A dim portrait of a share house lurks in the shadowy corners of my twenty-something memories. It was a huge, rambling place, with an evil, Voodoo doll-wielding matriarch at the self-appointed helm. The doll was the real thing, gifted to her by someone who returned, in tact, from Haiti. It was a weird, iron-fisted rule. One evening, while working her night-shift, the three of us hatched our cowardly escape. M would go off on his own, delving further into Marrickville than I’d ever been; S and I found a funny, dog-legged house just around the corner, perfect for the two of us to share. The fall-out wasn’t pretty.
Skinny as a rake, M was politically aligned to the far, far left. He possessed a razor wit, sharpened by growing up on London Council Estates and coming of age in Thatcher’s Britain. I liked him enormously, but was afraid of that deep, dark sense of humour. M smoked beautifully hand-rolled joints. Constantly. He spent an entire weekend patiently sanding and staining a cheap Ikea desk of mine in the back yard so intently, that it and I will never be parted. The friendship grew exponentially when I began cooking for he and S. Impressed, M would pull strangers aside to explain to them that my food was superb. I found the praise embarrassing and thrilling by turns and set about teaching both he and S how to doctor a tin of chickpeas. Something, I think, from Moosewood. I was then, and remain still, very good with a can-opener, a tin of beans and precious little else.
At his funeral I sat desperately wishing I could think of something – anything – other than the gruesome mechanics of his suicide. I wish I’d held on to that glowing praise. I’ve only just remembered it now.
There were moments, thankfully, of levity despite the constant sense of foreboding; people whom I look back on with deep affection. S became a great and trusted friend, one I miss a little in my thirties. I hope he made it safely through his. Then there was J who shopped at the Newtown Co-op and made hilarious (truthful) jokes about her British Royal lineage. She arrived one Saturday afternoon with a huge jar of shocking pink-pickled turnips under her arm, made especially for all of us by her Lebanese mother. I’ve loved them ever since.
Makes one massive jarful. Roden says ‘The pickle should be eaten within a month to 6 weeks of making. We eat it long before.’ Our family is slightly smaller, so next time, I’ll halve it but the jar itself is a work of art, catching and scattering crimson light across the sill. The beetroot is here for colour alone and the pickle deepens in hue as it matures.
3 medium-large white turnips (about 1 ¼ kilos/2 ½ lb)
2-3 small beetroot
3-6 cloves of garlic
A few celery leaves
6 tablespoons of sea salt
3 cups of boiling water
1 ¼ cups of white wine vinegar
Wash a very, very large jar and its lid in hot soapy water. Rinse. Scald by filling to their rims with boiling water. Rest in the sink for about 1 minute. Set a clean tea towel on the bench, drain, reserving the water (water-wastage breaks my heart) and upturn both jar and lid onto it. Leave to dry completely.
Peel the turnips and cut them into neat, chip-sized batons. Peel the beetroots and slice them similarly, but a fraction thinner. Peel the garlic, leaving each clove whole. Pack into the now dry jar, interleaving turnips pieces with beetroot, garlic and celery leaves.
Dissolve the salt in the boiling water. Mix in the vinegar and carefully pour the solution into the jar, filling to just below the rim – you may need to add more boiling water to fill and, conversely, you may not need quite this much liquid. I deliberately underestimate the quantity in case of either outcome. Lid tightly and place somewhere in the kitchen where you can appreciate that extraordinary, ever-deepening shade of pink. Leave for 10 days at room temperature. They should be used within 5 weeks of the pickling date – label accordingly.