March 17th 2013 – I love you just the way you are

The snow has melted away, not without having wreaked havoc on my daffodils.  True, they would not have opened for St. David’s Day but certainly would have made St. Patrick’s.  The foliage and flowers could not take the hard frost and snow cover of the start of this last week.

The time comes to think about what else I shall grow in my potagers.  Success with vegetables and fruit, if you are not a person willing to indulge high-maintenance plants, relies on knowing what works with the soil and climate you have.  I have tried to force my allotment to grow chillis and tomatoes, but these unsurprisingly fail.  I am also rubbish at leeks and sprouts, the soil probably needs more drainage for the former and I always forget to net the latter against the butterflies of late summer.  As I do kale.

Carrots work well, so I’ll plant successions of the short, fat chantenays.  Also Mangetout, so I’ll make a rustic structure for these to clamber up.  Potatoes and Broad Beans are already in and just in case we get a wet summer I’ll have Runner Beans too.  They love the damp, Atlantic air – too low humidity will hinder the setting of the bean.  Also, it makes sure that at least something fine comes from the Julys and Augusts of the last few years.

I’m at peace with my allotment and this is because I understand what it can offer and grow accordingly.  I’m sure the ground is happy not being asked to do things it just can’t in the  unfriendly atmosphere that results.  The beds would look sad and unloved and I’d be embarrassed to seen together with them; our relationship would obviously be seen not be working.

And it’s the same for our own relationships.  Too often in the past have I tried to make someone something they are not, tried to force them to change in a way that didn’t show respect to their qualities but focussed on their short-comings.  People have tried to do this to me too but happily these relationships are in the past.

The Dunmow Flitch trials, first mentioned in The Wife of Bath’s Tale in Chaucer’s 14th century Canterbury Tales, award a flitch of bacon to married couples from anywhere in the world, if they can satisfy the Judge and Jury of 6 maidens and 6 bachelors that in ‘twelvemonth and a day’, they have ‘not wisht themselves unmarried again’ (thanks to for this information).  A flitch is half a (dead) pig, cut lengthways.

I’d like to think that me and Marie-Rose would qualify for this as we still are happily married, it being our anniversary today.  This relationship feels right, we are happy to let each other be themselves and our relationship grows and bears fruit as a result. Not children though, we are too old for that.  My three from a previous marriage are quite sufficient for both of us!

Now, this reminds me (once again I have a few eggs that need using up) of what the late, great Keith Floyd said in 1987 about the Quiche Lorraine in ‘Floyd on France’, BBC Books:

‘The poor Quiche Lorraine, once aptly (and sadly) described by Elizabeth David as a culinary dustbin, is blazoned on blackboards in art centres and wine bars throughout the land.  And the resulting soggy pastry case containing congealed custard dotted with bits of ham, tinned asparagus and sliced mushrooms is a belly-chilling travesty’.
He would have agreed that some of the best things in life need to appreciated for what they are, without adornment or frippery.  I like salmon and broccoli, but melded with a quiche does nobody any favours.  It is wrong.  I also don’t agree with chocolate, coffee or chillis in beer, for that matter.
So few ingredients are used that there is no place to hide so everything must be of the highest quality so use free-range eggs and make your own pastry using the finest flour and butter.  The bacon could come from your very own flitch too, but this is unlikely, for many reasons!
Don’t make the Quiche into something it is not, love it just the way it is.
So as Keith Floyd exhorts us

‘This is how it should be done.  These are the only ingredients you are allowed to use!’
Quiche Lorraine
Serves 4 – 6
Pre-heat your oven to 200°C  You will need a well-buttered 8” (20 cm) pie dish.  I like loose bottomed ones.

250g shortcrust pastry

4 eggs, beaten

450 ml double cream

Salt and pepper

50g smoked bacon, diced and lightly fried

2 teaspoons butter, cut into small pieces

Line your well-buttered pie dish with the pastry.  Prick all over with a fork.  Beat the eggs and cream together and season well.  Sprinkle the bacon bits over the pastry case and pour in the eggs and cream.  Bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes or so until set.

Next week, Hot Cross Buns.  Never made them before…

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013,

March 10th 2013 – Ghosts

It seems that the Grand Feu was not totally successful – the snow has come back.  I was ready for it and put bubble-wrap sheeting over my potato beds, hoping to preserve any new-found warmth in the soil.  My sorrel has started to push through as well so I was able to harvest just enough for a selfish treat.  More on that later.

The seasons remind us that in prediction there also has to be variation.  We know that something should happen, but exactly when and how are not precisely known.  We expect to see things, but the weather dictates when and sometimes if.  My apples failed last year because of the weather, as they did for others in the village.  There weren’t enough pollinators around when the apples were in bloom.

Ghosts are very different, in that they can and do pop up in unexpected places and at unexpected times, not just their regular haunts.  They can lay dormant for years and then spring to ‘life’ if certain conditions are met.  Maybe a room which has lain undisturbed for years is accessed, freeing the dormant spirits.  Perhaps a grave is opened…

I find ghosts from time to time, and non are more welcome than those who fall from the pages of old cookery books, awakened by the turning pages which have remained closed for decades.  I like old cookery books and don’t look for 1st editions and perfect dust jackets.  I like the well-worn browny-green hard covers with faded gilt spine titles and a collapsing dust-jacket an added bonus.

A recent find is ‘Mrs. Lucas’s French Cookery Book’, published (3rd Edition) 1931.  Within this book was a thin sliver of blue airmail paper, with a recipe written on each side.  On one side was a Zabaione recipe but on the other ‘Yung Chung Chow Sub Yutz’ or at least that’s the best I can make out.  You can see for yourself:

Chinese recipe

I would love to know what the name of the recipe translates to.  It is a simple stir fry, with sherry added, presumably as a rice wine substitute.  It is served with boiled rice and soya sauce and must have seemed very exotic at the time.  I also love the airmail paper as that transports me back to a pre-email time when I was living in Peru, sending my mum letters every month.  Or at least that was what I intended.

Now, back to the sorrel and my selfish act.  This is a rite of spring and I share it with no-one, there simply not being enough jeunes pousses d’oseille to go round.  Young enough, they don’t need stripping from their stalks.  This will be necessary later in the year when Paling in’t groen is wanted.

Sorrel omeletteServes 1

You will need your favourite 2-3 egg omelette pan, some unsalted butter and warmed plate.  In addition:

Sorrel, young and fresh, straight from the potager

3 eggs, straight from the chickens

A little fresh cream, as good as you can find.

Melt a bit of butter in a pan and wilt the sorrel down slowly for a few minutes, 3 – 4 should do it.  Add a little cream to bind, not too much.  Keep warm.

Make your omelette in your usual way, not forgetting to season well.  When just set, add the sorrel to one half and then flip the other half over the filling.  Slide onto your plate, sit down and eat immediately.  Now you can kid yourself that spring has well and truly sprung.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013,

February 3rd 2013 – Eggs with Pungent Sauce

So here we are in February and it’s good to see the days lengthening.  In previous years our chickens, or the what-whats, would start laying regularly again at this time.  They certainly have eaten well this winter, hanging around the bird feeder hoovering up the rejected seed from our increasingly fussy wild bird population.  At least odd-looking plants won’t start erupting through the grass later on.

In fact, the what-whats (we only have two at present) have not stopped laying all through the darker months which has been rather decent of them.  We always seem to have a good few eggs come Saturday when they are used in a ‘left-overs’ omelette for lunch, before we go to market.  This is a thick omelette, like a Spanish Tortilla, often containing cooked potato, bacon pieces, random bits of charcuterie which have started to curl up a bit and a pepper from a jar.  I always start this on the hob and then finish it off under the grill after scattering over it whatever bits of cheese that are not quite up to standard.  So it could be Yarg, the garlic-leafed one, or some Ashmore Farmhouse from near Canterbury or maybe some slices of Chaucers, a Camembert-ish cheese, again from Kent.  I don’t like blue cheese used this way, but there are plenty of other things for that.

One of things I do like to do with eggs, especially if the weather is murky, is to make a Tagine Bel Bed Be Salsa Harra from Paola Scaravelli and Jon Cohen’s ‘A Mediterranean Harvest’, a real ray of sunshine.  My original copy is falling apart so much that it is now in several food-splattered sections, a recently found back-up copy awaits on the shelf.  The book contains recipes based on Fish and Vegetables and has some real gems inside as well as this egg dish (translated roughly as Eggs Poached in Pungent Sauce).  The sauce, which has a lovely back-note from the caraway seeds (carvi in French, karwij in Dutch), can be made in advance and is ideal for informal lunches. Fresh crusty bread is an ideal partner, as would a rustling bowl of frites.  Real frites-fusion, in fact.  I give the recipe ingredients in their original quantities, but I use only half the quantity of oil recommended.  You may wish to reduce the garlic too, but it is supposed to be a Pungent sauce!

Tagine Bel Bed Be Salsa Harra

Serves 4

You will need a wide frying pan, or two smaller ones.  If you are cooking for two, you can halve the quantities or make the whole lot and freeze half or just have lots of sauce.

6 tablespoons of olive oil or a mix of olive and peanut oil. 

6 chopped garlic cloves

2 tablespoons paprika

1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin

30g in total of chopped parsely and coriander

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 340g canned (usually better, I buy the ready chopped ones or the tins of cherry tomatoes)

120ml water

8 eggs

Fry the garlic gently in the oil until softened but not coloured, and then add everything else, except the eggs.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  You may need to add a bit or water or simmer a bit longer to get the right consistency which I would describe as ‘a bit thickish, definitely not watery’.

The dish can be prepared up to this point.

When ready to serve, make sure the sauce is heated through and make eight little nests in the sauce with the back of a spoon.  Break an egg into each one as you go along and cover.  When the whites are firm you are ready.  Don’t overcook so do this when people are already at the table.  Of course if you happen to have a table in the kitchen then so much the better.  Serve directly from the pan.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013,