Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Midnight Feast

My mother was at boarding school and had a most unpleasant-sounding headteacher who everyone called "Hetty". The girls in her dorm organised a midnight feast one night and Hetty got wind of it. At midnight, when the girls were about to creep down for their feast, in walked Hetty. She turned on the lights and commanded the girls to get dressed and walk downstairs. In the dining room, she had laid the table and put out all the food that had been gathered for the midnight feast. The girls had to eat it all in dead silence, with beady-eyed Hetty sitting at the end of the table, having sucked all the joy out of the escapade. At one point my mother picked up a slice of what she thought was cheese and ate it only to discover it was a piece of margarine. She did not even dare to giggle. At the end of the "feast", they had to clear the plates and then go upstairs and put on their night things before the light was switched off. Not another word was said about it.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Cold curried apple soup

Just the name of this appears in my mother's recipe book, as though she had eaten it and wanted, at some stage, to write down the recipe. But she never did.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Austerity Soup

 This is Austerity Soup. The recipe: as with any good hearty soup, start with the Holy Quadernity of onion, celery, carrot and leek. Add chopped broccoli stem, the green tops of leeks and spring onions, the outer leaves which surround cauliflower, the tops of carrots, turnips and beetroots. Add any vegetables which are getting a bit past their best, and sweat until soft and sweet. Add a handful of frozen peas (protein content ๐Ÿ‘) with stock or bouillon and water. Simmer for 10 minutes then blend smooth and add seasoning to taste. 

This version has fried chorizo and oil on top, because Julien believes any soup is improved by a bit of porkiness. In the case of green soup, I would have to agree, though it does perhaps reduce the thriftiness of this soup!

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Rosemary's ham

How many recipes, I wonder, are said to come from the author's grandmother? Hundreds of thousands, perhaps. One pictures a white-haired old lady stirring a bowl of cake mixture, following a secret recipe which, perhaps came from her own grandmother. My first memory of home-cooked ham came from my grandmother. She would spike it with cloves, boil it and smother it in some unknown brown spice, and we would eat it over several days, accompanied by salad: lettuce, washed and dried in a salad spinner; hard-boiled egg, sliced in an egg slicer; cucumber with the peel chopped off; tomatoes which were sometimes skinned; beetroot in vinegar; spring onions; sometimes a tiny bowl of potato salad. There was salad cream in those days, although as the seventies turned into the eighties, she gradually switched to mayonnaise. Olive oil was used only rarely, for extra-special salad dressings, made in a vinaigrette and shaken vigorously before each meal. Slices of brown bread. Once upon a time I would have eaten the last ever slice of ham which had been cooked by her, but, like many firsts and lasts, I cannot pinpoint that moment.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Poached eggs on ham

Breakfast or brunch. Three elements: buttered toast; a thick slice of ham; a perfectly-poached egg on the top, with freshly ground black pepper. This used to be a Christmas morning tradition and I can recall it being followed in Winchester ten years ago. My brother Will had cooked the ham, baked the bread and poached the eggs. He had not supplied the newly-laid eggs, though; they had been brought by me, a parting gift the day before from some friends who kept chickens in their garden. Crumbly home-cooked ham. Orange egg yolks. A very late breakfast after church. A good start to the excesses of Christmas.

Chez Bruno

My earliest experiences of French restaurants were of the cheap variety: often (although maybe it was the holiday mode speaking) far far cheaper and far far better than their English counterparts. It was only relatively recently that I started to sample some of the exceptional places, with prices to match. One of them was Chez Bruno, near a town called Lorgues, in Provenรงe. I was staying with Cousin Pen and this was intended as a "thank you". She was reluctant to accept the invitation and talked darkly of Bruno receiving guests who arrived by helicopter from Italy. I could not resist it. So we went one Sunday lunchtime.

Memories of our meal include: choosing which type of truffle to have from a “truffle menu”; I had no idea; nor did Pen, who left it to me; and I picked one that was neither the most expensive nor the cheapest; there followed a whole truffle in pastry; with the main course we had a kind of Gratin Dauphinoise with truffle (which Pen, rightly, raved about long afterwards) and, to finish, chocolate mousse (also with truffle) which was very good. It all left us feeling a little dazed. Bruno himself came into the darkened dining room and circulated among the guests. His greeting to us was somewhat perfunctory but the meal he had provided us with was one whose highlights I can remember fifteen years later.

Thursday, 24 December 2020


It puzzled me slightly that we learned the Latin for vinegar - acetum. Even the alternative - sour wine - sounded slightly too obscure to be worth knowing. Somehow I had picked up without being aware of it that Latin was a language of formality, where slang had little place. (Even our Latin teacher became pained when he heard himself using the expression “Shut up...if that’s the sort of language you understand!”) We might know how, in Latin, to praise the table, love the woman or fight the soldier. But not to chat with the newsagent, to engage in banter with the bus driver or to ask for salt and vinegar on our chips.