Grow Food Eat

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

22nd December 2017
The tomatoes were the reddest I'd ever seen. I took the box from the woman who grew them for us and thanked her. As usual, she hastened away, as if afraid to stand there. The label on the box read 'Thea Allbright, Organic Produce'. It had been me who found her when I took over as manager of Greenacres Home for the Elderly. I wanted to do something different. Instead of keeping them alive, I wanted my residents to Live. Good food was the start of this and already I'd seen improvements. Although Thea Allbright could only deliver small quantities, it was a start and I intended to work with her to help her produce more.

Supply and demand and cost and funding - Economics wasn't my strong point but I could learn. I'd already persuaded the very tight owners of the home to increase my food budget, explaining that it would decrease their medications budget, if people were eating good, healthy food. Thea's food was the best I'd ever eaten and already I'd seen a difference, after buying from her for only three months. My residents looked brighter, were more talkative and active, and seemed to have gained a glow. All of it unquantifiable, but I knew it was there.

The tomatoes were for a summer salad I was making myself. I tried to work in a different part of the home every week. This week I was on kitchen duty. I think the staff found me a bit barmy, but I didn't care. My job was to improve lives, and to do that I needed to know how every inch of the home worked.

Whilst I was chopping the tomatoes I couldn't resist eating a few. The scent took me back into my childhood and my dad's greenhouse. The colour was deep summer sunsets, late in the evening, staying up far longer than I should have because the adults murmured, made soporific by wine; I'd be forgotten. By the time they remembered I'd be dozing in the hammock under a crocheted blanket, secure and happy. My childhood never stayed like that, of course, but then childhood never does. As I bit into the flesh of the tomato I could hear my father's voice, calling to me...

'Emma?' said Mark, our chef.

I came to. 'Sorry. I was miles away. The taste of these...'

'Matches the expense,' grumbled Mark. 'The supermarket ones were perfectly fine.'

I sighed. 'Just taste one, and you'll know what I mean,' I said.

Mark took a small tomato and popped it, whole, into his mouth. He closed his eyes as he chewed. His frown disappeared and his face became smoother, suddenly attractive. Mark spent so much time looking cross that I'd never seen him like this. He looked, suddenly, younger. He opened his eyes, and smiled.

'You're right,' he said. 'I could taste my working holiday in Spain. best time of my life.'

He went back to peeling carrots and started whistling. I'd never heard him whistle before.

I usually ate with the residents, moving tables each day. This way I got to know everyone more. I urged the other carers to do the same but so far, only one of the nurses had joined me. Today, I noticed, Caroline was already sitting with Mrs Littlewood, looking awkward but sitting there nonetheless. I smiled to myself. Things were changing, slowly but surely. Caroline was one of my less cheery carers. A woman who seemed to begrudge everybody everything.

The salad was perfect. Mark had made a real effort with presentation, for a change. I saw him hovering by the kitchen door, watching. I nodded at him and mouthed, 'thank you'. He nodded back.

Today I was sitting with two sisters, Emily and Edith, and a newcomer to Greenacres, Mr Smythe, who so far hadn't settled in very well and was unseasonably grumpy, cloudy in summer. I longed to get him to smile but so far, had failed, instead getting a catalogue of things that were wrong with his room, with this place, every single day.

Mr Smythe wasn't going to have any salad until I held the bowl out to him, and out of some upper class politeness, he took it. As with mark, when he ate the tomatoes, he closed his eyes and his face changed. I held my breath and watched as his face seemed to grow smoother, just like mark's. His frown disappeared and he smiled.

'Delicious,' he said. 'Just like my grandmother's home grown, back in the thirties... she used to supply the school, you know. I got to taste her tomatoes every day during the summer term.. oh, what memories...'

The two sisters were chatting, their faces lit.

'Do you remember we used to steal from Tom Sergeant's greenhouse?' giggled Edith.

'Oh I do... I recall him chasing us out of the garden that time, just after the war when he was short of seeds. Oh! Do you remember his face?' Emily covered her mouth.

'Like a thundercloud!' Edith squeaked and they both dissolved into peals of laughter.

All around me, I could hear memories being relived. There was laughter, exclamation and joy in the room. Like children, I thought. As if they had fallen backwards into their lives. Even Caroline, her face usually grim, was laughing.

'This was such a good idea,' she called over to me. 'I am enjoying myself!'

I noticed that Mark was still there, by the door. He saw me and smiled, shaking his head slightly, as if in disbelief. I got up and stood next to him.

'The tomatoes,' he said. 'Like magic. Look at them all!'

We watched the room. Soon the salads were gone, and slowly, the laughter faded and everyone quietened down. 'That was amazing,' I said. I went through to the kitchen, picked up the phone and called the number I had for Thea Allbright. She answered as if she'd been sitting right next to the phone.

I explained what had happened and asked if I could order double the amount of tomatoes for the next delivery, in three days.

'I can do that. But... this effect you talked of. It probably won't happen again,' she said. 'I find sometimes thing like this can happen, with a special crop. But it tends not to happen twice. It's as if you get immune...' Her voice had gone dreamy.

'What do you mean, immune? What effect? Do you know what I'm talking about?' Until then, I'd not even been sure that what I'd witnessed wasn't just an effect of the summer sun, the changing season. Not food... But she knew what I was talking about.

'Immune? What?' she said, her voice sharper. 'Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean.'

'About what you just said. the effect of the food?' I reminded her.

'All I said was I might not have enough for a second crop so soon. Remember I only grow in small amounts,' she said.

'Right. Well, I'd like to talk to you about that,' I said. 'I'd like to maybe buy more.'

'That won't be possible,' she said. 'I'll deliver cucumbers tomorrow as your chef ordered, and peas, and also some early potatoes.'

We said our goodbyes and I put the phone down, confused. I watched Mark, chopping with a fury for the evening meal, and decided I'd imagined the whole thing. He was frowning; life was normal once more. I looked into the dining room and everyone was quiet. Caroline was clearing plates ready for the second course, chicken breasts and cream sauce. I helped the rest of the staff clear and serve the food. Nothing unusual happened and as I watched the quiet room, I could hardly remember how everyone had laughed, a few short minutes ago. I shook my head, to clear it.

The following day it was hot again and salad was the menu I chose. Pasta salad with raw peas and cucumber, mixed in with a gentle sauce of creamy herbs.

Thea had dropped off the order, again almost running away after she'd delivered it.

I took a cucumber, and regarded it. I cut the end off, and bit into it. I wasn't a fan of cucumber, but this was different. It was crisp and tasted... bright. I couldn't describe it any other way. I closed my eyes...

... and saw my dad, before he got sick, sitting in his green house door, trousers rolled up, cucumbers on green stems twirling around the shelf, dangling off it. My dad smiled at me down the years and I remembered how he smelt when he came in from the garden: earthy, fresh and sun kissed...

'Are you all right?' Mark's voice held concern, not something I'd heard before.

I realised tears were running down my face. I nodded. Suddenly, I dreaded lunch.

I handed out tissues one by one. The two sisters hugged each other. My Smythe sat and wouldn't talk to anyone. I walked from table to table, comforting.

The phone rang. I took the kitchen extension. I recognised the voice, that was peaking very fast.

'The cucumbers, not the right ones. I got the orders muddled. Please don't eat them; they were meant for a wake. They were... never mind. Just please, can I have them back?'

I held the phone out towards the dining room. 'Too late,' I said into the mouthpiece.

It took me ages to find the farm. And when i got there, it was less a farm than a smallholding - a very small, smallholding. I knocked on the door but nobody answered. I walked around the building. Out back there were raised beds, greenhouses, plots with green growing in neat lines. Wheelbarrows stood between plots, loaded with various produce. One held potatoes, one held courgettes. I walked over to the one filled with potatoes. There was a piece of cardboard on top, saying: 'First Earlies. Your Grandmother's Hugs. Happy, Childhood.' I put the sign back and went to the next wheelbarrow, full of courgettes. The piece of paper in here said: 'School- Memory Enhancers. To be hidden in soup (give kid-friendly recipe).'

I walked to the first greenhouse. The piece of paper on the door said 'Cuc's. Generally, fathers. Generally, sorrow. Good for grieving.'

The tomatoes were next. I'd already guessed what the sign would say: 'Happiness, childhood, great for the elderly - Greenacres?'

'Hey!' a voice startled me. Thea was running towards me, yet it wasn't Thea. The Thea I'd met had been young, attractive. This woman was older, wrinkles ingrained with dirt surrounded big, sad eyes. 'You can't come in here,' she said. And she grabbed my arm.

'Who are you?' I said, resisting.

She was bending down and pulling me along. As we passed a wheelbarrow she plucked something from it. It was small purple - a plum. I had time to read the piece of card on top: 'Plums - to forget. Good for dealing with anger, transgression.'

'What you have to understand,' she said,' is that for years my family have been persecuted. I've been happy, settled here for years. I do not intend to have that spoiled. I won't be punished, or investigated. I help people. That's my calling. It runs in the family and I will not be stopped.' She held out the plum to me. The voice changed. 'Eat this, and be a dear,' she said. 'It's the easiest way. Alternatives are... messy.'

I took the plum, glanced at her and saw death in her eyes. Death and life and knowledge and timelessness. I nodded. I bit into the purple flesh and closed my eyes, as I saw flashes of my life blink through my mind. Gone.


I walked up to the door, Chef Mark's order in my hands. 'Can you deliver this tomorrow?' I asked.

The woman who took it was attractive. 'Potatoes? For Greenacres? I've got the perfect ones,' she smiled, perfect teeth flashing.