Author of 'Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit' opens home as delicatessen

The controversial writer will be meeting her public over the counter. Katy Guest reports
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The Independent Culture

Olives are not the only fruit. There will also be Italian cheeses, parma ham and "the best food that can be found" when the author Jeanette Winterson opens a delicatessen on the ground floor of her London home this month.

Olives are not the only fruit. There will also be Italian cheeses, parma ham and "the best food that can be found" when the author Jeanette Winterson opens a delicatessen on the ground floor of her London home this month.

For such a controversial figure - her novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit was about growing up with evangelical Christian parents and the dawning awareness that she was a lesbian - to allow paying customers into her home may be a brave move. Her website warns against abusive emailers while hate mail has also recently increased with her outspoken comments criticising the war in Iraq.

Winterson, fed up with standard British fare, is clearly excited about the prospect of a deli at her four-storey Georgian home in east London, close to the City. "Yes - from 19 November there will be an Italian deli of a fabulous kind on the ground floor of my London house," she emailed The Independent on Sunday. "We will be open from 8am-8pm seven days a week, and u can get a great espresso at the counter while u choose yr olives. I am v excited!"

Winterson has been a controversial figure since the 1985 publication of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and the subsequent BBC adaptation, brought her dangerously close to national treasure status. Oranges, about her childhood with evangelical parents in Accrington, Lancashire, was followed by The Passion, Sexing the Cherry and Written on the Body.

In 1992, Winterson named herself the "greatest living writer" and two years later she doorstepped the writer Nicci Gerrard after the latter wrote a stinging critique of her work in The Observer.

The new delicatessen has now been announced on her website, where she publishes a monthly column of news and opinions. "If you live in the UK, it is hard to imagine a remote village enjoying two bakeries, a butcher, a greengrocer, a fabulous deli and a bar," wrote the Europhile author, having just returned from just such an idyll in France. "The same place in England would be lucky to have a Spar or a Co-op, and it would be the land of white bread and processed food. Vive la différence!"

Winterson's house in fashionable Spitalfields is amply equipped for its new role. The four-storey Georgian building was once a greengrocer's shop, and still bears the sign "Verde's & Co. Importers" over its still immaculate shop windows. When Winterson bought the house it was practically derelict. It took two years to restore it to health andshe was thrilled when a neighbour told her it had once had a board outside reading "JW Fruits".

When Winterson initially reconstructed the house, planning permission was needed to convert it for residential use. Now it has been converted back again. Winterson's local council, Tower Hamlets, confirms that she has recently received planning permission to use the basement and ground floor as a retail outlet and, mystifyingly, as a venue for offering "financial and professional services".

The new deli will be called Verde's, making thrifty use of the original sign, and Winterson insists that it will not compete with the English delicatessen that already exists in the building next door.

"I felt very strongly that we should be helping each other, not competing with each other," she says. "They are really pleased next door."

In the lead-up to the grand opening later this month Winterson will be in the Netherlands to supervise the Dutch launch of her latest book, Lighthousekeeping. But the best-selling author is gearing herself up for her new role. "I will sometimes serve in the shop. But that will be a matter of luck."

Nicci Gerrard must be sharpening up her olive-pitting tool as we speak.

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