I am a hazard in the kitchen. I don’t like being there and when I am, I hurt myself. In the last fortnight I have poured boiling water from the kettle onto my hand; I somehow managed not to steam the rice in the microwave steamer – it was burnt brown – while steaming the epidermis right off my left thumb; I ruined cupcake icing; I branded myself on the grill and turned bacon into shattering black heartbreak. This is not a problem that keeps me up at night, however. Food is fuel. I prefer tasty fuel to cup o’ soup, I really do appreciate good food but I do not mind living on two-minute noodles and Clementines. If I am particularly involved in some research, I can forget to eat for 36 hours, only realising that I’ve survived on coffee (milk, no sugar) when I start to sway and lose consciousness upon standing.
I am not a dieter at all but my absolute lack of passion when it comes to food did give me some cause for concern when I read domestic goddess, Nigella Lawson’s interview in the Big Issue.
But I do think that women who spend all their lives on a diet probably have a miserable sex life: if your body is the enemy, how can you relax and take pleasure? Everything is about control, rather than relaxing, about holding everything in.
I spent minutes worrying if I was a cold, robotic creature but quickly came to the conclusion that my extreme passion for shoes and champagne and chilli chocolate and my doing Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance most nights at 7 p.m. probably exempted me from this foodist censure.
I am not averse to trying new and strange foods either. When in Singapore, I ate a fabled durian fruit. 23Thorns spent the first 10 years of our marriage telling me about this wonder fruit, the taste of which was quite sublime if you could overcome the stench of it. The smell is described variously as mid-stage rotting, manure, dirty gym clothes left in a bag for a week, sour milk, like a gas leak. Upon approaching the fruit, I can say with certainty that all of the descriptions are valid. The shock though was quite how awful it tasted. It was supposed to be nectar of the gods if you held your nose. It wasn’t. It coated my tongue, palette and teeth in an impossible to swallow away, slightly granular slime. I tasted my one bite for hours and surreptitiously threw the rest of my portion into a bin in order not to offend all the happy durian snackers in the market.
So, so far we have established that
1. I hate cooking. The kitchen is a place of torture and despair.
2. I love nice food but I can live on salt-seasoned cardboard and citrus.
3. I am adventurous and passionate despite what Nigella Lawson has to say on the matter!
4. I drink too much champagne at any given opportunity.
In light of all the above, imagine my surprise yesterday afternoon when after a very stressful long-weekend with the children instead of drinking champagne in the garden and weeping, I took to the kitchen willingly to make something so ridiculously homely and old-fashioned, I giggle a little bit having to mention it. I picked lemons from the garden and my daughter and I made lemon marmalade. We made marmalade! Not only did we make it, we made it edible. It set. We can spread it on toast and not just pour it on roast chickens. And I made this tasty food without any injury to my person. “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.”
To continue the new food focus of my life, I woke up this morning to find the first entry on my Facebook timeline was a menu. An Australian friend was having a stupidly pretentious lunch. The menu:
Atlantic salmon, celeriac purée, smoked leek, hazelnut romesco
Spiced chick peas, sofrito, semolina cake, caramelised fennel, quark
Muscat braised duck leg, braised witlof, carrots, peas
Lamb press, parsnip purée, apple candy
Even my spellcheck is up in arms about at least one ingredient per dish. Having to turn to Wikipedia though to decode a menu has piqued my interest. As a fan of obscure information, I have decided that what I need to be cooking is obscure food. Obscure food might fire the foodie passions in a way that chops and rosemary potatoes simply don’t. And if I can find my way to cooking obscure, pretentious and historical food, I might just have hit kitchen gold. Before I share some historical menus I might shortly give a bash, here’s a little translation of Rob’s menu in case you too are not familiar with quark in a non-particle physics sense.
Romesco is a nut and red pepper-based sauce from Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain. It is typically made from any mixture of roasted or raw almonds, pine nuts, and/or hazelnuts, roasted garlic, olive or sunflower oil, bitxo peppers and/or nyora peppers.
Quark is a type of fresh dairy product. It is made by warming soured milk until the desired degree of denaturation of milk proteins is met, and then strained.
Witlof is a variety of salad green that is equally good raw or cooked. It’s related to radicchio, and has similarly crisp leaves to that vegetable. Its leaves are tightly packed and white in colour, with pale green tips. They have a crisp texture and delicate, slightly bitter flavour.
Onto obscure foods… The first menu I came across in A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye originally published in the mid 16th century.
I must confess to not ever having seen this much food served, even at a wedding. It is no wonder that Henry VIII turned into a barrel! I do like the idea of “bolde meate”* though. No bashful meat has place in my kitchen. The children will also be delighted to have custard served with their pigs toes.
Here after foloweth the order of meates how they must be served at the Table with their sauces for fleshe dayes at dynner.
The fyrste course.
Potage or stewed broath.
Bolde meate or stewed meate.
Chekins and Bacon.
The seconde course.
The fyrste service at supper.
Potage or sewe.
A pygges petytoe.
Poudred beyfe slyced.
A shoulder of mutton or a Breste. Veale.
The seconde coorse.
A pye of pygeons or Chekins.
The seruice at dyner.
Brawne and mustarde.
Capons stewed, or in whyte broath.
A pestle of veneson upon a browes.
A chyne of beyfe and a breste of mutton boylde.
Chuettes of pyes of fyne mutton.
Thre grene gese in a dyshe, sorel sauce; for a stubble gose, mustarde and vineger.
After all halowen daye, a swan Sauce chadel.
A dubble rybbe of beyf roosted, sauce pepper and vyneger.
A loyne of veale or a brest sauce Halfe a lambe or a kyd orengers.
Two capons roosted – sauce wyne and salte, ale and salt, except it be uppon soppes
Two pasties of falow dere in a dyshe.
A dyshe of Leches.
The seconde course.
Peacooke – Sauce wyne and salt.
Two connies or half a dosyn rabets; Sauce mustarde and suger.
Half a dosyn chekyns upon sorell soppes.
Half a dosyn pigeons.
Teyle. Sauce mustarde
Guiles and verges.
Crane Sauce galentyne.
Bitture. Bustarde. Fesande — Sauce water and salt with onyons slyced.
Halfe a dosen woodcockes, Sauce mustarde and suger.
Halfe a dosen partriches,
Half a dosen tayles, Sauced as the fesantes.
A dosen of Quayles.
A dyshe of Larkes.
Two pasties of redde deare in a dyshe.
Service for fyshe dayes.
A sallett with harde Egges.
Potage of Sande Eles and Lamperns.
Read hearynge, grene broyled strawed upon.
Salte samon minced. Sauce Mustard and Vergis and a lyttle suger.
Shadde. Sauce vineger.
Whytinge – Sauce wyth the lyuer and mustarde.
Plyace, Sauce sorel, or wyne and salte, or mustard, or vergys.
Thorneback — Sauce lyver and mustard, peper
A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye (mid-16th c.)
Text: Frere, Catherine Frances (ed.): A proper newe booke of cokerye. With notes, introduction and glossary; together with some account of domestic life, cookery and feasts in Tudor days, and of the first owner of the book, Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Margaret Parker his wife. Cambridge: W. Heffer& Sons Ltd. 1913.
Bibliography: A.W. Oxford, English cookery books to the year 1850, p. 3
Electronic version: Thomas Gloning, VII/2001
Right, I was going to include several other old menus and recipes but it appears the Tudors have exhausted my word allowance and tolerance for food-talk for the day. (Rome wasn’t built in one; and we can’t expect miracles in my first week of foodie passion). And besides, if I’m going to serve peahen in vinegar and sand eels in custard for dinner, I better get cracking. All the good peahens are sold out by 12 and goodness knows if those witlof suppliers are to be relied upon. The children will be so disappointed if I have to substitute the witlof for green straw.
If you are interested in more recipes, check out www.foodtimeline.org
*Bolde meat is boiled or boylde meat. I am ignoring this in favour of the far more appealing concept of ‘bold meat’ because, really, it is my kitchen and I’m making the rules.