this (pick­led) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Cindy Ad­di­son

MUM loves to pickle food. If some­thing grows in the ground, it’s guar­an­teed she will trans­form it into a rain­bow-coloured con­coc­tion in a re­cy­cled, ster­ilised jar.

What’s in it? “My own recipe — a bit of this and that — and lots of chilli and gar­lic!” she an­swers with enthusiasm. Ev­ery­thing is “yummo and de­li­cious”.

The howl­ing Fre­man­tle doc­tor bat­ters her sub­ur­ban back­yard, and the re­silience of Mum’s over-loved fruit and veg­etable plot is ad­mirable.

Mum se­cretly ex­pects to open her front door and dis­cover gifts of ap­pre­ci­a­tion on her doorstep: chill­ies, olives, gar­lic, eggs, toma­toes and cumquats — even the daily news­pa­per. The gen­er­ous givers of stuff are re­warded with gleam­ing jars of pre­served fruit and veg­eta­bles, to savour the var­i­ous sea­sonal pro­duce all year long.

Mum trea­sures her re­la­tion­ship with the lo­cal fruit and vegie stall own­ers, and her ex­cite­ment of a bar­gain ex­udes her pas­sion. The jum­bled collection of var­i­ous sized jars and ice­cream con­tain­ers full of mixed-up lids, saved by fam­ily and friends, line the shelves of her walk- in pantry like rows of loyal soldiers stand­ing tall and still, wait­ing to serve their du­ti­ful pur­pose.

My daugh­ter vis­its her Big Nanna on school hol­i­days and is co­erced into a fun-filled fran­tic frenzy of cut­ting, chop­ping, mix­ing and cook­ing. The fact Mum can en­cour­age her un­do­mes­ti­cated grand­daugh­ter to as­sist and en­joy such a messy and labour-in­ten­sive task is a small mir­a­cle. Mum’s eyes light up when my teenage son tells her he eats his pasta only if it’s cooked with Big Nanna’s tomato sauce.

Some­times I take her kind of­fer­ings even though chill­ies and zuc­chi­nis don’t do much for me, but she has the abil­ity to make the hum­ble zuc­chini palat­able when it’s hid­den in among other uniden­ti­fi­able in­gre­di­ents.

Mum’s favourite pas­time is to boast about her pre­served achieve­ments: “A friend of my brother’s who knows a chef raves about my pick­les and says he wants it on his menu!” And she con­ve­niently for­gets to tell the un­suc­cess­ful tales, such as how one home­made over-spiced recipe sent a din­ner guest rush­ing home in a sweat with chest pain and false fears of a heart at­tack.

My teenage daugh­ter re­turned from school to tell us that her English teacher asked the class, “If you were a tree, what sort would you be?” to which she im­me­di­ately replied: “A Guava tree be­cause it re­minds me of my Nanna.”

It seems that it’s not the ob­ject that mat­ters but the ex­pe­ri­ences and love that go into that ob­ject’s cre­ation that ini­ti­ates the trans­for­ma­tion of life. Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 420 and 450 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

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