A few days ago I received a photograph of a radish, my favourite summer treat, from my friend Phil in the US, who is lucky enough to have a garden where he can grow vegetables.
I remember the first time I tried a radish.
I must have been around eight years old when I spotted the small bowl of beautiful cerise “fruit” on the table.
The colour attracted me enromously. A deep, luscious, dangerous pink.
Not garish and brash like the red of a strawberry or blushing and timid like a peach.
No, this was a regal colour, a refined colour and utterly, utterly deceptive.
To my child’s mind, red was the colour of summer fruit. The colour of sweetness and juiciness and sugary pleasure.
So to bite into that radish and discover its crisp, white flesh; to be hit with the full peppery bitterness of its earthiness, was a nasty shock.
I remember looking at radishes with a degree of suspicion and contempt after that initial introduction.
How dare such a beautiful looking thing pass itself off as some pink summer delight when in reality it was nothing more than a vegetable, and a root vegetable at that!
I sulked and sneered at the humble radish for a good few years after that, and cultivated a snooty preference for strawberries and raspberries for the remainder of my childhood.
I was in my twenties before the radish lured me again.
This time I was on a farm in England’s heartland, Leicestershire. A no nonsense type of place where things like root vegetables are held in high regard.
Honest food was what they called the range of produce that came from the local soil.
I remember looking at the radishes and wondering if perhaps they weren’t a bit mad.
How can you call a radish honest, the deceptive little minx that it is?
Still, there they were on the table, all ruddy and plump and fresh looking. In fact, they resembled the complexion of a good, sturdy no nonsense farmer, now that I came to examine them further.
Perhaps that was their appeal in this neck of the woods?
Still, I had to admit, they looked extremely appealing. What the hell, I’ll give them another go.
And this time, it was a whole new experience.
No doubt my palate had changed a lot since my childhood, so that bitter, peppery foodstuffs weren’t such a shock to the system, but even then, I was surprised to find how much I was enjoying what was once an old foe.
I crunched away, the fresh, crispiness filling my ears, the pepper chaffing the roof of my mouth, gently tingling my tongue and prickling my nose.
It was an explosion of sensory joy that made me laugh.
I finished off the whole bowl, and at lunchtime was confronted with a table of scowls and sage comments that I’d pay for it later in some embarrassing, gaseous fashion.
I didn’t care.
If there’d been another bowl of the wee pink devils on that table, I’d have scoffed that lot was well.
And so, I was converted.
I read recently that I am not the only one who has learned to revere the perky little root.
Ancient greeks apparently appreciated the radish so much, that little gold replicas have been found at ancient sites ( beets were made of silver, turnips of lead). And quite right too.
Nowadays, early summer sees me scouring the shops eagerly seeking out the first batches.
More than strawberries or raspberries or peaches, it is the radish, for me, that makes the summer.