"Why, I could dish you up a fresh breakfast every day for a month. Your conservative tendencies must be very strong, Mrs. Gradinger, if they lead you to this conclusion."
"Conservative! On the contrary, I--that is, my husband--always votes for Progressive candidates at every election," said Mrs. Gradinger, dropping into her platform intonation, at the sound of which consternation arose in every breast. "I have, moreover, a theory that we might reform our diet radically, as well as all other institutions; but before I expound this, I should like to say a few words on the waste of wholesome food which goes on. For instance, I went for a walk in the woods yesterday afternoon, where I came upon a vast quantity of fungi which our ignorant middle classes would pronounce to be poisonous, but which I--in common with every child of the intelligent working-man educated in a board school where botany is properly taught--knew to be good for food."
"Excuse me one moment," said Sir John, "but do they really use board-school children as tests to see whether toadstools are poisonous or not?"
"I do not think anything I said justified such an inference," said Mrs. Gradinger in the same solemn drawl; "but I may remark that the children are taught from illustrated manuals accurately drawn and coloured. Well, to come back to the fungi, I took the trouble to measure the plot on which they were growing, and found it just ten yards square. The average weight of edible fungus per square yard was just an ounce, or a hundred and twelve pounds per acre. Now, there must be at least twenty millions of acres in the United Kingdom capable of producing these fungi without causing the smallest damage to any other crop, wherefore it seems that, owing to our lack of instruction, we are wasting some million tons of good food per annum; and I may remark that this calculation pre- supposes, that each fungus springs only once in the season; but I have reason to believe that certain varieties would give five or six gatherings between May and October, so the weight produced would be enormously greater than the quantity I have named."
Here Mrs. Gradinger paused to finish her coffee, which was getting cold, and before she could resume, Sir John had taken up the parole. "I think the smaller weight will suffice for the present, until the taste for strange fungi has developed, or the pressure of population increased. And before stimulating a vastly increased supply, it will be necessary to extirpate the belief that all fungi, except the familiar mushroom, are poisonous, and perhaps to appoint an army of inspectors to see that only the right sort are brought to market."
"Yes, and that will give pleasant and congenial employment to those youths of the working-classes who are ambitious of a higher career than that of their fathers," said Lady Considine, "and the ratepayers will rejoice, no doubt, that they are participating in the general elevation of the masses."
"Perhaps Mrs. Gradinger will gather a few of her less deadly fungi, and cook them and eat them herself, pour encourager les autres," said Miss Macdonnell. "Then, if she doesn't die in agonies, we may all forswear beef and live on toadstools."
"I certainly will," said Mrs. Gradinger; "and before we rise from table I should like--"
"I fear we must hear your remarks at dinner, Mrs. Gradinger," said the Marchesa. "Time is getting on, and some of the dishes to-day are rather elaborate, so now to the kitchen."
Menu -- Lunch.
Risotto alla Genovese. Savoury rice. Pollo alla Villereccia. Chicken alla Villereccia. Lingue di Castrato alla cucinira. Sheeps' tongues alla cucinira.
Menu -- Dinner
Zuppa alla Veneziana. Venetian soup. Sogliole alla giardiniera. Sole with Vegetables. Timballo alla Romana. Roman pie. Petto di Castrato alla salsa di burro. Breast of mutton with butter sauce. Verdure miste. Mixed vegetables. Crema rappresa. Coffee cream. Ostriche alla Veneziana. Oyster savoury.