September 24th 2013 – Feeling much better

Some time has past and it took longer to get over my operation than I expected.  Emotionally speaking.  I think I was too wrapped up with myself in the present and wasn’t interested in linkages to past places, people and food.

Happily, with this late summer in full swing I want to write again.  Mainly for myself but hey.

I can’t remember when I first tasted beer.  I can remember the first time I bought a drink in a pub though:

“Good evening, lads” said the landlord in The Great Northern (now Brennen’s Bar).  This was a pub near, not surprisingly, the train station in Spalding.  I was out with a friend, Dave P. and it was his idea.

“What would you like?”, he asked us.

This threw me, despite not being unused to the Pub environment, my Dad having seen to that throughout my early years.  He never let me order drinks though, and the last time he bought me one in a Pub was when I was about 11 and it was a Bitter Lemon in the Castle Inn, Coningsby.  He quizzed me about horse-racing in front of his friends

“Who is the ‘Wizard of Finden’ ?”

Actually I cannot find any reference to this name now.  There doesn’t even seem to be a place in England called Finden.  After all these years my memory clings on to half-remembered facts and events.  The answer I gave was

“Fred Winter”

but he trained at Lambourne, apparently.  Well, there you go.

Anyway, back to the Great Northern.

“What do you recommend? I asked.

He looked us up and down a bit (shades of 10cc) and then said

“Rum and Black.  That’s what you want”.

In later years I found out this was a Ladies’ drink but I still don’t think the landlord was being unkind.  I liked it, anyway.

The first beer I remember drinking was Sam Smiths Old Brewery Bitter in the very back room of the Olde White Horse in Spalding.  This was a private, curtained off room where twice a week the RAOB club met.  It was also where a group of us used to meet up on Youth Club nights.  At 40p a pint, ‘same glass please’, £2 was enough for a good evening.

I had to work for nearly 5 hours at a local garden centre for that pleasure.  Now just one hour’s work gets me plenty.  I must be getting on in the world, or just getting on.

So last Sunday I cooked lamb and slowly made my way through 6 bottles of fine, modern English Beer.  Here’s what happened:

Braised Shoulder of Lamb with Potatoes and Lemon

This is from ‘Recipes and Ramblings’ by Elisabeth Luard, inspired by a vist to Kale, Turkey.

You will need for 6 people

A robustly chunked shoulder of lamb.  2ish kg, hacked into 6 pieces.  Actually I made the recipe with half a shoulder and cut through the meat to the bone to give 3/4 good pieces.  They come away from the bone easily enough after cooking.  The hacksaw looked a bit rusty in any event.

A good few slugs of Olive oil

Enough waxy potatoes for 6 people, peeled and cut into pieces just large enough to fit into your mouth.

2 lemons, scrubbed if waxed, roughly chopped

Half a dozen good sized garlic cloves, cut in half, leaving the skin on.

Fresh Rosemary.  I don’t know how big your sprigs are.  Tread the middle ground between too little to make an impact and too much to overpower the dish.

Tablespoon of dried Oregano.  You need dried, to stand up to the long cooking time.

1 good glass of white wine, a good ‘every-day drinking’ quality.  On the dry side.

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper.  Or hit some peppercorns hard enough to crack them, in a controlled way so they don’t pepper the kitchen.

Lots of bitter, peppery leaves.  I used rocket, curly endive and lamb’s lettuce.



Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.  Put everything (but not the salad you fool!) in a roasting tin, mix together with your hands, rubbing the meat well with the flavourings.  Cover with foil and cook for an hour or more, until the meat starts to come away from the bone, ie quite tender.

Remove the foil and 3/4 of the juices.  Mix everything again, taking care that the potatoes don’t break up and put back into the oven for 30 minutes or so, until the potatoes bown a little.  I stuck the grill on, protecting the lamb with foil to help this along.  Tinged though, not blackened.

Meanwhile, you want to get rid of as much of the fat as possible from the juices.  Freezer for 20 minutes may work and spoon off the fat on the top.  I used on of those ‘upside-down jugs’ that let you pour from the bottom of the jug.  Reduce this to a good coating consistency.  You will use this to dress your pile of bitter leaves.


Now for the beers, starting with the weakest (in alcohol) of the bunch.

Redchurch Brewery Broadway Black Ale


I’m very, very surprised.  This must be the tastiest 2.9% beer I’ve ever drunk.  Enough malt, well-hopped (but not overly, thank goodness), lovely white head and a full mouthfeel which is a real accomplishment.  I’m also glad they’ve called it a Black Ale instead of the self-contradictory idea of a Black Pale Ale, so beloved by some IPA makers.  IBA is what that is.

Real dilemma now.  What comes next?  Beavertown or Kernel Pale Ale? Or Siren’s Liquid Mistress Red IPA (IRA! Or is that why they call it a Red IPA?).  It’s a ripper of a beer.

Beavertown Gamma Ray American Pale Ale 5.4%


I’ve a soft-spot for Beavertown beers.  They have some of the best labels going and they make great beer.  Here goes this one.

Relatively lightly hopped, slight orangey bitterness, good.

Let’s go Kernel now.  Fortunately there should be some Kernel available in Belgium this week.  Don’t hold your breath, anything could go wrong.  But if it doesn’t, be quick.  Be very quick.

The Kernel India Pale Ale Simcoe Centennial Motueka 6.4%


My word, that’s good.  Astonishing actually.  Perfect hop balancing, great malt.  Slight toffee apple, makes you want to chew but you can’t.  Nutty, biscuit, there’s an elusive taste there.  Marie-Rose finds apricot.  She’s right.

Two Weird Beards and the Siren Red to go.  Shall I split the Weirds?  Perhaps.  But I don’t think that’ll work.  I have ‘Holy Hoppin’ Hell’, a double IPA at 9.7% and Bad Habit, a Belgian Tripel at 8.6%.  Go on, the Mistress it is.

Siren Craft Brew Liquid Mistress Red IPA 5.8%


I like RIPpArs but mourn the loss of Brodie’s Hackney Red from my supplier, The Bottle Shop in Canterbury.  That was a lovely beer.  Of course, The Kernel’s collab with Brodie’s ‘London Brick’ was unimaginably good, unless you had some.  Damn that was good beer.  This is fine, not quite in the top places but if you like Everton then you’ll understand.  At West Ham we’d have this beer any day of the week.

So, last two beers of the afternoon.  The two Weird Beards.  I must say that I don’t like ‘funny’ labels or names on beers.  The Kernel may be minimalist but for me that is infinitely preferable to elves and stuff.  Anyway, here we go.

Weird Beard Holy Hoppin’ Hell.  A Double IPA.  9.7%


Blimey.  That’s clever.  All you want from a high alcohol IPA but it’s not cloying.  Slight burnt raisin but the light effervescence cleans the tongue between draughts.  It’s like a space has been left in your mouth for another glug.  So I will.  I like this.

And last, onto the one I was a bit apprehensive about.

Weird Beard & Northern Monk Brew Co Bad Habit A Belgian Tripel 8.6%


Smells and tastes like a small Belgian Brewery beer.  Which could be a complement, if that’s what they were trying to do.  Unluckily for me I know a few much better Tripels and if I want to drink a beer of that style I won’t be opening one of these again.  That’s just my opinion.  I guess that’s the Belgian yeast  I can taste there, the Cascade seems a bit lost.

Hindsight suggests that the last two should’ve been swopped around.  I’m not even finishing the last one, the first 5 were enough entertainment over a Sunday afternoon.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013,

June 24th 2013 – Spag Bol

Cyprus, late 60s.  I was a kid, a forces ‘brat’ and my Dad was in the RAF.  It was idyllic on so many levels.  My earliest food memories come from there, eating fish mezzeh on the harbour front in Paphos, watching the resident pelicans and fishing boats bobbing around or listening to my Mum talking about buying chickens (‘this one here?, kill it now’) in the market.  There was octopus too, but I can’t remember a single meal served to me with this at home.  Perhaps Mum and Dad kept it to themselves or perhaps my memory is failing me.  I doubt it wasn’t good.

The other food I remember I ate in little tavernas as we drove around the island, visiting ruins and abbeys.  As I write this, picture flashes keep going off and I hope I can reclaim them at a later date – a toenail ripped off going down a slide on the beach in Famagusta?, saving a boy from drowning (or so I thought) and his Dad thinking I was the one in trouble, my dog (it was never really my dog) Bengo being thrown in the sea to teach it to swim by my Dad and so much more.

I remember often eating Spaghetti Bolognese in these roadside tavernas.  I wouldn’t have cheese on it in (tasted of sick, apparently, so wasn’t the tasteless Spaghetti cheese sold in Belgian supermarkets) but eat it I did.  This started a life-long obsession with the dish.  I remember my Dad taking hours making it the day before it was needed, leaving it over night to develop its flavours and to also let the orangey-fat congeal so it could be removed easily.  It was the first dish I cooked for everyone in a shared student house in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Mum dictating the recipe down the phone, me frantically taking notes.

I’m not obsessionally authentic either, I’ve never been to Bologna and never eaten it in a top restaurant.   I believe, for example, that spaghetti is not correct, but it is spaghetti which I grew up with.  I don’t like the (optional) addition of chicken livers or dried mushrooms and I won’t, despite the advertising steer, put Worcester Sauce in it.  No, I keep it simple and it works for me.  I did once make it partly with oxtail too, as suggested by Heston, but this is a bit of a faff and though rather good and interesting, not necessary for a staple.

The main ingredient is time, the main objective is colour (deep flavour follows as a consequence) and the main enemy, liquid.  Don’t cover the pan, ever.  You want to drive off all liquid during the cooking process, consolidating and concentrating the flavours.  I hate a Spag Bol with watery orange on the plate.

Here are the main ingredients:


I chop the carrot, celery, onion and garlic in a food processor.  Do it by hand if want.  Go reasonably fine, I hate seeing bits of carrot in the finished sauce.  Fry gently in some olive oil until all the moisture has gone and the colour is getting dark.  There is a fine line between dark and caramalised (this is the slow cooking which gives depths of flavour to the sauce) and burnt.  Be careful.  This can take 45 minutes.


Now add the pork/veal mixture, about a pound and a half (700g).  Cook slowly for 30 minutes, breaking up lumps.  You will see the oil/fat separating, keep going.  Add upwards of half a bottle of red wine, it’ll probably have had a glass taken out of it already.  Keep cooking to drive off the alcohol and most of the liquid.

Add the little tin of tomato purée.  Mix well.  You may not see any traces of vegetables now, perhaps a trace of carrot.  Keep cooking, you want to build up flavour and caramalise the mixture a little.  The little pieces of vegetables should now be invisible.  Squash any obdurate carrot.

You may decide not to do this, but I now add half a pot of Knorr ‘Beef stockpot’.  You know the ones, they are in little plastic pots and are jelly-like.  Cook and stir, until all is incorporated.

Finish the red wine.

Add some water, not too little, not too much (this is not a stew/soup).  Continue to cook slowly for an hour (I told you it was a slow process), you may want do this a couple of times, resting the sauce between additions overnight.  There won’t be as much fat as in my Dad’s day.  It will become almost glossy as you stir from time to time.


When you want to eat, adjust the seasoning.  Pepper will be needed, possibly a little salt.  Always add a little of the wine you have used and reheat thoroughly.

You want a moist, non-watery sauce to dress your pasta and because you have taken your time to develop flavour, you won’t need your pasta with loads of sauce.  A little goes a long way.  Have whatever pasta you like, but for me it’s spaghetti, but buy a good brand and don’t waste your money on the ‘fresh’ stuff.  Unless you like making it yourself but I’m yet to be convinced.  I’d rather mow the lawn…

As for cheese – the best Parmesan you can buy.  Don’t stint here.  A little wonderful cheese (and grate your own) has more flavour and less calories than a big bag of ready-grated budget crap.

Bolognese sauce teaches us so much.  Without care and time, the same ingredients can be combined into an awful mess.  Roughly chopped onions, beef mince, tins of tomatoes and a splash of wine you wouldn’t drink.  I don’t want this and neither shall I eat it.  Care for your Bolognese ingredients, care for the people around you.  Give them time to develop their relationships with you and each other.  Don’t rush.  Get the best from them and life becomes so much better.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013,

June 5th 2013 – Sorry Rick.

A month without posting but back in the saddle.  Not really.

Anyway, Rick Stein.  I’ll come straight to the point, I had what I can now see as an irrational dislike of the guy.  For some reason I found him a bit, well, twee.  Not a serious cook, just an old git playing on having a dog called Chalky as a viewer magnet.  I’m sorry.  It’s a bit like saying I dislike Aston Villa.  I don’t know why, there probably wasn’t an event in my past which caused either. Probably not, but suppressed memories are exactly that.

A couple of years ago I happened to watch a program from his French Odyssey series, the one with cooking eels on a barge if you know it. It was probably on Saturday Kitchen as I would never have watched the series.  I enjoyed it and thought – why don’t I like this guy?  Was it envy, plain jealousy?  Could’ve been.  Now I have a Jack Russel of my own perhaps I can see a kindred Russely foodie spirit.  The fact is I was wrong.  The guy cares properly about food and people and perhaps my dislike was caused by finding myself wanting in one of these departments.  If not both.

So here is one of my favourite recipes from the book of the series.  I have just started to be able to stand long enough to cook after an operation which is why there has been a gap between now and my last post.  That and a week on the Costa Brava where I picked up a half-decent meatball recipe (albondiga) which I’ll share soon and I’ll link it into a football anecdote.  In fact I would love to do a World Cup of meatballs, based on the countries qualifying for Brazil and have each recipe play against the other with tasters voting for the best ones.  The countries can be in the same groups as the World Cup starts but after that, who will come out on top.  Looking forward (for once) to any penalty shootout.  I’ve got that planned as well, but I’m keeping it to myself and may Rick.  So Rick, if you are reading all this then how about it?

I fantasise and digress, so here is the recipe.  Actually, here are nearly all of the ingredients.  If you want the recipe then buy the book.  It also seems that there are some recipes on the internet which are the same but don’t mention Rick.  Which is wrong.  Give it a go, it’s really very, very good.  So thanks Rick.  You are one of my Food Heros.

Squid and potato stew with rouille

‘In the tradition of bouillabaisse’.  As Rick says.


That’s it, I can’t sit for much longer.  Got a great cheats rouille though.  Take some mayonnaise, enough for 2.  Crush up a couple of cloves of garlic against some sea salt with the blade of a knife.  Add that to the mayonnaise.  Now add 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika and the same of a non-virulent chilli powder – I use Kashmiri.  You could use one tsp of a piquant smoked paprika but I don’t keep any of that.  Mix well, allow to sit for 20 minutes et voilà.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013,

May 12th 2013 – Ding dong bell, pussy’s not at all well

Last week I spoke about battles, albeit of a horticultural nature.  Sadly this last week has reminded me that violence in all forms is never far away, even in Nethen, a peaceful and verdant place.  This was in our letter box (the flyer, that is)

Crossbow Cat

The cat survived and is recovering.  So far, even in our village where everyone knows everyone, the owner of the crossbow has not been located.  It is unlikely to be someone from outside so almost Midsommerish, dark secrets walk side-by-side with familiarity.  We don’t know if it was intentional but even if not, firing a crossbow in daylight, on a street where kids play and adults stop and chat is a moronic act.  There are certainly crossbows about in this area, as in many others.  There are  ‘sociétés d’arbalétriers’, one of which was at the Fête de St. Georges a couple of weeks ago.  This arrow or bolt is however of a lighter calibre than fired by the old engines owned by the reputable crossbow societies.

It is not difficult to buy them.  Here is the legal position in Belgium:

Despite the clear legal position: ‘Les armes en vente libre, tout comme les armes soumises à autorisation, ne peuvent être vendues ou proposées à la vente à distance (commande par la poste, Internet, …).’, just try typing arbalete into, say, .  Yes, I can see that all the ‘bolts’ shown have rubber suckers on them, but I don’t think that converting something into what we see above would be problematic.  Not that buying the piercing bolts is tricky or expensive.  Neither am I saying that the crossbow in question was bought from ebay.

I suppose that such events being so rare should be comforting, in which case I glad I live here, not the other side of the channel.  After all, apparently guns don’t kill, just the people who use them.

Anyway, this week’s recipe has nothing to do with the curious cat incident.  I’ll resist any brochette-based recipe and offer a dish from Recipes and Ramblings by the food columnist Elisabeth Luard.  We have all heard of Welsh Rarebit but I never knew there was an English Rarebit, particularly with any claim to antiquity.  This was published in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy from 1747.

English Rarebit

1 thickish slice brown bread, 2 oz mature Cheddar cheese, finely slivered, 2 tablespoons red wine.

Toast the bread on both sides, pour the wine on it and let it soak in for a moment.  Lay the cheese over the bread and put it under the grill until bubbly and brown.

The recipe doesn’t mention Worcester Sauce, but a shot of it over the cheese before the final grilling is rather good.  Don’t toast the bread too much in the first phase or you could have some burnt bits.  Oh well.

Now that that’s what I call a Cheese and Wine Party!

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013,

May 5th 2013 – Slugs and snails and a Jack Russell’s tail

The weather was fine for the Fête de St. Georges, the dragon was slain, good triumphed over evil.  Now I’m not sure how much I can read into this but certainly there are a few battles in the garden which I fight every year and some I just can’t.

We have two natural ponds and these, despite the best efforts of the Gendarme, as the heron is known, there is a lot of noise.  It keeps Marie-Rose awake at night and every year we symbolically devour a plate of Cuisses de grenouilles.  I can take it or leave it, but for Marie-Rose it is revenge, pure and simple.  Not that the frogs we eat come from the pond.  We can’t win the battle and quite frankly, there should be no battle to be fought.  Peaceful coexistence is called for, even if the frogs have a different view on ‘peace’.  Besides, they are useful.

Other battles include the one against bindweed.  I confess.  I do spray it from time to time, using a little plastic cone to stop the chemical being blown around on reaching other plants or even the soil.  This is not so much a battle but a campaign of attrition.  Each year there is less but I must be vigilant.

There is the fight against slugs too.  This year has seen their numbers reduced and I thank the chickens who gladly eat the larva when exposed by the clearing the grass etc at the foot of my raised beds.  I’m sure that the frogs eat some but I can accept that I am kidding myself here.  What they, and the pipistrelle do, is to hoover up mosquitos and their larvae, to such an extent that we hardly ever see them in the house.

I have also been hand-pollinating my apple trees.  I bought a new one this year, a Belgian variety called Reinette de Waleffe, as one of my trees was in flower much before the others in the area.  There seem very few pollinators about at the moment so I must do it myself.  The shape of things to come I guess.

Now slugs are homeless snails, and when I see the fresh, crisp dandelion leaves all around, I hanker after snail risotto.  The dandelion leaves are free, but I do recommend that you search out the biggest ones.


Many people are worried about dog wee contamination, so I use one of these:


I find a big patch of dandelions, off the beaten path, and call Cooper over.  If he doesn’t sniff and wee on them then I’m sure no other dog has either.  It’s not quite like having a truffle hound but hey.

Washed and picked over we get:


Snail, mushroom and dandelion risotto

Other ingredients you’ll need are:


The cheese you see is Cornish Yarg wrapped in Wild Garlic leaves.  I always thought Yarg was a real old Cornish word, maybe Cornish for ‘jolly tasty cheese’ or some such.  In fact it is the cheesemaker’s name backwards.  If you don’t have any then use what you like, although garlic is necessary somewhere so add a finely chopped clove to the lardons and mushrooms later.  You’ll also need some hot stock, chicken, veal or vegetable.  A litre should be ample, so long as you haven’t over-estimated the amount of rice.  Which I do.

Firstly ensure that you have nothing else to do for 30 minutes.  Risotto demands your full attention.  So, finely chop the shallot and fry gently in some bacon fat if you have some.  If not, use whatever you prefer and contemplate frying some lardons of bacon to add later.  Add half the butter and enough rice for two.  Continue to fry gently until the rice starts to become opaque – do not let brown.  Add the wine and cook off the alcohol.  Now start adding the stock, a ladle at a time, waiting for all the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next. Stir as you go.  This is important but don’t be vigorous. In a separate pan fry sliced mushrooms gently in some butter (with the lardons if using) and when ready (10 minutes) add the snails.  Keep warm. When the rice is just right, ie, you are happy to eat it, add the snails and mushrooms and warm through for a moment.  In with the cubed cheese and dandelions:


Taste, season, add the remaining butter, stir once and serve.  You won’t have forgotten to warm some plates, of course.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013,

April 21st 2013 – Saint George beckons

It’s St. George’s Day in a couple of days.  I realise it’s not widely celebrated in England, but here in Grez-Doiceau it is.  He’s our patron saint too and here we have a 3 day long festival in his honour, even with a Dragon being slain.  We’ll be there on Sunday with English beer and cheese like we have done for the last two years.  One cheese we sold back then has been on our list ever since – the Ashmore Farmhouse.  Although made in Kent it is a true cheddar nonetheless.  Hand-made from raw milk, it has deservedly won accolade after accolade including Taste of Kent awards and being named in the World’s Top 50 cheeses in The World Cheese Awards 2012.  If you’re ever in Canterbury, pop into the Goods Shed by Canterbury West and buy some.  Visit Carl the Butcher too, Lee’s General Store and buy some remarkable beer from The Bottle Shop while you’re at it.

I have always wanted to find St George’s mushrooms too, so named because they start appearing now.  If I see some I’ll take a picture and sadly not cook them.  There really are not many poisonous lookalikes at this time of year, the two main ones being the Red-staining fibre cap (it stains red when bruised, the St. George doesn’t, the spore deposit is brown, St. George is white), and the Livid Pink Gill.  Fleshy mushrooms with pink gills and pinkish spore deposits are best avoided.  All this means that even if I find some, Marie-Rose won’t let me eat any.  A slight pity but I must respect her wishes – it’s not an important battle to win.  I’d be more worried if she encouraged me.

So after the dog walking, earthing up of potatoes, a refreshing beer, a walk organised by the local Primary school, the barbecue that follows (will there be Saucisses, Lard, Baguette and salad?  When isn’t there…?) I’ll turn my attention to supper.  It’s not as warm today as I hoped so perhaps something along the lines of Poulet Basquaise.  But that’s not very English.  I think a fish pie with a twist – it won’t be fish but chicken!

You will need:

A Chicken’s worth of chicken without bones. I’ll bone 4 thighs and 4 legs.  Weird chicken, I know.  Just prefer the dark meat.  Use kitchen paper to pull the skin off.  Make stock now with the bones, a carrot, and onion with skin, a bayleaf, a few peppercorns and a parsely stalk or two.


A large, chopped onion, not too fine

A few rashers of bacon, chopped

A leek, if you have one, cleaned and chopped

Some lard or butter if you must and flour, salt and (white) pepper

Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.  Any or all of these, finely chopped.



A pint of cider or perry


Floury potatoes, cooked and mashed.  2lbs will do it.

Pre-heat your oven to moderate, 350°F or so.  Cut up potatoes and cook in salted water.  Drain and leave to steam dry in a pan with the the lid not quite on…

Meanwhile, cut the chicken up into reasonably sized chunks.  Half a thigh or thereabouts.  Season and sauté in the fat, not over such a fierce heat that the butter burns if you are not using lard.  Lard is best.  We don’t want a brown sauce.  Remove, and fry bacon, onion, leeks in the fat for a few moments until the onion is translucent.  Do not brown.   Maybe check the potatoes and deal with them (turn off the pan with the leeks etc. in  it)


Now turn the leek pan back on, adding a tablespoon of flour and cook for a few moments but don’t brown it. Start adding the cider/perry and build up a nice sauce, you may not need all the liquid.  Drink the rest.  If you need more liquid use some of the stock you have already made.  Add enough cream so it looks just right and check for seasoning.  White pepper is correct here but if you only have black then so be it.


Put in your pie dish, mash the potatoes or put through a ricer if your mum bought you one for Christmas.  Cover the chicken etc. with the potatoes, and make ploughlines with a fork.  Dot with butter and put in the oven.  It is ready when golden-brown and bubbling through at the edges.  Turn off the oven and leave to rest whilst you boil some frozen peas.  Or some green asparagus if the weather has been kind.

There you are.  That’s English.  And if you like you can pipe a St. George’s Cross on the top with ketchup.  I might resist that temptation.  Might.


In fact I was reminded of the clash of the Waterzooi.  I have always felt cheated by the idea of chicken rather than fish.  ‘ Water’ gives it away a bit, though I suppose Poule d’eau could be used but I just don’t fancy them.  What goes around comes around and I remember my first few days in Peru.  Day one I ate ceviche de conchas negras, day two saw a big headline in the papers: COLERA.  Day three saw restaurants offering ceviche de pollo or ceviche de hongas.  And now I do it myself, substituting chicken for fish.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013,

April 18th 2013 – Green shoots

Last Sunday we had my wife’s four brothers and one of their wives around for lunch.  I won’t bore you with ‘why’ or ‘what we ate’, suffice to say a lovely leg of Kentish Lamb was involved.

Before they came I made sure that I tidied up my raised beds; at least one of the guests was a vegetable gardener and I couldn’t lose face.  ‘Look now, look all around, there’s no sign of life’ I heard in my head.  Incidentally as I drive from Canterbury to Ramsgate where I pick up from Gadd’s Brewery, I always pass a road sign pointing to Thanet and Earth. ‘this is Thanet Earth’ then invades my consciousness.  The kids think I’m a right Duran Duran nut, only I have seen Barbarella.

I digress, the point is that the next day (Monday) I saw this:


OK, you had to be there but from bare soil the day before there were the first Broad Bean and Potato leaves.  They had survived and were just lusting for some warmth.

I wait for Kentish Asparagus.  I’m not convinced by the white stuff, perhaps its too delicate for my palate.  My wait is nearly over.

However Asparagus is not the only Spring shoot to be savoured.  I will just quote from Dorothy Hartley’s ‘Food in England’:


The bracken increase that destroys so much of our land comes from so many causes.  Bracken used to be cut for bedding for farm animals, for covering-in root crops, and for weaving into shelters and hurdles, and trusses of it were burnt in the ovens and used to light the open hearths.  Quantities were used by the slate and earthenware workers to pack their wares for road transport.  The invention of the pneumatic tyre on the lorry caused much bracken to remain uncut, as less packing was needed.  The sheep were on the hills so early that they ate young shoots for lack of other grazing – and where the bracken was not brought down for use about the steading, the shepherd would cut it all over his sheep walk because, growing high; it hid the sheep, induced fly, ans spoilt the fine grass ‘bite’.  All these reasons combined to keep the growth of the bracken within bounds.  Now it is not cut and has become a desperate weed instead of a useful growth.’

She wrote this in 1954

She goes on:

‘Young bracken fronds are edible when about three inches high and still tightly curled; they should be so young that they snap off.

Tie in loose bundles and cook like asparagus – only longer, and serve with melted bacon fat.  They have a distinctive smoky flavour – rather like the smell of Darjeeling rea.  Brown bread and butter is the best accompaniment.  You either like them very much or not at all.’

Me?  I like.  But then again I think ‘New Miseable Experience’ by the Gin Blossoms is great music to cook by.  And you do too, Gary.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013,