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We are now entering the season of soft fruit and summer picnics, so I have asked Theodosia Plunket, author of such books as Soft Fruit and Summer Picnics, to deal with your queries on this squashy time of year.
     I have tried many of your excellent ideas for cooking and eating soft fruit, but I am always a bit regretful not to be able to use the very pretty leaves which grown on raspberry and currant bushes. What can they be used for?
     Well, if you dry, cure and roll them, you can easily smoke them.
     Does smoking raspberry leaves have a hallucinatory effect?
     Yes, it does, as a matter of fact. You get a very powerful taste in your mouth, then you have the very strong illusion that you are in the middle of a bonfire, then suddenly you get this overpowering impression that you are going to be sick, and then you are sick.
     Inevitably I find that no matter how carefully I use nets or small retaining walls, my strawberry are always attacked by slugs. I don't want to use slug pellets, which may poison birds, or any kind of insecticides, for fear of poisoning the earth, but it would be nice to have some strawberries from my own garden before the slugs get them, What do you suggest?
     Well, you have to remember that a slug doesn't know that they are your strawberries. All he knows is that he has found a succulent fruit salad laid out for his delectation, and it never occurs to him not to eat it, any more than it occurs to a bee to respect the pollen in your flowers. So what I recommend doing is planting two strawberry beds, one entirely given over to the slugs to eat, and the other for your delight. That way you can co-exist with nature in harmony and amity.
     That's all very well, but what if the slugs attack both beds?
     In that case, zap the little bastards! Hit them with those slug pellets! Tread on them! Make them eat lead! Stake them out in the sunshine and have them die a lingering death! Take them one by one and, using a cigarette lighter...
     Can you recommend a good way to get blackcurrant stains out?
     What is it?
     You simmer the garment very gently for forty to fifty minutes in a solution of home-made organic fruit-stain remover, as described in my new book Soft Fruit Stains, and How To Remove Them The Traditional Country Way.
     I did actually buy your new book Soft Fruit Stains and How To Remove Them the Traditional Country Way, and your method seems to work quite well on garments - especially if they are already naturally a raspberry or blackcurrant colour! Unfortunately I have now got fruit stains all over the pages of your new book, Soft Fruit Stains, and How To Remove Them The Traditional Country Way and I wonder if you have any advice on how to get  them off.
     You are wasting your time. Those stains are part of the illustrations. The publisher very cleverly and artistically tinted some of the pages the same colours as fruit stains. I begged them not to. I told them it was a wallyish thing to do. I predicted that people would think they were real fruit stains. And now they have. It makes you sick! Honestly, publishers...!
     Yes, well, I wonder if you could answer a query of mine about picnics. I always find when I go on a picnic that I forget something, and it's always different! Sometimes it's the corkscrew, and then when I remember the corkscrew I find I have forgotten the salt, and so on! Any ideas?
     Yes. I would suggest you look out a copy of my definitive work, The Psychology of Picnics, in which I discuss this very problem.
     And what is your solution?
     I suggest you buy the book.
     I have tried, but it has been remaindered by your publishers, and is no longer available.
     You're joking!
     Afraid not.
     The bastards! Honestly, publishers! Sometimes you just want to tread on them and put down poisonous publisher pellets and watch them die an agonising death, don't you?
     I don't know. So what's this ingenious idea for not forgetting things on picnics?
     Ah, yes. Quite simply, the idea is to forget something on purpose. If you fix on something which you won't need, like a pair of gloves, or a spare kettle, or something, and then contrive to leave it behind, you'll find that you have taken everything you need.
     Does that really work? It sounds a crackpot idea to me...
     Look, dear, I just write zappy summer books for a quick seasonal killing. I am also hired for columns like this to dole out trendy-sounding advice, which I have taken from my own zappy, summer books. You don't expect me to test it as well, do you? Grow up, for heaven's sake!
Theodosia Plunkets's latest book, now out, is called: Honestly, I Ask You, But Aren't Readers The Pits?   


The Independent Tuesday June 28 1994

© Caroline Kington