In a pickle

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MY wife and I have just had a tiring week
of pickling and conserving vegetable matter. The air around the house was
redolent of vinegar for days and the postman stopped coming up. Our dogs even
moved outside after their noses wrinkled so much with the fumes that they
started to resemble pugs.

Like most amateur farmers we tend to plant
far too much of everything, hardly believing that one tiny seed buried in a
tray in the early spring will eventually end up as a large bush supporting
scores of green peppers or dozens of red tomatoes by late summer. We hardly
bother anymore with prosaic vegetables like onions or potatoes, which we did
for the first couple of years of our agricultural serfdom and now tend to go
mainly for the smarter vegetables and exotic salads normally sold in small
plastic envelopes in the more salubrious branches of Waitrose.

After an exciting season of designer greens
and Thai eggplants stuffed with almost everything, we still found ourselves
with kilos of excess produce at the end of this year’s growing season. Apart
from tomatoes, capsicum, eggplants, pumpkin and rhubarb we were left with
enough chilli-peppers to supply the
Tijuana enchilada
market for six months. We had given a large amount of fresh chillies away to
our friends over the summer and some of the dangerously hot ones to life-style
gurus and feral real estate agents. We had eaten the spicy devils ourselves in
every way we could discover recipes for, including chilli ice cream but could
not get ahead of them. We then decided to pickle a peck before they started to
dry out and develop complexions like Rameses the Third. We also intended to
make chilli sauce, chilli jelly, chilli mayonnaise, chilli oil and chilli-chilli
at the same time.

Now, I would like to think that "pickles"
are named after a florid Victorian industrialist named Jeremiah Pickle from
Lancashire but that, sadly, is
not the case. English actually acquired the word "pickle" in the
fourteenth century, probably from Low German, or the medieval Dutch pekel,
which means "brine for preserving food." Pickling is defined as "the
preservation of foods by impregnating them with acid, which discourages the
growth of most microbes."

Here is how we pickled our chillies, in
case you are interested in the process. We made up a mixture of sugar and white
vinegar in roughly equal quantities, heating it gently to dissolve the sugar. My
wife then sterilized some jars and lids in boiling water.  My job was the dangerous one of slicing the
individual chillies lengthways and removing the seeds. (Warning: don’t rub your
eyes or touch your naughty parts during, or after, this job, until you have
scrubbed your hands thoroughly).  We then
loaded the half-chillies into the jars, pushing them down until they were
packed firmly. We filled the jar with the vinegar solution, added some all-spice
and some white pepper-corns, screwed on the lids firmly and stuck on a label. They
will be ready to eat in about a month.

Postscript: 
If you know anyone who wants sixty jars of pickled chilli-peppers,
please let me know.

Visa Vis

In the last issue, I related how I once
obtained a copy of my mother’s birth certificate from the Public Record Office
in
London to support my application for UK
citizenship. The Schengen Agreement had just come into force and as a non-European
I risked being shipped to
Mali or Morocco,
or heaven forbid, back to
Australia.
I had to get residency in a European Union (EU) country and
Britain
seemed the most logical.

Armed with proof of my mother’s birth,
myriad other documents and a picnic lunch I headed for Lunar House, the 20
story-high
UK Immigration Department near Croydon to the south of London. I was
determined to put my case for British citizenship to the relevant authorities. Truth
be known, I was not all that interested in actually becoming British, not the
way they play cricket, but I did want to stay in Europe and with most of my
ancestors being born in England or Ireland thought I had a good chance of
joining the EU. Given the choice I would have preferred to join in
Spain,
which I later did.

Lunar (House), deriving from the Old
English ‘lunacy,’ is enough to put any potential immigrant off thinking of
legally settling in
Britain. If they filmed Lunar House on a working day and ran the film all
over the
Third World, I am sure that it would convince most potential immigrants to
renounce their bookings in the back of refrigerated trucks.

You are advised to get to Lunar House very
early in the morning. If you come much later than five-thirty or
six a.m. and ask for a number, the bouncer on the door says no way. I had
come the night before with a sleeping bag and a thermos and managed to get
number 2,300. I finally saw an actual person at 1.30 in the afternoon. The
queue behind me was so long that it was interfering with play at Wimbledon. Some
aspiring immigrants had spent so much time in this queue waiting to be
interviewed that their temporary visas expired and they were immediately
arrested for overstaying when they reached an immigration officer. It seems odd
to me that no-one has opened a Starbuck’s concession at Lunar House to service
the queue.

My number 2,300 finally came up on the
screen with instructions to go to window six. The immigration officer behind
the bullet-proof glass looked like a close relative of Margaret Thatcher, in
need of urgent applications of Botox. She was most helpful though and delighted
that she could immediately refuse my application. "No, nothing here to
justify giving you British citizenship," she said brusquely waving her
handbag.

Before she could say "next applicant"
I told her: "But my mother and both her parents, were born in the UK. You
have copies of all their birth certificates and the marriage registration of my
grandparents. My grandfather was a journeyman tailor in Saville Row, for God’s
sake. In those days they did not employ just anyone."

"That is as may be," she replied.
"But to claim the right to abode and eventual citizenship in this Realm,
your British antecedents must be from your father’s line. If your father was
born here and you can prove it to our satisfaction, then you might, just might,
have a chance. Was your father born here?"

"No, he was born in Australia. But his
father, my other grandfather, was born here, in Lancashire, I think. Would that
count?"

"That might help. Do you have his
birth-certificate with you?"

"No, I do not but I can get a copy at
the Public Record Office," I replied. "But tell me something: how
come only one’s paternal line counts here? 
Is Germaine Greer aware of this discrimination against mothers?"

The Iron Lady put her finger on the button
that would flash up the next number.

"I repeat, only if your father or
grandfather was born in the UK do you have any chance of qualifying for
citizenship on the basis of UK Ancestry. 
And you must provide us with suitable documentary evidence to that
effect. Please come back when you have it."

"It is absurd, you must admit," I
insisted. "One has a fairly good idea who their real mother is, but
without a DNA test how can anyone be sure who their real father is? It could be
anyone. Maybe my real dad is Mohammed al Fayed."

"Then you will never get a British
passport," she said and pressed the button firmly. "And by the way,
Germaine Greer did not qualify for citizenship either."

On the way out I bought myself an I
Survived Lunar House tee-shirt from an illegal Nigerian immigrant and headed
back to London to get some certification on my paternal line. The relevant office
was closed for a Bank Holiday, or perhaps a public execution. I never went back.

The Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet has had good press
in the last few years. Scientists and food experts seem to have established
that southern Europeans not only have a more interesting cuisine than their
northern neighbours, but have lower blood pressure, less cholesterol and live
an average of five years longer. That is if they do not smoke tobacco. If they
smoke, like many fools around the world choose to do, then it does not matter
how much olive oil, red wine, Omega 3 fish or organic vegetables they consume;
they will often die five days after their 39th birthday.

Warnings on packets do not seem to worry
most smokers but I was wondering if some of the alternate life-style people
around Órgiva who keep Drum and Samson rolling tobacco in business, might be
deterred if their packs read: "This product contains meat and has been
extensively tested on animals."

You can but wonder, can’t you?