Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Meditation on Leftovers

Donald Friede, MFK Fisher’s third husband, left an unpublished memento of his life with Mary Frances, in which he describes the menus she cooked at home, for family and friends. He writes with rich gastronomical enjoyment of the fresh and simple ingredients, expertly assembled into delicious meals. But it is the leftovers which spur the imagination “which come to the table twice as delicious, if that were possible, as they were in their original form. They are more tasted into being than cooked. To my mind they are the perfect example of the triumph of an imaginative palate over the precise pages of a cookbook.”

And how often have I looked into the fridge and mused on the possibilities of half an aubergine, some cold potatoes, a lonely sausage and a tub of crème fraiche?

But just as often, and the subject of this consideration, I go out of my way to purchase a rarely needed ingredient for one particular recipe or dish and then wonder what to do with the rest of the bottle, or jar, or packet. That’s how the yellow split peas end up at the back of the cupboard, with half a bottle of pomegranate syrup, some wasabi and a packet of ground rice.

When I made my Christmas Puddings most of the ingredients were already around – a recipe for leftovers if ever there was one - but preserved stem ginger in syrup was also on the list, and I had to purchase that specially. I only needed four pieces, so the rest of the jar immediately became…leftovers.

Now a jar of preserved anything in syrup is a liability. It sits in the cupboard, stickily sidling up to everything else and pressing itself against the pristine tin of smoked paprika and the good basmati rice. Wherever you don’t want it is where it will smooch itself, planting ginger kisses as it goes. Unfortunately, apart from guzzling the stuff straight from the jar, (a definite seasonal thought), or having a go at coating chunks in chocolate (a really good idea now I come to think of it) there isn’t much call for preserved ginger in syrup in my repertoire.

So, imagine my delight when, leafing through Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries in front of the roaring fire I came across his recipe for Double Ginger Cake. On a miserable December day, with the rain coming down in stair rods and a gale blowing around the house, this is the most soul enhancing thing to make, perfuming the house with the scent of warm spice and buttery syrup, and using up a few more ginger lumps from the jar. It doesn’t need an electric mixer either, and there is something rather nice about doing the mixing and stirring by hand. As it will be best after it has matured for a while it will make an ideal pre-Christmas present for the flat full of hungry youth I will be visiting next week.

The only problem is this; June’s Law of Leftovers decrees that in any recipe using up leftovers there will always be one ingredient that you don’t have and have to acquire specially, which thereby becomes…a leftover! Now I have more dark muscovado sugar than I actually need, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.

Nigel Slater’s Double Ginger Cake


Self-raising flour 250g

Ground ginger 2 level tsp

Ground cinnamon ½ tsp

Bicarbonate of soda 1 level tsp

A pinch of salt

Golden syrup 200g

Syrup from the ginger jar 2 tbsp

Butter 125g

Stem ginger in syrup 3 lumps

Sultanas 2 heaped tbsp

Dark muscovado sugar 125g

Large eggs 2

Milk 240ml


Line the bottom of a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper.

Set oven to 180ºC

Sift flour with ginger, cinnamon, bicarbonate and salt.

Put golden and ginger syrups and butter into a small pan and warm over a gentle heat. Dice ginger finely, add to pan with sultanas and sugar.

Let mixture bubble for a minute, stirring occasionally to stop fruit sticking.

Break eggs into a bowl, beat gently to break them up and add the milk.

Remove syrup mixture from heat and pour into flour, stirring firmly with a large metal spoon. Mix in the milk and eggs. The mixture should be batter- like, with no trace of flour.

Pour into lined cake tin and bake for thirty-five to forty minutes. Cake is done when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

Wrap in greaseproof and tinfoil and try to leave for a few days before you eat it.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Stir- up Sunday

This Sunday is Stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent in the Christian calendar. It is traditionally the day on which Christmas puddings are made, everyone giving the pudding a stir and making a wish.

The Christmas puds I remember from my childhood looked positively lacquered and sliced into sinister wedges of tarmac. The fruit was slickly dark; raisins, sultanas and dreadful little currants. There was a hot slap of flavourless alcohol mellowed with a good dollop of custard and the exhilarating danger of breaking a tooth on a sixpence. Thank god we only had it once a year.

Being a very modern family, at some point, in the Sixties I think, we decided that Christmas pud was for squares and it was superseded by something altogether lighter. Raspberry Pavlova was a favourite for a number of years.

Sometime in the seventies a vegetarian friend made a vegetarian pud, and it was delicious and memorable. And after that there were famous puddings from Fortnum & Mason’s, during our Designer Label years, and from M&S, during our Classic Supermarket years.

This year I realised, with some shame, that I had never actually made my own Christmas Pudding. Reading the recipes from the previous four decades I notice how currants have now gone completely out of favour (hurrah) and in their stead have come figs and dates and cranberries. The amount of stodge – flour, breadcrumbs, suet – has steadily reduced and vegetarian suet has made an appearance. Lighter, fruitier flavours have replaced the liquorice water taste of the past. Reading the new recipes I found myself salivating at the thought of a slice, maybe just a small slice, of homemade Christmas pud. Maybe some real brandy butter to go with it, maybe some clotted cream, just a little…

Most of what goes into a Christmas pudding is actually sitting around at the back of the cupboard – I had to purchase very little in the end. I think the experimentation is endless, various fruits, some suet, some flour, some alcohol.

These quantities are enough for one big pudding in a 3 pint basin, or two medium puddings in 1½ pint basins.

175g (6oz) sultanas
175g (6oz) raisins
100g (3½oz) ready-to-eat prunes, chopped
100g (3½oz) dates, chopped
75g (3oz) candied peel, chopped
4 pieces preserved ginger in syrup, chopped
150ml (5fl oz) amontillado sherry
125g (4½ oz) self-raising flour
125g (4½ oz) fresh white breadcrumbs
150g (5oz) shredded suet
150g (5oz) light brown muscovado sugar
1 x 100g pack blanched almonds, chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp each ground cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg
Finely grated zest and juice of one orange
3 large eggs, well beaten
Little extra sherry or milk
Little soft butter, for greasing.
Pudding basins, baking parchment, kitchen foil, string

Put sultanas, raisins, prunes, dates, peel and ginger into a large bowl, add sherry, mix all together gently with your hands and leave overnight.

Next day, add remaining ingredients down to and including orange zest but not juice.
Mix, add juice and eggs and stir well, adding more sherry or milk to make an easy dropping consistency.
Stir pudding and make a wish.
Butter the basins and line base of each with a circle of parchment.
Spoon in mixture almost to top.

Cover with another big circle of parchment, then with kitchen foil pleated in the middle to allow for expansion.

Tie string securely round top of basin and make a handle for ease of lifting.

Steam in saucepan of just boiling water covered with foil for 4 hrs (5 hrs if one big pudding). Water should come half way up sides of basins. Add more boiling water from kettle if necessary. Do not let puddings boil dry.

Cool. Redo coverings with clean parchment and foil. Store in cool dark place.

To reheat, steam as before for another 3 – 3 ½ hours.

To serve, turn out on to warmed, heatproof plate. Flame with 2-3 tbsp warmed brandy per pudding.

This recipe is adapted from one in Sainsbury's Magazine November 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006


My mother tells a story of a friend of hers who offered to a young guest an oatcake topped with a portion of cheese. The cheese was consumed and the oatcake returned with the words

“That was very nice. And here’s yer wee bit of board back.”

I seem to eat a lot of oatcakes. They come wrapped up in little portable packets and they’re good for you. They should be incredibly easy to make too. But my previous attempts have been only partly successful. I think this is because the recipes I chose included flour in the ingredients. The more I thought about it the more I was inclined to discard the flour completely – along with the other alien ingredients I found in some recipes (what on earth is brown sugar doing in an oatcake recipe?).

There’s a good Health Food shop near me, small and insignificant, but it keeps a great range. From them I can buy three grades of oatmeal, fine, medium and coarse. I decided to try a combination of the three. I also decided to include some butter for flavour, along with lard, for shortness.

I’m really pleased with the result, and this is, more or less, what I’m going to be making from now on. They are crisp, with a good, slightly savoury, flavour.


250g oatmeal – a combination of coarse (1/3), medium (1/2), and a little fine (to fill in the gaps!)

Large pinch salt

¼ tsp baking powder

½ tbsp butter, melted with

½ tbsp lard

200ml recently boiled (ie hot) water in a jug

More fine oatmeal for dusting work surface


Preheat oven to 200ºC

Put dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to incorporate

Make a well and add butter/lard

Add enough of the hot water to make a stiff dough

Dust work surface with fine oatmeal

Roll out as thin as possible

Cut into rounds, or triangles

Bake on an ungreased baking sheet for about 15 minutes, until the edges are just turning brown. Do not let them cook until they are browning in the middle – they will taste overdone.

Cool on a wire rack.

If you can’t get the three different grades of oatmeal, use what you can get, or try some porridge oats (not instant). Just don’t use flour!

Sunday, November 19, 2006



Family cooking in four countries




To launch his first cookbook - Jake Tilson, artist,
designer and author, will spend a day

roving around his favorite culinary spots in

Manhattan. Join him for coffee, pancakes

or a beer somewhere on his route.

Jake plans to be sitting in his favorite booth

in Tribeca eating breakfast number one


33 Leonard Street, New York NY 10013
at West Broadway


A little while later he'll be tempted by kielbasa
in the East Village



144 2nd Avenue, New York NY 10003
at 9th Street


Then a bowl of soup on the East Side


1411 Third Avenue, New York NY 10028
between 80th and 81st Street


In the afternoon Jake will be eating cannoli in
the Garment District



488 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10018
between 37th & 38th Street


By early evening he'll head towards a bar

nicknamed The Shark Bar for a Schaefer's from the tap
or a Bloody Mary


48 Spring Street, New York NY 10012
at the corner of Mulberry Street


Come and meet Jake at any
of these locations, see his cookbook and

have a chat.

Best wishes


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wonderful loaf No 2

Just a postscript really, to all the loafposts. I tried it again today, using 2 cups of strong plain flour and 1 cup of coarse wholemeal.

Due to unforeseen circumstances the first rising was nearly 24 hrs, but the dough did not seem to come to any harm. The second rising was 2 hrs, but the dough was quite cold to start with and I think I should have given it longer.

But no harm done, and a very good loaf emerged from the casserole dish. The crust is not so thin as with the white flour, but crunchy and cracking even so.

Definitely the way forward.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wonderful loaf!

On November 8 2006 the New York Times published a piece by Mark Bittman entitled The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work. Within 24 hours the news had flashed around the blogosphere – a new loaf had been born.

Bittman’s piece – which I would have known nothing about as I don’t get the New York Times, had it not been for the wonderful Lindy at Toast – describes a breadmaking innovation that is nothing short of revolutionary for home bread bakers. Invented by Jim Lahey, of the Sullivan St Bakery in Manhattan, it consists of a very loose dough, containing a tiny amount of yeast, which is fermented over a period of twelve to eighteen hours, and then given another rising of two hours. Importantly, it is not kneaded at all in the first place, the ingredients are just incorporated together into a claggy stickiness. The yeast does all the work overnight. Then the dough is slapped about a couple of times and put to rise again.

Then comes the truly clever part.

Half an hour before you intend to bake, you put the oven on to heat to 220ºC. Into the oven goes a casserole with a lid, cast iron, Pyrex, ceramic or something heavy. When the bread is ready to bake you tip the dough (well, you practically pour it actually) into the dish, cover with the lid, and cook for half an hour. The dish acts as a little oven inside a bigger oven; the heat injects a whoosh into the dough; the lid stops it from drying out too soon. After half an hour you take the lid off and finish off the bread for another fifteen or twenty minutes.

It works! By god it works. With a minimum of effort you end up with a loaf with a creamy, holey crumb and a crackling crust.

I felt that my original dough was not quite claggy enough, so I did add a little more water. I think this is because I was a little cavalier with my cup measuring – maybe you should measure cups of flour level and mine were a bit heaped. And flour can be a bit capricious in its water absorbing capacity.

I worried a lot about whether I should smear a bit of oil around the hot dish, but in the end I didn’t, because it didn’t say anywhere I should. The loaf did not stick.

When it flipped out of the dish it was as light as a feather. It is wonderful to eat, will make great toast, and I simply cannot believe how easy it was. As someone has already said, listen up Le Creuset!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gadget du jour

This little magic wand came from IKEA, cost less than £3, and is quite amazing. It works on two AA batteries in the handle, has a simple on/off switch, and packs quite a mighty whiz. Worth making a decent cup of hot chocolate for.

Luxury hot chocolate

3/4 cup milk (skimmed is fine)

3 big squares dark chocolate

1 tbsp cocoa

2 tsp sugar (or to taste)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt all together in a small saucepan, or in the microwave in a pyrex jug

If you use a saucepan, transfer contents to a jug, or a mug

Whiz with gadget

Enjoy. Mmmmmmm

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On days like these…

Fog. Fog up the lanes and through the trees. Fog in the whiffling of the cows, fog muffling the sound of the bin men, fog dripping from the bushes and the gutters. Fog in the dips in the road, in the dazzle of car headlights, floating over the thin sun and drifting through the fields. Fog. In the diamonds of the grass and the sheen of the pavement, in the shudder of old shoulders and the shiver of bare bellies.

On days like these what we need is something rib-sticking to eat. Something easy and slow and succulent. Something to put in the oven and forget.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly

Nothing could be easier, or tastier.

You need about 1 kg of pork belly, skin scored

Preheat the oven to 160ºC

Dash 1 tbsp of oil into a roasting dish

Slice a couple of onions in half and put them, cut side down, in the dish, to act as a trivet for the meat.

Rub the pork belly skin with a little oil and sprinkle with salt.

Place pork on top of onions

Put some boiling water in the roasting dish to stop everything drying out

Roast slowly for three hours or more, checking from time to time to make sure the dish does not dry out.

Serve with baked potatoes and roast parsnips, which can also be done in the oven, and apple sauce.

The onions caramelise, the gravy makes itself (just skim off the fat at the last minute), the fat renders off and makes wonderful crackling, and you hardly need to stir from your place in front of the fire reading Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Harlequins (and Butternuts and Gems) for Fireworks Night

These are all squash, or squashes, (is the plural of squash squash or squashes?). My friend had a bunch of them sitting on her wall, catching the afternoon rays of the autumn sun. All of them are great to eat and I had a Harlequin squash. A good excuse to use my favourite new thing, my beanpot cazuela, brought back from Catalonia with care for its handmade fragility. And a good excuse to use the wild boar sausages from the market in Wells. It seems that wild boar are now roaming all over Somerset, having a fine old time, and eventually becoming excellent sausages. Mine came from Barrow Boar near Yeovil.

Steep 3 handfuls dried mixed beans overnight.

Preheat oven to 200ºC

½ Harlequin squash

Olive oil, sea salt

Line baking dish with tinfoil and dash in 1 tbsp oil

Cut squash into 3 pieces and remove seeds

Roll in oil and sprinkle with salt

Bake for about ½ hr until cooked through

Remove skin and dice flesh

Turn oven down to 180ºC

Into the beanpot go

Drained, steeped beans

1 tin chopped tomatoes, reduced in a frying pan with

2 tsp dried oregano, ground black pepper (no salt at this point)

Boiling water or stock to cover

Put pot in the oven for about 1 hr

4 wild boar sausages

1 tsp olive oil

Brown sausages in frying pan and add to bean pot

Add diced squash

Cook for a further hour, or until beans are tender.

Test for seasoning and add salt if necessary.

Good with a baked potato, a Catherine Wheel or a Roman Candle

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All Hallows Eve

To be perfectly honest I hadn't really thought about writing a post for Halloween, what with the kid being in Barcelona. Then I saw Asha's site - and I thought maybe I should. Then I thought, Asha's site is so damn fabulous that I will just tell everyone to go look at it, and wish they were a kid themselves again. Spook yourselves silly!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The best cooking apple in the WORLD!

This has been a great year for apples. Trees everywhere are laden with them and they litter the sides of the road in great golden heaps. I can never understand why the British just leave them there to rot – anywhere else in Europe this bounty would be snatched up and turned into something delicious.

Common Ground is a charity working to encourage people to value and enjoy their own familiar surroundings. As part of the Local Distinctiveness Campaign, Common Ground publishes books and leaflets about apples and co-ordinates National Apple Day in October.

It was great to see the enthusiasm with which people turned up at local orchards, bringing old varieties for identification, and admiring the number of apple varieties still being grown commercially in Somerset.

The tree in my garden has been producing huge fruits, with a rosy blush and red striations, which turned out to be a Bramley clone. Novice that I am, I thought Bramleys were always green and I got what can only be described as an old-fashioned look from the apple expert at the orchard.

The food lover’s romance with Bramley apples seems to be an on-off affair. There are times when nothing but an eating apple will do because it retains its shape when cooked, and there are times, and now seems to be one of them, when the frothy, foaming, explosive qualities of the Bramley are suddenly the flavour of the month.

The UK is the only country that grows apples especially for cooking. More than 140,000 tonnes (£78M) of Bramley apples are sold annually, with the fresh market (65%) still dominating supplies to the consumer.They contain high levels of malic acid and so remain tart and "appley" in flavour when cooked, unlike eating apples which tend to lose their natural flavour during cooking. This type of apple also contains more vitamin C than other varieties.

The history of Malus domestica - ‘Bramley's Seedling’ – is documented in a pub called The Bramley Apple in Southwell, Nottinghamshire.

In the garden of a nearby cottage in the year 1805, the lady of the house sat eating an apple. She enjoyed it so much that she set two or three pips in a plant pot. One seedling flourished and was planted in the garden. So began the life of an apple tree of great historical interest.

By the time Matthew Bramley purchased the cottage, in 1846, the tree was bearing a good crop of apples. One day, Henry Merryweather met a gardener carrying a basket of these apples. Asked where he had got them the gardener replied, “It is the Bramley’s apple; and a very fine one too.” Henry went to see Matthew who said that he had named the apple Bramley’s Seedling and agreed that Henry might take what grafts he liked.

The apple first appeared to have been exhibited in 1876 at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Fruit Committee, where it was highly commended. While it may have been possible to count the apples that grew on that first tree, nobody knows the number of trees that have originated from the apple a lady of Southwell ate in the year of Trafalgar.”

So the Bramley is two hundred years old, and still the mainstay of apple pies throughout the country. In Somerset we use them to make a cake, Somerset Apple Cake. Of all the various recipes I think this one is the best:


For the cake:
225g/8oz Bramley apples, peeled, cored and diced
½ tsp ground cinnamon
25g/1oz demerara sugar
350g/12oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g/5oz butter or margarine
150-170g/5-6oz caster sugar
2 eggs
120ml/8 tbsp milk

For the topping:
25g/1oz demerara sugar
pinch ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

2. Line 20cm/8in cake tin with baking parchment or greased greaseproof paper.

3. Blend cinnamon and demerara sugar and coat diced apple with mixture.

4. Sift flour and baking powder into mixing bowl.

5. Rub in butter or margarine, add caster sugar, beaten eggs, milk and apples.

6. Blend thoroughly then beat with a wooden spoon.

7. Spoon into a cake tin, spread flat on top and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

8. Bake for approximately 1¼hours/75 minutes, or until firm to touch.

9. If the cake is becoming too brown on top, reduce heat to 160C/325F/Gas 3 after 1 hour.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

World Bread Day

I fear I have not been paying attention. I completely failed to notice that yesterday was World Bread Day. So I thought I would try and do some catching up. Hmmm. Easier said than done. The fresh yeast in the fridge was a little the worse for wear, but hey, what have we here? My goodness, it’s a Bread-in-a-Box kit.

Courtesy of IKEA, where the weird food is half the fun, this is a box containing the ingredients for what looks like my kind of wholegrain rye loaf. They include wheat flakes, rye flakes, various seeds, malt and dried yeast. And of course a couple of other things that may or may not be doubtful but I don’t have them in my larder. However I put my faith in IKEA.

Opening a Tetra Pak is always a bit of a challenge, but I did that successfully and poured in the requisite 20 ozs of water. That seemed rather a lot to me. Could they have meant to say fluid ozs? Do you know, I rather think they did. So now I have rye soup. I pour it into a big bowl and add about six or eight handfuls of wholemeal flour until it is the consistency of thick mud. The original instructions say to shake the contents for 45 seconds and empty the dough into the tin. Would that have made what I know as dough? Or would it have made a thick mud pie? Trying to deduct the extra water and compensate with extra flour is difficult when you don’t know how doughy the dough was supposed to be. I end up with not one but two tins full to the brim with mud pie.

Now the instructions say wait 45 mins for it to rise. But I have doubled the quantity of water, flour, dough and therefore halved the quantity of yeast so that may be 90 mins. If the dough rises at all it will dribble over the tops of the tins. I spend the morning running anxiously into the kitchen every ten minutes to see what it happening. After half an hour – absolutely nothing.

I read the instructions again and notice that the baking time, at 200ºC, is 60 mins. 60 mins – for a little tin like this? Maybe that’s to allow all the water time to evaporate. I wish I knew a bit more about chemistry. 45 secs shaking, no kneading. How is that going to make the whatsit molecules bind together and form gluten? If the raising agent was bicarbonate of soda, maybe. But it’s yeast. I’m baffled.

Another scoot into the kitchen to peer at the tins. Can’t see any difference. Not a micron.

Maybe the yeast has turned up its toes. What does the sell-by date say? 290607. So, still got a while to go then.

I start to bargain with myself –

“I’ll leave it for another half an hour and that’s tops. Then it goes in the oven. If it ends up as hot muesli I can have it for breakfast.”

“But suppose it boils, and billows up, and explodes all over the oven which I have just, as it happens, cleaned?”

(Exploding muesli – there’s a thought…)

“Surely the fierce heat will make a crust, and the mixture will be contained within it, so the worst that will happen is it will be a very soggy loaf.”

(Maybe the birds will like it…)

"But I want it to look like the picture on the packet. Ohhhh, bratwurst…"

The half an hour is up. No movement upwards, sideways, any way at all from the muddy mixture. Into the oven with you then.

(I wonder if this tale will have a happy ending?)

Well, not really. Looks like a brick, feels like a brick and tastes like – actually it tastes not bad, pretty stodgy and not enough salt but, if sliced thinly enough it might be good with smoked salmon…

Oh for goodness sake, who am I kidding?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Absolute Winners!

I like cheese. Or at least, I like cheese that tastes of something. One of my memories of France when I was on an early exchange is of the local cheese – Brie de Melun – and the way it was displayed in the shop. It sat on a little rattan or cane mat, fairly oozing. At dinner that night the smell was pungent. With a sheltered upbringing I always thought of rotting cauliflower, and after the steaming cauldron of ox’s heart that we had just been served I wondered about the wisdom of this runaway cheese. After a childhood of Dairylea triangles it was a bit of a challenge. But smeared on a crust of good French bread and in the mouth – what an explosion. Al dente rind, a slight whiff of ammonia in the nostrils, and the creamy curd, liquid in the centre…I can still taste it in my memory.

French cheese came to English supermarkets on the backs of English holidaymakers. Little cane boxes of Camembert which got deep fried and served with cranberry sauce for a while, strangely. And dreadful white chalky triangles that were specially made to taste of absolutely nothing. Then, as if this was not insult enough to Gallic culture, we ourselves started to make something we had the nerve to call Brie. I am despondent to say we attach the good name of Somerset to it, and call it Somerset Brie. It’s like eating a blotting paper sandwich filled with Dunlopillo.

So I stayed well away from English people purporting to make French cheese – leave it to the experts I thought.

And THEN I went to the Great British Cheese Festival in Cheltenham the other day. O frabjous day, kalloo, kallay! Simon and Carol Weaver’s organic farm is in the Cotswolds, halfway between Lower Slaughter and Lower Swell (really) and they make really wonderful, wonderful Brie. Brie lovers should moan with pleasure. I tried the plain Brie there and walked, well, skipped, off with a whole Blue Brie. There’s another one too with a mix of organic herbs. I didn’t know we could do this, and my heart is bursting with pride! The cheeses are eye-catchingly packaged, in classy white with a black and gold band.

And then, as luck would have it, there were quinces in the market. Fragrant, and with a
woolly fluff that wipes off, they seem to me to speak of the Middle Ages. Their golden warmth is like the last rays of summer, before we settle down to the russets and conker colours of autumn. Peel them and chop, with a very sharp knife because they are extremely firm, and put in acidulated water. And as I had wonderful cheese I made membrillo to eat with it.

Quince Paste (Membrillo)
2lb quince, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tsp cinammon

½ tsp salt

1.5lb sugar

Place the chopped quince and cinnamon in a preserving pan or large, wide stainless steel or lined aluminium saucepan.

Add the salt and pour in enough water to cover the chopped quince.

Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until t
he quince is tender.
In a food processor or blender process the quince mixture until completely smooth.
Return the quince puree to the pan and gradually add the sugar. Cook stirring over a low heat until the mixture thickens into a sticky paste and takes on a caramel colour.
Pour the quince paste into a lightly greased tray and let it cool and set.

I have left out timings because mine seemed to take much much longer than the original recipe. I didn’t quite have the courage to keep stirring until the colour was the rich dark caramel I was looking for, what with knowing it was about to burn on the bottom of the pan and having it spatter continually up my arm! So mine is a delicious rosy terracotta colour, not solid, but excellent all the same.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Barcelona for Beginners

I'm absolutely delighted to report the launch of Barcelona for Beginners, written by my wonderful daughter, currently residing in one of the coolest cities in Europe. Welcome to the blogerati, Sienna!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Tale of 12 Kitchens

Sometimes I look at the books about food and cooking that fill my shelves, and, knowing that they represent quite a small percentage of the vast number of volumes that have passed through my hands I ask myself why I chose to keep these few. Some, it is true, are recipe books, in the sense of being a list of recipes, ingredients, methods, divided into chapters on soups, meats, desserts etc. But in many the recipes are almost subservient to wonderful and passionate writing about food and colour and love. The secret inner adventure of planning a meal; the breath-quickening sashay through the aisles, eyes darting, mouth dry with hopeful anticipation; the moment when, cleaver in hand, the first downstroke of the preparation begins, like the start of a symphony. The whir and buzz and sizzle and blast of the cooking process that take me to a happy place of concentration where I only realise how long I have been standing on my feet when they start to protest. It’s lovely that other people enjoy what I have cooked; it’s wonderful to have that warm feeling of friends around a table with clinking glasses. I just hope they have got half as much out it as me, and the books that conjure these feelings are the ones I keep.

Jake Tilson’s book A Tale of 12 Kitchens. Family Cooking in Four Countries stokes the fires of an intense personal cooking experience like nothing I have read for ages. It is a book I didn’t want to reach the end of. Everything that we imagine in our culinary hearts is in this book. Everything that we remember from our youth, from our travels, from the clippings we hoard and the postcards friends send us, from celebrations, mistakes and triumphs, from the untried and the totally familiar.

Tilson is an artist and graphic designer; his wife is a ceramicist; his parents are artists. His life has been teeth-grindingly jealousy inducing – childhood surrounded by the artistic cream of a generation, a rambling country house with home produced beer and later regular trips to Tuscany where his parents settled. Sojourns in New York as a student and with his family, and the wild north of Scotland where his in-laws farm. Trips to the American desert with his wife and young daughter. The bare facts would be enough to fill a book, but everywhere he has been Tilson has collected food experiences and memories, recipes and packaging, memorabilia and produce.

In Italy he gathers the wild herbs of the maquis to cook with a duck, researches his recipes from a library of Italian cookbooks, makes fig conserves and lugs plane loads of local ingredients back to England. (In fact this latter, the importing of lavender from Italy, oatcakes from Aberdeen, chiles from Mexico, is a preoccupation. The two containers of vintage kitchen utensils from a shop in the Californian desert illustrate the obsession.)

In New York he celebrates the city and its amazing breakfasts in an homage that should have Woody Allen slapping his forehead. In Scotland the bakery culture is elevated to great art and the inclement tendency of the weather becomes a natural ingredient. In LA and Palm Springs we learn more about chiles than we are ever likely to need to know, and the Peckham area of London becomes a multicultural Aladdin’s gastrocave .

This book is a feast for the memory and the imagination and also for the eyes. Generously and impeccably illustrated by the author, even the typefaces and fonts are his own. (Some people give their publishers a manuscript; Tilson gave his publishers a Quark file.) And while the memories are undeniably his own, some of mine and some of yours are in there too somehow.

A Tale of 12 Kitchens. Family Cooking in Four Countries by Jake Tilson

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Visit Bev

Inland from Tarragona you head left for the Priorat and right for the Penedes. The coast is filled with big white hotels and big red Brits, although, to be fair, the Costa Dorada has a much more upmarket feel than some parts of Spain. However, once away from the tourist haunts accommodation becomes a little harder to find. There are apartments and houses to rent that can be found on the internet, but to be honest I found that many of the enquiries I made met with silence, even though I did write in Spanish. I was, therefore, delighted to discover Mike and Bev Powell, who were the first English people in Mora D'Ebre and have acommodation to let. Mora D'Ebre itself is a busy little place with an old part of town near the river. We stayed in Mike and Bev's house there and it was quiet and well set out, with good accommodation for up to four people in two bedrooms, and a sofa bed as well. Mora D'Ebre is in a very good location for the wine regions, for amazing castles and views (see above) and for the coast, as well as the extraordinary delta region of the Ebre river, where the main crop is rice.

If you are planning a trip do contact Bev at

Saturday, September 16, 2006


We drove around vertiginous hairpin bends with sheer drops into deep valleys and found ourselves in a mountain fastness in the north of the Penedes region in Catalonia. Someone had told us that there was a gathering of ‘casteis’ teams. As the dusk fell they arrived, teams of men and women and children from towns and villages all over the region, there to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the local team.

Building a tower several storeys high from human beings is a pastime unique to Catalonia. On Sunday mornings people assemble in the main squares of the towns and construct these intricate columns, clinging on to each other and swaying dangerously. It is a dangerous sport. People fall and hurt themselves.

In the 1920s someone went to Czechoslovakia and came back with a Czech form of gymnastics that seemed to fit in with the tower building, and the Falcons of Catalonia were born.

It starts on a command from the master builder and the team lines up in their white trousers and coloured sashes. Little kids mill around, taking in the audience and the bright lights.

At the base of the structure are the strongest men of the team; on top of this base the layers build up, both men and women, then the young people, and finally, heart stoppingly, the very youngest of all race up the scaffolding of bodies and raise an arm in a triumphal salute. The child at the top of this pyramid is the same one as above – she could not have been more than five or six years old. My jaw dropped.

By this time the mass of bodies may be six or seven layers high, and teetering frighteningly. Sometimes it breaks away, leaving just a tower of people standing on each others shoulders, maybe six of them one on top of the other.

Other towers are built from a mass of bodies and hands and shoulders, with the non-participants leaning in towards the base, steadying the tower like flying buttresses.

There's something throat tightening about a community that quite literally supports itself on the backs of others, with its tiniest members fearless and trusting at its apex.

And then it’s over, the fireworks start, shoot heavenwards and tumble back, and everyone goes home.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.