Being a fan of John Irving since my first scandalous reading of “The World According to Garp” at age ten, I have always been acquainted with the Eastern European custom of salting radishes before eating. Far too young to read such a wild, sexy book, too young to lift it even, nevertheless I was hooked. Irving’s silver fox portrait from the back jacket of the book was soon tacked next to the Teen Beat tear-out of Michael J. Fox over my bed.
Irving has a great love of a few odd things, they show up again and again in his books – bears, especially old performing bears ready for retirement, Vienna, prostitutes, especially older but still incredibly beautiful and intelligent prostitutes, and radishes. Radishes eaten with salt, maybe also some butter and rye bread in the company of a retired circus bear on a rain drizzled park bench in Vienna.
Here’s how to eat them properly. You take a bunch of fresh red radishes and trim the stems, rinse them well and place them in a paper bag. With the paper bag of radishes, take a salt cellar and a few pieces of buttered rye bread wrapped in wax paper. This should fit into the pocket of a large overcoat or the wicker front basket of a rusty bike. Head out to a park, pray for drizzly rain with a soupcon of mist while you choose your bench. You want to avoid excessive sunlight, a bit of mossy shade will do in lieu of that perfect rain. There will be no bear, if there is you will probably soon awaken from a dream. Safe in your own bed with no radish picnic on your person.
Once properly situated you can begin, reach into the bag and take a radish. Bite the top to reveal the crispy white interior. Give the salt shaker a few taps to sprinkle over top and take another bite. Then some dense rye with sweet butter, then some peppery radish with a burst of briny brightness from the salt.
This is heaven.