Monday, 13 November 2017

Another gingerbread house

In 1982, my brother, Will, had an au pair called Lotta. She was from Sweden and introduced us to gravadlax and Swedish meatballs. We, in turn, introduced her to marmite, which she could not bear or even comprehend. We put a small jar of it into her stocking and my father filmed the look of horror that crossed her face when she unwrapped it.

The same Christmas, she had made a traditional gingerbread house for us. It had wooden figures, toadstalls and candles. Cotton wool snow. I arrived home from school to be told of this wonder and my mother took me into the dining room to see it. She struck a match to light the candles; the head of the match flew off and hit a collection of Pampas grass that was in a vase behind it and the Pampas grass started blazing. My brother burst into tears; my mother picked up the roaring Pampas grass and carried it through the hall and out of the front door. Crisis averted.

Back in the dining room, standing next to a patch of nicely-browned wallpaper, Lotta was surveying ruefully the remains of her gingerbread house: charred cotton wool snow, singed figures and blackened toadstools...

Hot cross buns

The mistake I used to make was to toast these until brown. In my view, they should be toasted until hot and no more. Then spread thickly with butter. The best hot cross buns I ever encountered - full of fruit - were in Hyderabad, India (one of the largest Moslem centres in India), on a Good Friday.

There is a wonderful episode in Frances Hodgson Burnett's "A Little Princess" where the ravenous heroine, Sara Crewe, discovers a silver sixpence dropped in the gutter, asks at the baker's whether anyone has lost it, then, reassured, buys six currant buns warm from the oven and, finally, gives five of them away to a beggar girl who is "even hungrier" than she, Sara, is.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Chip buttie

My mother introduced me to these in Coventry. I wonder how she discovered them. Our local chippie was at the bottom of Earlsdon Avenue. I do not remember whether we acquired the butties in the shop itself or whether they were made when we got home. At all events, it proved to be a wonderful and curious mixture of fats and carbohydrates: butter, salt, vinegar, bread and chip.

Many years later, I overheard two of my teachers at prep school talking in surprised disgust at the conduct of a visiting teacher from another school - there for a football match presumably - about how he put his chips between bread and butter. I was longing to contribute to this adult conversation by explaining that this was a chip buttie but was frostily excluded.

Sunday, 8 October 2017


A memorable moment in Mr Bean came when he invited some friends for drinks and then realised to his horror that he had no snacks. So he leant out of the window, plucked a few twigs from the tree, dipped them in marmite and then put them in a bowl. The friends left shortly afterwards.

Twiglets are not in fact made from marmite. But they are designed for marmite addicts. And, if uneaten, they last for a very long time.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Crab soup

The first time I ate crab soup was in Deal, round a kitchen table, made by my mother with crabs I had caught off the pier. I would have been under five. Whether my memory of the soup's appearance - pink-orange - and flavour - salty and comforting - is real or a made-up memory I will never know.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Eight courses

Parma ham
Tomato mozzarella and basil
Gnocchi with pesto
Scallops with bacon and cream
Beef, Kangaroo and Ostrich with Gratin Dauphinoise and sugar snaps
Rhubarb and maccaroons
Caramelised oranges with clotted cream

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Stuffed Mushrooms

I recall first eating these shortly before a trip to the theatre. An early evening meal. My younger brother and I had been required to spend the afternoon asleep so as not to be too tired for the evening, and we were in that halfway frame of mind between sleep and full wakefulness. It was winter.

They were large, flat mushrooms. My mother talked about how she had first decided to make them. "Life is too short to stuff a mushrooom" was the quotation at the beginning of Shirley Conran's "Superwoman" - a twentieth century version of Mrs Benton. And the quotation had got my mother thinking. Not along the lines the quotation was suggesting, but "What a good idea to stuff a mushroom". So she did.


As many large flat mushrooms as there are people.
Chopped bacon or lardons.
1 Chopped onion.
1 finely chopped clove of garlic.
Olive oil.
Salt and pepper.

The mushroom stalks should be removed and finely chopped and added to the other ingredients which are the stuffing. The inverted mushroom caps should be stuffed to the brim and beyond with the stuffing ingredients. Bake in the oven until piping hot and oozing. Eat.