RADIO / Pass the hashish fudge, please

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The Independent Culture
DR SAM HUTT is a gynaecologist these days. You could guess his job, when you hear him on the radio, by the brisk breeziness of voice that I bet he uses when planning to do unspeakable things to nervous women undressing behind a curtain. You know, 'Had a flutter on the Derby, did you?' - that kind of thing. This week, however, he regressed to his alter ego of Hank Wangford, country singer, doctor to the Grateful Dead and expert on hallucinogenic foods. Trust Me, I'm a Doctor was the very last gasp of Radio 3's appropriately kaleidoscopic and often gloriously daft 1968 season. It harked back to barmy days.

In fact it was Leslie Forbes who was gasping. She is the presenter of Table Talk, an occasional series of short foodie programmes that focuses on unusual eating. In earlier broadcasts, she met a Texan farmer who lives on things that have been run over, like rattlesnakes, and got carried away with chip butties in Liverpool. On Sunday, she set off in search of 'edible highs' with Hank, and judging by the sound of the two of them giggling helplessly as it ended, it was but a short trip to Heaven.

As Hank Wangford, Sam Hutt was chief medical officer at the notorious Isle of Wight festival. He is a real expert. For old times' sake, he urged his guest to try a couple of magic mushrooms - 'You need 30 or so to get you going' - and disabused her of her touching faith in the extra- sensory powers of banana skins (as celebrated by Donovan in 'Mellow Yellow'). For her part, Forbes had brought along some hashish fudge, made according to Alice B Toklas's recipe. Instead of cannabis, she had used parsley and thyme to give it that grassy texture, so there was nothing illegal about it, except possibly the stoned dates. Still, it had the desired effect. We left them chortling, for reasons that no longer seem quite clear, at the prospect of eating a Mars bar without using a condom.

That was verging on what Prue Leith calls gastro-porn. She and other cookery writers celebrated the bank holiday with a Woman's Hour (R4) that could almost have been made in 1958, when the Women's Institute was in charge. All the serious and frequently depressing subjects that have become daily fare for Jenni Murray were forgotten while they indulged in an orgy of oven-talk, the usually stern presenter reporting gleefully that 'mouths are watering all around the room'. They even cooked on air, Josceline Dimbleby wondering, 'Are you allowed to do anything except fry on radio?' Yes, if you were the old trouper Marguerite Patten, who had an unidentified but noisy disaster with a Swiss roll (when did you last hear of anyone making a Swiss roll?) Luckily, of course, she came up with one she had prepared earlier. Friday's postbag was boiling over with enthusiasm for the whole thing, which might make the producers of Woman's Hour think again about their menu.

The best programme about food is The Food Programme (R4). Its excellent team of producer Sheila Dillon and presenter Derek Cooper see the business of eating as a lens through which to view the world. Each week they come up with the kind of programme that you find yourself having to listen to, even if that wasn't your intention at all. Last month, for example, they discussed the different contents of the food-parcels dropped by British and American planes in Bosnia - and came to the rather weary conclusion that if a Bosnian Muslim is starving, he probably won't mind what he eats.

Last week, in their own tribute to the wartime Atlantic convoys, they looked at rationing with the help of Elsie Widowson, creator of the National Loaf. She revealed that chalk was added to all bread-flour in order to increase the calcium available to people whose milk intake was limited - and, surprisingly, it still is. 'Well, it does no harm,' Dr Widowson robustly observed.

Friday's edition, repeated tomorrow at 7.20pm, was about the way the seasons are losing their relevance. Now that vegetables are flown in all year round, the growers of the luxuriant Vale of Evesham are in danger of losing their livelihoods, and we of losing the pleasure of enjoying, for that glorious short season, the taste of early summer that is home-grown asparagus and strawberries.

In Kentucky, where the same problems have forced 31 per cent of farmers off the land, the fruitily named Wendell Berry proclaimed that we should all go

and grow as much food as we can, to remind ourselves where it comes from. So put down that paper and get digging.