Uncle Jack's secret for eating what you're served
'Raw tomatoes?" My husband wrinkles his nose. "Hate the things." I'm aghast. How did I forget to check, before I agreed to marry this man, that he liked tomatoes?Skip to next paragraph
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Many moons ago (or maybe it was just two years), my favorite after-work dinner was red discs of tomato with milky white cubes of fresh mozzarella, topped with a dribble of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of herbs and black pepper.
OK, so it didn't need cooking. That, at 10 o'clock at night after a hectic Métro ride home to my Paris flat, was much of its appeal.
Now in Zimbabwe, the dish would have to be altered ever so slightly. Mozzarella is like gold dust here, in a country reeling under food shortages and rising prices.
But still, I wheedle, how about tomato rounds and a bit of Kadoma blue cheese? Tomato rounds and a nice slice of Vumba cheddar?
He's adamant. No round of pomodoro will ever cross his lips, thank you very much, however daintily slivered.
How can anyone not like tomatoes? I mutter rebelliously, scrabbling through the cupboards to try to find something else for dinner.
With enormous effort - new wives, they say, can be unbearably sanctimonious - I suppress my mother's voice, loud and clear from thousands of miles and more than two decades away: "In this house, we eat everything."
As toddlers, my two sisters and I were not supposed to leave anything on our plates. Inspired by the story of an 18th-century English hymn-writer's mother, Susanna Wesley, my mum decided she'd have babies who cried only quietly and children who weren't picky about food.
So things we left on our lunch plates sometimes turned up at dinnertime. Cold. Manfully - or, rather, girlfully - we waded our way through spinach, mushrooms, and sweet corn, eyes only on the next (nicer, we hoped) meal.
Now when she remembers, Mum's a little shamefaced. "How can I have been so cruel?" she says, crooning over her grandchild, my nephew. Much to Grandma's dismay, my sister Sarah won't let him have a second helping of toffee ice cream.
Actually, it wasn't that bad. Time and again I've silently blessed my mother's methods when faced with a dish I know I have to finish to be polite.
There was the time when, at 15, I was on my first exchange visit to a French pen pal in Poitiers. Her parents took us out for a traditionnel French meal. The starter? Frogs legs, of course.
Reader, I ate them.
Or the time my husband and I hungrily scoured the streets of Maputo, Mozambique, late one night looking for a cheap restaurant. We found a place and ordered what looked to be chicken. It was chicken - cooked in sludge-gray peanut butter.
I heard my mother, way back in cold, cold England, and I ate it.
Or, nearer home, the time I found myself eating lunch with more than 20 Zimbabwean schoolgirls in Seke, a dusty, poor suburb of the capital Harare. It was a local speciality - sadza nenyama - and they were tucking in with obvious relish.
To my Philistine eyes, the sadza (cornmeal porridge) looked like white stockingfuls of stodge. The nyama (meat) appeared to be lumps of unidentifiable fatty brown stuff (cow? rat? crocodile?) bobbing in lots of watery gravy.
But down it went.
I do have a secret, of course, one that most times helps me wade through mounds of something I find unpalatable. It's Uncle Jack's motto.
Watching Sarah and me struggle through our cabbage one Sunday dinner, Uncle Jack leaned over and whispered: "Eat what you don't like first.
"Save the best till last," he added. And silently he showed me a plate with only roast potatoes and cranberry sauce left on it. Which he proceeded to eat with great gusto.
Good old Uncle Jack. If only you knew then how your advice would span my years.
I guess it's too late for my husband. Tomatoes will have to be my private fetish, consumed at the computer during solitary lunches and when he's away on business.
But he is very good at doing dishes. Now that's something Mum could never persuade us to enjoy.