Would you invite a complete stranger round for dinner?
I’ve spent the weekend lurking at the fringes of an apple-processing industry. In the garden are two large apple trees, lately so bulging with fruit that some branches are brushing the ground. So when a friend popped by for a few days, it was just the manpower needed for the Herculean task of turning harvested apples into staggering quantities of jam, chutney and cake. Cue a three-strong team of frenzied apple industrialists, up to their elbows in it all weekend.
Me? Well, I did a bit. But I’m a novice. These guys are alchemists.
We must have cored, peeled, diced, sliced and grated nigh on a hundred apples – and still the trees are festooned with them. While the jam was bubbling away volcanically in the kitchen I went out to one of the trees, grabbed a branch and shook. (Thump plop thump thump bonk “Ow – f***.”). A few minutes of that, and I had a supermarket carrier-bag of apples..which is now on the path out the front of the house, affixed with a sign saying “For Pity’s Sake Please, Help Yourself”.
And there’s still more out there, waiting for a good breeze to bring it thumping down onto the lawn.
Unwanted fruit. Beloved by foragers when it’s on communal ground, but when it’s in our back gardens, we don’t quite know what to do. Foist it on the neighbours, or family members. Leave it outside for the public. Squash it into bags that take up precious freezer-space. Bung it into the composter, knowing we’re chucking away perfectly good food. Now, across the Pond they have very sensible food exchanges like Neighborhood Fruit or Veggietrader – but here we’re lacking similarly useful services, barring the hit-and-miss method of sticking an advert up on Freecycle to see what happens.
The best way to get rid of, say, too many apples is have an Apple Party.
An apple party is like a dinner party with friends, except at least half the dishes contain apple-originating foodstuffs. You supply these. Your guests supply the other ingredients. They turn up early afternoon and congregate somewhere assisted by alcohol for a few hours while you prepare the food, and then you all sit down and eat. Perfect. Job done.
(Or you can just drag someone round to help you make acres of jam, chutney and cake that will fill every corner of the house for the next 6 months. Hey, that works too).
I saw all this going on from the sidelines, and I thought back to the times recently where I’ve entertained guests who have been sleeping on the couch (couch-surfers in the unregistered sense). And I remembered how much fun evening meals were – a chance to get to know the other person without the whole tour-guide thing getting in the way.
So here’s my idea. You don’t offer passers-by a place to sleep…but you do offer them a meal.
I’m going to call it…
Cooks: want to meet fun new people, show off your culinary skills and, just perhaps, shift some of your homemade jam?
Travelers: hate feeling you’ve seen somewhere new but entirely missed its residents? Here’s a way to fill your traveling social calendar and your stomach.
The meals work like this. Either guests can bring some kind of beverage or nibbly snackstuff (ideally one representing where they’ve come from) or they can simply turn up and be wonderful guests. The meal starts and ends at a pre-agreed time, so the host has the option of extending the fun or prolonging the agony no further.
And the organizing of it? Let’s say it works like the brilliantly organized CouchSurfing.org – you register, you vet, you make a booking, you attend, you enthuse in a review. The website covers references and guest-credibility, and helps chefs choose an appropriate menu (all guests must list any dietary requirements on their website profile). Potential hosts advertise meal-slots. Potential guests apply for them.
And the essence of the experience is sitting down to a meal with strangers that just might become good friends.
A meal made in heaven.
(Primarily from apples).