Saturday, 9 March 2019


“Pudding” is referred to in the derogatory way in Susan Coolidge’s “What Katy Did at School”.

“Mrs. Nipson was now in sole charge of the establishment. She had never tried school-keeping before, and had various pet plans and theories of her own, which she had only been waiting for Mrs. Florence's departure to put into practice.

One of these was that the school was to dine three times a week on pudding and bread and butter. Mrs. Nipson had a theory,—very convenient and economical for herself, but highly distasteful to her scholars,—that it was injurious for young people to eat meat every day in hot weather.

The puddings were made of batter, with a sprinkling of blackberries or raisins. Now, rising at six, and studying four hours and a half on a light breakfast, has wonderful effect on the appetite, as all who have tried it will testify. The poor girls would go down to dinner as hungry as wolves, and eye the large, pale slices on their plates with a wrath and dismay which I cannot describe. Very thick the slices were, and there was plenty of thin, sugared sauce to eat with them, and plenty of bread and butter; but, somehow, the whole was unsatisfying, and the hungry girls would go upstairs almost as ravenous as when they came down. The second-table-ites were always hanging over the balusters to receive them, and when to the demand, "What did you have for dinner?" "Pudding!" was answered, a low groan would run from one to another, and a general gloom seemed to drop down and envelop the party.”

Tuesday, 5 March 2019


"They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam."

One of the most evocative descriptions of pancakes ever, it is that of William Allingham. Thinking a little more closely about the poetry, however, I have to say that I prefer my pancakes not to be crispy. Also the idea of yellow tide-foam sounds faintly repellent. Like yellow snow.

In my opinion, pancakes are not worth ordering in restaurants because in the time it takes to get them from pan to table, their point is lost. The times I have had soggy, sodden, cold disappointing pancakes. In a kitchen straight from the pan and on to the plate in front of the eater. Ideally the person producing them is not overly keen on eating them.

As for fillings, forget, please, about over-elaboration. Lemon and sugar are all that is required. Thus the perfect pancake will have contrasting flavours as well as contrasting textures.

Delia Smith has the best recipe in her Complete Cookery Course.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

A handsome dinner

Once again, Joan Aiken has some wonderful descriptions of food in “Go Saddle the Sea”. Set in Spain, it tells of the adventures of Felix who describes being treated to a handsome dinner consisting of “meat cooked with tomatoes, and chicory salad, bread sprinkled with salt, and a tart of apples, which grow very plentifully in this region”. With just a few words, with sparse details, she conveys something far more interesting and appealing than one of those phoney descriptions one gets on a plastic-coated menu.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

John's brandy butter

A saturated solution of brandy and butter. With sugar. Slightly granular on the tongue. Icing sugar. Served in a silver christening goblet.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Pan Bagnat

I have huge sympathy for Elizabeth David's disgust at inauthenticity: I am reminded of her remarks about so-called Quiche Lorraine every time I spot a revolting cheese-laden variety in supermarkets that really should know better. There is a case to be made for requiring chefs and supermarkets not to use the names of classic dishes for something (usually) inferior and always fundamentally different.

That said, I am guilty of the same thing. My Aloo Chat bears no relation to the dish, says my friend Nina. And nor, I suspect, does my Pan Bagnat. Pan Bagnat, in the Provençal dialect of Niçard, means “wet bread”. However, the first word is often misspelled “pain" - correct French, but incorrect Niçard. Traditionally, it is supposed to consist of raw vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies and/or tuna, olive oil, salt and pepper (never mayonnaise) and sometimes a little vinegar, in a day old pain de campagne. Coming from Niçe, it is, I suppose, a Salade Niçoise in bread.

My version is far from traditional and I fear Elizabeth David would have called it an abomination: I use baguette rather than pain de campagne; inside, there are no fish to be found, no raw vegetables. The bread filling probably comes closer to another local dish, Ratatouille, than to Salade Niçoise. Perhaps all that can be said is that at least the bread is, in accordance with its name, wet or bathed: these are not crisp salad vegetables but cooked, cooled and soaked in olive oil. This is perfect beach food. The bread is moistened by the olive oil and tomato juices. As lunch, it lacks the dryness of the saucisson to which I became accustomed as a child and which perhaps curbed some of my more carnivorous instincts.

4 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 red peppers, thinly sliced
2 large onions, thinly sliced
Clove of garlic, crushed
Olive oil - for cooking and for making the sandwich.
Sea salt.
Possibly some herbes de Provence. But not essential.
Day old baguette.

Heat olive oil slowly in a frying pan. Add the onions. Soften. Add the peppers and the tomatoes and allow to cook very very slowly on the lowest possible heat. Add a whisper of herbes de Provence and some sea salt. Add more oil and maybe a tiny amount of water if you are in danger of drying up. You should end up with little liquid. Allow to cool. Split the baguette, drizzle olive oil from its head to its toe and fill with the cooked vegetables. Then wrap in cling film and weigh down in the fridge. Cut and eat.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Another favourite sandwich

I discovered one of my favourite sandwiches in a little shop in Crouch End. I worked nearby, throughout the summer of 1992. I had an enlightened boss called Julian Santos, who told us that he expected all hands to the pump when there was work to be done: but when there wasn’t, we did not have to pretend to be busy; instead, we were welcome to do anything we wanted: making personal telephone calls; using the computers. I learned to touch type that summer. There was always plenty of time for lunch. The sandwich I discovered had four ingredients: white bread, mayonnaise, just fried bacon and ripe avocado. A sublime combination.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Lawyers who lunch

At last one of my recipes has made it into print, in SA Law's Food for Thought (Volume 4). My recipe is to be found on page 8 and will be familiar to readers of this blog who recall my bacon casserole with flageolets. What is more, there is even a Wine Suggestion next to my recipe - apparently "the velvety fruity notes of a syrah ... including Chateauneuf du Pape" would go well with it. And there are a number of other appealing recipes to be found in the book, including Turkish Eggs, Cod Loin with Creamed Leeks, Tomato and Brown Shrimp Butter and Cinnamon Ice Cream...