Stewed Pears and Eggplant

(I just added most of this bit to the Oregon chapter… after rummaging in the freezer…)

I’m prospecting in Portland’s Scottish Country Shop, confused by their array of imported chocolate bars, kippers, Irish black puddings and jars of Sharwood’s curry. Looking in the freezer is like peeking into the cupboards of an eccentric, elderly Scottish aunt who hasn’t added to her shopping list since the 60s.

Still, it’s definitely less disconcerting than peering into my parents’ freezer back home in Glasgow. While, radically, I now view a freezer as a convenient place to keep a few frozen dinners, a couple of tubs of impulse-bought ice cream and a teetering skyscraper of ice trays, my parents’ freezer has always carried way more weight. You might open up that ancient chest in the hopes of locating an overlooked Popsicle and instead find anything from an entire deer to a carefully parcelled-up 18th-century Persian rug and matching cushions, deposited into the icy depths to thwart moths.

My mum always makes a bit extra when she’s cooking and tucks leftovers into wee plastic boxes that she then piles on top of unwieldy stacks of other wee plastic boxes to save cooking a couple of nights a week. The fact that she likes a bit of a surprise and so doesn’t label the boxes means that the menu on such nights is a dangerous game of culinary roulette that could easily see carrot soup served alongside chocolate mousse or stewed pears paired with stuffed eggplant. These are among my favourite nights to visit—there’s a delicious suspense in not knowing until the first spoonful whether the mossy green substance waiting in your bowl started life as pureed peas or gooseberry sorbet.

When I was wee, all remaining room round the carcasses and carpets was taken up by vast quantities of vegetables grown by Miss Hamilton, an elderly artist who lived four doors away in a roomy apartment that seemingly had no space for such trivialities as a freezer. Miss Hamilton, a cousin of the Duke of Hamilton, considered such an item unnecessary and too unsightly for her own home, but filled up half of ours for most of my childhood. She would appear most often when we were in the middle of dinner, announcing, “I desperately need rhubarb” or “I just need to count my cauliflowers” and then stay for half a dozen glasses of sherry and the entire evening. While she was our most regular such visitor, a lot of unusual neighbours arrived and stayed in a similar manner. My parents’ sense of hospitality was known to extend far beyond hosting generous quantities of frozen vegetables. They threw dinner and drinks parties frequently and, on nights in between, it seemed perfectly normal to have a reclusive Canadian photographer, a former Yugoslavian presidential contender or a world-renowned harpist pop round whilst we were tucking into our stewed pears and eggplant. Cousins, various school friends and even a stern Russian Jesuit lived with us for months at a time. Growing up there, much like trips to the freezer, you never knew who was going to be there when you opened the door—or how well they were going to go with whatever company was already assembled. The house was occasionally exasperatingly full, but it was never dull.

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