FOOD FOR LOVE
The comings and goings of Miss Pea Trimble, spinster of the Parish of Chessington Underwood did little to disrupt the lives of those around her.
Every morning at precisely half past eight she could be seen cycling through the village, her hair a complicated wigwam of pins and curls piled precariously above her long sad face.
That morning Miss Trimble felt even more moth-eaten and mournful than ever, her corset was rubbing particularly badly and her bike had an infernal squeak that was starting to get on her nerves.
For a moment, a mere unexplained moment she thought of cycling past the library, of not opening up, of doing something completely outrageous, but it was only a moment a mere unexplained moment.
The sun felt hot on her back and the heady scent of wallflowers mingling with the sweet fragrance of cut grass filled her with a sadness she didn’t understand.
Inside the library was cool, the smell of books and polished wood oddly comforting. She made a cup of tea straight away without waiting, the gas fire coughing gently into life as she bent to light it.
The tea was good and already she felt better.
Year had followed year with the same routine, lighting the fire, drawing back the old black-out curtains, arranging flowers in the blue vase that stood now full of purple pansies, their velvet heads drooping as if in sympathy with her mood. Nothing had changed, nothing at all.
Yesterday she’d overheard old Polly Perkins telling the postman. ‘That didn’t he think that Miss Trimble was becoming the archetypal ‘Old Maid’ and wasn’t it a shame as she’d been a real looker as a young girl and wasn’t he surprise that someone hadn’t snapped her up? The words had hurt terribly and still they swirled through her head like a tidal wave, ‘Old Maid, Old Maid’.
Feeling dreadfully sorry for herself and extremely annoyed with everything she picked up some books and clasping them tightly to her bosom strode purposefully to open up.
The day was almost at an end, Miss Trimble was feeling tired, her head ached and waves of self-pity seemed to swamp over her. Tears welled hotly in her eyes threatening to spill over and fall down her pale cheeks. Bending her head over her desk she let them slide slowly down.
Someone coughed, startled she looked up. A man stood gazing down at her. Blinking back the scalding tears she pretended to brush something from her cardigan.
‘I wonder’, his voice low. ‘Do you have Flaubert’s Madame Bovary?’
She looked up at him, her eyes shining now, her voice eager. ‘Oh yes I do’, and proceeded to bustle about under her desk. Retrieving a very battered book she held it out to him. ‘Here please borrow this, it’s my copy, rather old but it’s all there, we have trouble keeping every book, the room you know, she waved vaguely around her. I read it over and over, there’s just something…’ Embarrassed her voice tailed away, her cheeks burning.
The man smiled as he took the book from her.
She could feel his eyes on her again, she looked up at him and something stirred just beneath her breastbone, fluttered and was still, she felt it with wonder.
Opening the book he glanced at the name written there in large sloping handwriting. ‘Pea Trimble. Aged 15’ and then proudly. ‘To be taken to France, mu first time abroad.’
The man looked unbelievingly at the childish words, he looked unbelievingly at the woman opposite him, at the sad pale face, the questioning eyes. He leant across to her and his voice like a caress whispered her name. ‘Pea?’
She looked up at him, her voice trembling. ‘Yes?’
‘Oh my God it is you, Pea, my little Peewit!’
She froze her face no longer burning but cold and white. ‘Charles? It can’t be, I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it!’
‘It is, it is’, he laughed. ‘I can hardly believe it either, after all this time and you are still as beautiful.’
‘Oh Charles’, she laughed too, his eyes causing her a kind of pain she didn’t understand. ‘Me, beautiful, oh no, oh Charles’ and the tears that now fell were tears of sheer and utter joy.
‘Oh but you are, you are,’ he grasped her arms across the desk. ‘To me you are the most beautiful thing I have seen’.
His laugh filled her with memories long forgotten, memories of a childhood in France, of long hot days and a young French boy called Charles, who had held her hand and made her heart race, who had read Madam Bovary to her, words she would never forget, words that made her head swim with happiness, words that turned her whole world upside down. His eyes were the same eyes, the smile the same smile, the laugh the same laugh. His hands still held her tight. He smiled. She was fifteen again and in love for the first and last time.
I would often stay with Pea and Charles at their home just outside Paris where the food was always the highlight of my stay. One night after eating a sumptuous salmon dish Pea told me it had been the first meal she had cooked Charles after they had fallen in love again, and it was with much laughter that they reminded me of this – their extraordinary story, a story of a love that never died.
Saumon Flaubert. Serves Four.
4 skinned salmon steaks approx. 6 oz. each
4 oz. dry white wine
1 oz. unsalted butter
I tbl. Good olive oil
Finely chopped parsley
Make sure you dry the salmon well otherwise it won’t brown.
Use a heavy frying pan which is hot, then over a high heat add the oil and butter, when the foam just starts to subside add the salmon steaks, sear quickly on each side, then turn the heat down, pour the wine over the steaks, watch it doesn’t spit at you! Turn up the heat briefly so the wine bubbles. Then cook gently for 5-8 minutes depending if you like your salmon slightly underdone, (mi-cuit). When the salmon is done to your liking, remove from the pan and keep warm on a heated plate, turn up the heat and boil the sauce until it is slightly reduced, season well, add a big knob of butter and pour over the steaks, sprinkle with the parsley. Serve with tiny buttered new potatoes, the nice waxy ones if you can get them and a lightly dressed green salad.
A lovely wine to go with this is a Bourgogne Aligoté.