Celery and AA Milne

I find it sometimes depressing how many donated-to-Oxfam books I throw away instead of taking them home to read.

But you can’t read all of them – and I could almost feel as if I have read all the Waverley novels by dint of the number I have touched and, I afraid, consigned to recycling.

Also, as I have said before, there are a lot of books that never should have been written – including the complete oeuvre of Jeremy Clarkson.

Anyway, I did, one day recently, pick out a small book by AA Milne. Although I knew he had written more than Pooh books, I had never read anything else by him nor really come across anything.

So, when I found it lying in amongst some dog-eared Jane Austen I bought it.

It is called ‘Not That It Matters’ and is a collection of essays about all sorts and not much.

(I would be tempted to say something about how these could have been great blogs if that wasn’t such a crass statement, so I won’t – but of course they could have.)

One is about eating celery and is called, ‘A Word for Autumn.’

This is how it starts:

‘ Last night the waiter out the celery on with the cheese, and I knew that summer was indeed dead. Other signs of autumn, there may be – the reddening leaf, the chill in the early-morning air, the misty evenings – but none of these come home to me so truly. There maybe cool mornings in July; in a year of drought the leaves may chance before their time; it is only with the first celery that summer is over………..

‘There is a crispness about celery that is of the essence of October. It is as fresh and clean as a rainy day after a spell of heat.’

I am so enamoured of AA Milne’s writing that I am tempted to type out the whole essay but I will desist. (After all supper calls.)

I like this essay – ad many of the others – because it says so much about the social mores of 1928 and the expected reader – of course you would be somewhere where your celery was given to you by a waiter.

Further on he writes about how outraged he is when a fellow diner – ‘Another diner came in and lunched too ‘ – who reached across and took the celery.

After some explanation of how he had been keeping the ‘sweetest and crispest shoots till the last, ‘ he turns to the fellow diner and celery-stealer – ‘He realized later what he had done and apologized, but what good is an apology in such circumstances?’ ( interesting that AA Milne or at least his publisher, used American spellings)

I also love it because it says so much about how to write well about nothing much – something I would love to be able to do.

And finally, I like this essay because it reminds me that celery was once seasonal.

Being a bit of a foodie in my spare time, and having lived sur le continent I like to think that I do seasonal stuff – asparagus in its time, lamb in spring but mutton in autumn etc.

But celery is always in my fridge, I love the stuff and had completely forgotten that in my childhood it came in autumn and was not around in summer.

So, I sit here in March looking out on a great sunset after a hail-storm and after I have heard the first larks on the Downs and am ashamed.

But I am going to make celery gratin tonight and eat it with relish.


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