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
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot