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Country Gentleman: Being the new kid in the forest

Caesar's mushrooms are seen growing in the Afan Woodland. (Photo courtesy of the C. W. Nicol Afan Woodland Trust)

Yoshio, my neighbor, is a fulltime farmer. When I first came to live in Kurohime in 1980, he was our postman. It was Yoshio who introduced me to the local hunting association and guided me through all the paperwork and various tests in order to get a gun license and acquire a shotgun. He also drove me around when we were looking for a plot of land on which to build our house, which we still inhabit.

Yoshio introduced me to the landowner and helped me to persuade him let us by a small plot of land and to lease the rest for a yearly rent. The landowner was reluctant to sell, but I promised that we would actually live here, not just build a "beso" or country home. I kept that promise.

Yoshio then helped us put in a hundred metres of road and myriad other tasks that one needs to go through in order to build a house and settle down in the country. He built his own house about a hundred metres from ours. I can see his house from our living room window in winter, but in spring it is obscured by the green foliage of the trees, many of which I planted.

Settling in the country seems easy at first. Country folk are generally shy, but friendly and helpful to newcomers. It is when the newcomer becomes a permanent feature that things can become a bit tricky, mostly because of small differences in customs. No doubt over the last thirty-eight years I have come to be considered as eccentric, to say the least.

It is often that in the country, newcomers befriend other newcomers. It is easier to accept and share differences than to totally conform. That has been true for me. Nevertheless, my neighbour Yoshio and I are friends; I can always count on him to help us out if and when we need it. On the whole though, he is very shy and likes to keep to himself. He doesn't go shooting anymore, and neither do I, but if he has wild boar or venison to share he shares it with me, perhaps because he knows that I truly appreciate it.

This morning he brought me a big basket of newly harvested potatoes. I love potatoes! I'm sorry, but I prefer potatoes to rice any day. After the war, when my mother and I lived alone until I was ten, it was me who planted the potatoes and, at the end of summer, dug them up. Then when I got a new Dad, who was in the Royal Navy, the potatoes were still my job because James Nelson Nicol the sailor knew absolutely nothing about gardening.

New potatoes, fresh out of the ground, boiled or steamed, flavoured with butter, salt and pepper still seems like food of the gods!

However, in this basket of potatoes there were several that I had never seen before. They were purple, almost black, and were elongated in shape, rather like sweet potatoes. He said they were "Inca's Tears."

I picked some fresh basil from our garden and lost no time in boiling the potatoes up. I served them sliced, flavoured with salt, black pepper, butter and garnished with freshly chopped basil. The flesh was deep purple in colour but the taste just like that of ordinary new potatoes, in other words delicious. We'll have some more tonight, in a potato salad!

Then I did some investigating and found that Inca's Tears originated in Peru (along with about three thousand other kinds of potato) and were originally supposed to be food for the ancient Inca kings. The purple hue is pigmented by anthocyanin, an antioxidant. Inca's Tears reputedly have four times as much of this health-giving agent as other, white-fleshed potatoes. They are very rich in vitamin C, fibre and iron. They are supposed to be good for the liver, for brain health, cognitive powers and help to fight cancer.

No tears, cheers for the Inca, pour me a beer and pass the potatoes! Here's to your health! Kampai!

("Country Gentleman" is a regular column by author and conservationist C.W. Nicol)

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