I don’t like mushrooms.
I don’t like mushrooms, and this is because as a child, we were each allowed one thing we didn’t like, one thing only, and anything else that was served to us, wherever we were, by whomever (health and safety only really came into being once I was already safely a teenager), was to be eaten. I ate olives and dark chocolate and rum-soaked cakes and gorgonzola and mackerel and liver. I swallowed black pudding and osso bucco and crepes suzette and snails.
But I never ever had to eat a mushroom.
For the last five years, I’ve tried a mushroom. I try it once a year, on January 15th, placing it carefully on a plate, cutting it in half and putting one half into my mouth. It is still disgusting. As an adult, it’s not very difficult to avoid eating things you don’t like. You can buy what you want at the supermarket, for instance. (Well, most people can. My little sister keeps a pretty close eye on what I buy, and makes disparaging comments about it. A good proportion of my weekly shop is bought to impress my little sister).
You can order dishes you like in restaurants (but not the fruit salad, or a margarita pizza, because my sister will start a 10-minute monologue on how ‘sad and boring’ you have become), and there is no longer an imperative to finish every single thing on your plate at dinner parties. (Unless my little sister is cooking, in which case, it is wise to eat everything as fast as you can, and ask for seconds, to avoid her insisting that ‘it would be improved with more chilli.’)
I rarely tell people that I don’t like mushrooms. This is both because I am a very private person, and also because it hardly ever comes up. Also, mushrooms are easy enough to pick out of dishes discreetly, although I do think that their bitter and unwanted taste tends to permeate things unpleasantly.
My family know, of course. It’s one of the three things they know about me, along with the fact that I’m good at reading and laugh at my own jokes.
(It’s best not to press my Mother too hard on other, pertinent facts about myself, because she tends to get us all mixed up. Just for the record, it was my little sister who dropped our even littler brother on the marble hallway, but me who pushed him off a slide).
I was having lunch with my family on Monday, up at my grandparents. My grandmother brought out a lasagna suitable for 18 people (we were 8), and then another, smaller lasagna, suitable for 4. (We were still 8). ‘This is for you,’ she announced, pushing the family-sized lasagna pot in front of me.
‘I made it especially.’ I was rather pleased, really. I looked around the table at my cousins smugly. Even my little sister’s jokes about portion control couldn’t ruin the moment for me. My grandmother had just told the whole table that she loved me most.
‘It’s got no mushrooms,’ she said, encouraging me to transfer the entire pot to my plate. ‘Thanks,’ I said, taking a portion more amenable to not returning to London by air-freight. ‘I hate mushrooms,’ I pointed out, hoping to draw further attention to my special treatment. And then I took my first bite, and realized that my grandmother had left a sheet of plastic in. ‘And it seems like Granny hates you,’ my little sister pointed out cheerfully, as I began to choke. ‘Anyone want some lasagna with mushrooms?’