A jot of serendipity a couple of weeks ago led me down a path with my writing that I feel powerfully drawn to at the moment. That path is one of magical realism, or fabulism. And since I invest a lot of time in trying to be fabulous, I love this term for a style of writing I’d like to perfect.
A necessary trip to a Nespresso shop to buy some extra coffee for my machine turned into a fascinating conversation about my influences as a writer. My server was Italian, and asked whether I had ever read anything by Italo Calvino. I answered no.
After hearing him rhapsodise on the author for a few minutes, I thanked him for his recommendation and left, walking towards Waitrose. Then I stopped and literally turned on my heels. Fuck it, I thought. What do I have to lose by checking it out?
I immediately bought the Cosmicomics and Invisible Cities, and I must say I find myself picking them up, reading a few pages, stopping to absorb them, and returning quickly to digest more. Like a stout meal, the content is dense and filling; it satisfies, feeding the mind with complex ideas and images using just a handful of words.
Inspired, I’ve decided to riff on Calvino’s themes in Invisible Cities to create a series of my own; drawing on my own tastes for culinary exploration.
Farfetched Flavours 1
The town of Gethlem is not known for its tourism or its temperate weather, but many will recognise it as the origin of the enigmatic Gethlem berry. Coming in three edible varieties, each with its own unique flavour profile, this curious fruit is used in a wide range of Gethlemese cooking. All three have a sharp tang when uncooked, and chefs must take care even when adding them to a warm dish as the acids responsible for this crispness are quickly broken down at temperatures as low as sixty degrees, which could ruin the desired effect.
The yellow Gethlem berry is the most widely used. Uncooked, the tartness of the fruit combines with a round, aromatic sweetness that can be likened to both the physalis and the mango. When cooked, the acidity is swept away like a curtain, revealing the fullness of its tropical flavours. No wonder it is used in so many tarts, cakes, and other sweet treats in the region. Its uses do not stop there at desserts. Pioneering chefs have learned to use these little yellow bombs of tropical flavour to complement the pungency of the locally caught Gethlem flatfish, making a dish that one might consider more at home on a tropical island than in this brisk metropolis.
The green berry, known as the Evergreen variety due to the matching of its ripened colour to that of its unripe yellow and red cousins, carries a piquancy not unlike that of the Szechuan pepper. Eaten raw, this pepper’s natural acidity allows the consumer to experience the fullness of its chilli-like heat, which unlike the chillies of the equatorial regions, does not linger. Cooking this pepper requires more time than the others, and though the acidity is just as quickly removed, partially cooked green Gethlem berries are so spicy as to be uncomfortable to even the most seasoned spice heads. After stewing for ten minutes, these berries are often combined with citrus fruits and finely chopped root vegetables, in particular the local radish, to make deliciously piquant pickles.
I have saved the most interesting of the Gethlem berry family for last. Cautionary tales follow these strange little fruits. This tiny red berry has only recently found its way onto the plates of adventurous locals. Not usually consumed raw due to its powerful acidity known to make those foolhardy enough to try them suck in their cheeks, these saliva-inducing berries have been used to trick children and foreigners alike, featuring in local fables for its unusually strong sourness. Despite this almost debilitating effect, it does not permanently harm the consumer. Until recently its uses were confined to pranks and dye-making, but some more creative restaurants are appealing to thrill-seekers with traditional dishes reworked to emphasise what’s been locally coined the ‘sour pepper’. One can even choose how sour one would like their dish, with recipes featuring pictures of one, two, or three red berries for the kamikaze ‘berry heads’.
Said to be a fruit of the eternal gods, one thing remains a mystery about this strange red fruit. According to local hearsay, regularly eating dishes prepared with the red Gethlem berries might have rather more profound positive effects on the body. Formerly bald men claim to regrow hair. Pregnant women claim chewing sour pepper eases their labour and makes their offspring more intelligent. An old woman believes it to have cured her of breast cancer.
Perhaps disbelievers do not eat enough to experience these wondrous therapeutic effects, but even the unconvinced will return one day to try and swallow a piece of immortality.