Food and Drink: It may be fertiliser to you, but to me it is supper

IF I am somewhat hazy on the details, you will have to forgive me. I only heard this on the radio driving home a few days ago and I wanted to bring it to you right away. Yet for all of modern technology, the National Public Radio station, which carried the item, was unable to supply me with a tape; as for a transcript, as that supposes the use of the written word, that would take four to six weeks. I could not wait.

Nor, I assume, can you. But to put off the real news is part of the writer's craft. It is called suspense.

I know that you are all - or at least those of you who have a plot of land - gardeners and that, as gardeners, you keep a compost heap. (No, this is not the gardening column gone astray.) I have done so myself: mown grass, autumn leaves, rotting cabbage stalks, that sort of thing. Sometimes I have even remembered to use the compost the next year. More often it has become a rather rank garbage dump: squeezed oranges, the spinach the kids would not eat, the lettuce forgotten in the fridge.

One thing I did not do with my compost heap is eat it.

There. The news is out, and such was the subject of the broadcast. Ten minutes, give or take a little, in praise of the newest trend in eating.

Yes, like you, I had a moment, listening, in which I, as you doubt your eyes, doubted my ears. But I like to think that I am without prejudice when it comes to eating, so I cannot dismiss this latest dernier cri without examining it. There is, after all, a real possibility that a fricasee of composted beach leaves, avec son coulis of rotted lemon, could be a gastronomical triumph.

Was it an April Fool? I waved that aside. First, public radio in America has anything but a sense of humour; and second, however improbable a thing may be in America, there is every chance that someone, somewhere, is doing it.

The part I remember best was a sort of indirect interview with the fabled Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in San Francisco, in which she praised the properties of this ultimate back-to-nature cuisine. She who has been in the forefront of plundering the garden, stretching our minds to using all sorts of implausible greens (many unobtainable or very pricey indeed) in our salads, made it all sound perfectly natural. And, I thought to myself, if we hang hare and pheasant until more than a little corruption produces an exaggeration of flavour, why not baked meadow grass? Rich in nutrients it ought to be, and ecologically sound it undoubtedly was.

That this originated in California is, of course, the tip-off. There is a widespread belief, at least on this side of the Atlantic, that almost everything from California is original: original riots, novel ways of arresting speeding motorists, superior forms of exercise such as solo volley ball, the motion picture industry, helicopter surveillance of backyard marijuana plants, Clint Eastwood as mayor, precocious new torts . . . I could go on and on.

There was no questioning the verisimilitude of the transmission. Though gastronomy is not a much touched-upon subject on radio (professional gastronomes, as in Britain, prefer to drivel on television because it pays better, it feeds their egos and the miraculous results of their cooking always look good and cannot be eaten by the viewer), the piece went that classic way that American 'serious' radio has. A question is tossed into the airwaves (eg, 'Have you ever been fondled while taking Holy Communion?') and is immediately answered with an instance. In this case, a warm-voiced lady who was, even as we spoke, working on the first compost cooking book.

She spelt out a number of recipes - hence my irritation with not having a transcript and being unable to put this to the proof - which, again in the time-honoured manner of these cosy chats, showed how homey and reasonable even the dottiest among us are. No one asked her, but she volunteered that her contact with compost cuisine had begun rather by accident. Not that she had forgotten to shop (this rarely happens in California) but she had been watching her compost heap steam and, well, it just popped into her head that it might be fun to see what would happen if . . .

As we know, a number of great dishes have come into being precisely that way: through a disaster in the kitchen or idle curiosity. But from that moment on I was hooked. The next stage in these rather natty bits of chat is, as you know, the talking head, the expert. And up they sprouted. Compost cuisine was the hottest thing in restaurant X in Milwaukee; in New York it was all the rage. Someone asked, would it be cheap? Answer: well it should be, but the restaurant business being what it is, this was unlikely. The Koreans would probably corner the market in exotic compost, thus allowing shiny new star chefs to produce frozen souffles of disintegrated kumquats.

If you think I am having you on, think again. Do you know of anything in cuisine so improbable that it has not been tried and foisted on an unsuspecting public? I am not talking here about the specifics of la cuisine composte, or cuisine orduriere as I prefer to call it, because I have not got the cookbook yet; or, currently, a compost heap; or an inclination for a saute of last year's potato peel. But in my heart of hearts, I am sure this is not just a California phenomenon. Somewhere in Britain a redolent compost heap has tempted a budding chef, for once anything is imagined it is almost certain to become real.

Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films... by the director David Fincher
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
stoptober... when the patch, gum and cold turkey had all faied
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?