TEA with Neddles

Her name was Edna but the children called her Neddles.  Summer was her favourite season when she would serve a chosen 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, messy but always prolific kitchen garden where fruit bushes and vegetable plants blended with flowers.. And you would sink into the soft, faded, floral-patterned feather-filled cushions on her ancient sofa that was draped here and there with crochet and patchwork blankets. And you would look at the  framed family photos on the mantle piece and furniture while she was preparing this tea of the gods just 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 my role model.

Recently, after spending an afternoon searching for ceps in France I thought of another mushroom hunt some 20 years ago in Meath, which Edna had planned for our and her daughter’s children when they were perhaps 4 and 6 years old.  She told us 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 little 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…