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The Great Spinach Experiment – again

Gulping down that first mound of spinach from Dad's garden was a chore.

Hearty greens: A man holds spinach grown on 180 acres of his farm in King George County, Va.

P. Kevin Morley/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP/File

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The year that Dad was forced to swallow his stories – and his spinach – I was almost 4. We lived in Billinghay, a sleepy village on the flat Lincolnshire Fens in eastern England.

On a still summer's day, you could see the steeple of St. Botolph's Church above a fur of yellow fields, 14 miles to the left of our back garden.

Dad spent lots of time in that garden tending his vegetables.

There were thick frills of broccoli; shallow, green rows of carrot feathers; and brown nuggets of beets that Mum turned into jars of glinting red rubies.

That year, Dad decided to grow something new.

"It's spinach," he said, showing me a freshly turned furrow. "What Popeye ate. It'll make you big and strong."

Popeye, my father explained, was a sailor. He had only one eye and a girlfriend called Olive Oyl. Popeye was very, very strong, on account of all the spinach he consumed.

I like to think that little as I was, I got a feeling of foreboding. After all, my Dad was very, very strong, wasn't he? Yet I'd never seen him spooning in the smallest shaving of spinach.

Early in their parenting days, Mum and Dad had agreed on an "eat everything on your plate before you leave the table" rule. It taught kids not to be fussy and meant there were no embarrassing scenes when dining out. The rule applied to everyone in the family.

The spinach, when it finally arrived, was dark green and limp, little lakes of leaves on my mother's white dinner plates with the brown rims.

It tasted bitter.

Mum says she felt a pang of guilt as she watched me silently wading through my slimy spinach pond.

My sister Sarah, who at 2 was the only one exempt from the "eat everything" rule, spat hers out as fast as Mum shoveled it in.

As for Mum, she was waging her very own spinach battle. How had she prepared the stuff, you ask? Boiled, with a bit of salt – just as Dad told her. He was only guessing that was how you did it, of course. Spinach was new to both my parents.


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