hesitation. 'That's right', said Jeremy, 'and what do we do when it's harvest festival?' 'Decorate the church like this', came back the answer, quick as a shot. Jeremy grinned. 'Ask a silly question', he said.

I was reminded of this exchange when I took my mother to the farmers' market in her local town last weekend. There's a man there who drives all the way from Leeton every fortnight to sell us his very good oranges and lemons and mandarines, plus pumpkins, avocadoes and anything else he's got going at the time.

At his stall  I found myself wondering - as I always do when presented with mandarines - about which were going to be the best kinds of mandarines to choose. Would the small tight-skinned ones have more juice and flavour or would the ones that my mother says have jowel-y skins be more delicious? I always suspect the jowel-y ones are going to contain dry, shrivelled little fruit, but quite often the tight ones turn out to taste somehow slightly fermented.

It occured to me that a man whose life was so steeped in citrus as the fellow from Leeton might be able to offer me some kind of enlightenment. 'How do you tell if a mandarine's a good one?' I asked him. He frowned and considered my question for a while before giving me his answer.

'Eat it?' he suggested.


  1. Damn! I was hoping that the closing line would be a trade secret that would change my unsatisfactory relationship with mandarins, satsumas and clementines forever. Instead, I'm doomed to play Russian Roulette with them, never knowing whether I'm going to get a chewy, watery one or something that's vaguely pleasing.

  2. You and me both - although the best ones from the man from Leeton are actually a lot better than merely vaguely pleasing, which almost makes the game worthwhile. They must have been quite exotic when I was a child in England as they used to be sold in tissue paper and there'd be one almost at the bottom of your Christmas stocking, just before the piece of coal that taught you not to be greedy