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Swede drawing

There was one word in the vegetable kingdom that used to conjure up sheer dread for me as a child - swede.

My Mum was a great cook. She was the only mum I knew, in my young life, who used spices - fresh and dried - in her cooking. But, and here's the rub, she still cooked swede.

I can still see our big old family kitchen. It had a wooden floor covered with linoleum that squeaked when you walked on it, a big Metters wood-fuelled oven and cook top in its huge alcove with another Meters Kookaburra gas stove with four gas burners on top, covered in mottled green enamel, and in the centre of the room, a big pine table which Mum used to scrub every day. From this kitchen she could turn out wonderful, enjoyable repasts, with the exception of swedes.

I hated swedes with a vengeance. I would approach the table with dread when I smelled and then saw what was waiting on my plate. I knew in my gut that this was not going to be a good meal. I knew it would be an agonising experience, and I was never wrong. Dad would make me sit there until I finished that darned pale orange pile of lumpy mash. The usual threats, plus "the poor, starving little African children would really love to eat such good food", had me thinking I'd be thrilled if I could send it off to them with my blessing. There I'd sit until I'd shoved it into my mouth, swallowed and then run to the bathroom to throw up. I still got served swede regardless.

Then came a big turnaround in my life with regard to the swede.

When a teenager I had a case of shingles (probably for not eating my swedes) and in those days, rest and recuperation in the country was part of the recovery process. So my folks packed me off to the next-door neighbours' cousins' home in Merredin. I had never met them before and had no idea where I was being parcelled off to.

To cut a long story short, this family grew their own vegetables, among which, of course, was the ubiquitous swede. These swedes were beautiful, sweet and huge. Freshly pulled from the ground is the way it should be done. Those memorable days spent in the country changed my life regarding swedes. Just plain ol' boiled, mashed swede with lots of salt, pepper and butter. Beautiful!

I now look for swedes whenever I'm at growers' markets and relish the idea of taking them home to combine with other vegetables - mashed with pumpkin or carrots, parsnips and spices. Swede gives a wonderful tangy hint to a ham hock vegetable soup, but my favourite way is to scrub and slice very thinly then deep-fry as chips with a light sprinkling of spicy garlic salt. Best served with a pre-dinner drink.

Gerry Harvey

Ham and vegetable soup, with swede

1 smoked ham hock
6 cloves garlic
6 cloves
1 large swede
2 zucchini
2 turnips
1 onion
1 parsnip
A few sticks of celery
1 cup of cream
1 medium tin of creamed corn
Salt and pepper

Place all of the above into a saucepan and cover with water, and cook for approximately an hour. Cool, strain and remove the hock, cloves and garlic but keep the stock for the soup. Chop the vegetables into medium-sized pieces, add to the ham stock and cook until tender. Remove the meat from the ham hock and add to the vegetables and stock. Add the cream and corn.

Correct the seasoning and serve with fresh crusty bread or croutons.

A meal in a bowl just made for eating in winter in front of a heater and television while watching footy.