Tuesday 16 January 2018

Chutney part two

As the shooting season progressed and, every time, the beaters wagon drove past Maurice's smallholding mention was made of his incredible chutney. Pete was well and truly hooked and continued to express his amazement that such a production could have taken place, right under his nose, involving a friend of his, and he remaining completely unaware of its existence. As we approached Christmas of that particular year and thoughts turned to the traditional beaters pre–Christmas food, my brother told Pete that he would bring along a jar of the famous chutney to share with us all. Famous, that is, because by now we had elevated the phantom chutney to new heights. Maurice had won the gold medal for chutney at the Bath and West Show, undoubtedly a great achievement. This we told Pete had resulted in a contract to supply chutney to Waitrose stores throughout the country. Again Pete expressed his amazement at these achievements and told us all that he had not seen Maurice for many months… just as well really, in the circumstances. However, Pete continued to accept, without question, that Maurice was a leading maker of fine chutney and doing very nicely at it. The beaters pre-Christmas feast is really just an extension of the normal mid-morning drinks break that takes place on every shoot day. The difference being, on the pre-Christmas day beaters tend to bring additional festive bites to be shared and some of the guns also donate various goodies for our delectation. The keeper's wife, who normally provides the refreshments for the beaters, also puts on a special spread for the occasion. It was, therefore, nothing out of the ordinary that Don had offered to bring a jar of chutney for the event. He did an incredible job, having produced an extremely realistic label for the chutney jar. Apart from mention of Dorset's finest chutney there was a list of ingredients and mention of the awards which had been bestowed upon the completely fake chutney within the jar. 

What was not mentioned on the label was the fact that Don had liberally laced the homemade chutney, he had produced, with a very strong chilli powder. It was hot, very hot! Knowing what was in it I abstained. Some of the more enthusiastic chutney eating beaters generously spread their cheese and biscuits with the lethal mix. Not, however, before Pete had been enticed to sample a small portion of the stuff. With his usual protestations of not being one for spicy or fancy food out of the way, and, having been persuaded that it was, after all, Christmas Pete got stuck in and his reaction was as swift as it was spectacular. The fiery mix hit his pallet nearly taking his head off, he choked, he coughed and his face changed from its normal colour to an alarming shade of red. He dived for the hedge to expel the chutney from his mouth. Whilst several others within the group had experienced the undoubted heat they had managed, in varying degrees, to put on a brave face and spoke warmly of the excellence, of this, one of Maurice's finest chutneys. It took Pete most of the day to regain normality, during which time, he made it very clear his first taste of chutney was quite definitely his last. He could not begin to understand why anyone would want to eat such stuff and how it had achieved such acclaim was quite beyond his comprehension. The pre–Christmas episode long forgotten, the season continued and the chutney joke carried on, Pete still blissfully unaware that the whole thing was a complete farce. 

The season ended and that was that. In the autumn of the same year the new season began, as they always do, and the chutney joke was soon up and running again. Pete was again told of further successes which Maurice and his chutney had achieved throughout the summer. As previously, he accepted all this nonsense without question. Each time we passed Maurice's place the chutney was always mentioned and so we continued for several weeks. Then, the inevitable happened, one morning Pete arrived for beating as usual and received the usual greetings and was asked how he was. "Well", he said, "I am ok but I had a very embarrassing experience in the week. "What happened", we asked. "I bumped into Maurice and congratulated him on his chutney success but he said he didn't know what I was talking about." replied Pete. "I said, you know all your awards and sales at Waitrose but he said are you mad, I don't know what you are on about". "So", went on Pete, "I said Derek told me all about you and your chutney and then Maurice got quite funny and said he didn't know anyone called Derek and nor did he bloody well know anything about chutney". Pete it would appear persisted saying that he had seen and tasted a jar of the chutney. Where upon Maurice told him he was talking complete rubbish, actually he used another word, but you get the point. "I was so embarrassed" said Pete.  "What's going on he asked?" Quick as a flash my brother said, "I think old Maurice is not paying his VAT or taxes and he doesn't want you to know about his chutney business".  Pete pondered this for a few moments and then said "Oh well that would explain why he was so queer with me". That was that, the explanation was accepted without further doubt and the whole matter not mentioned again. Clearly, Pete knew Maurice better than we did and was perfectly happy to assume, the somewhat sinister explanation, completely accounted for Maurice's strange behaviour. Due to age and ill health Pete no longer comes beating and, as far as I know, still believes the chutney tale. As for the other members of the beating team, well, they all have a bit of a giggle each time we pass Maurice's place.