Reading Paul Auster’s novel The Brooklyn Follies, I collided with a disturbing idea. According to Auster’s thwarted character Tom, we’ve entered a new era, an era of the ‘post-past age.’ Tom elaborates that the ‘post-past’ means ‘The now. And also the later. But no more dwelling on the then.’
Could that be true? Are we so dislocated from anything that’s gone before that we have no choice but to stare fixedly ahead and wait for what’s coming? What kind of cynic do you think I am? Of course I don’t agree with that notion and neither, I suspect, do you. At this time of year you need only go to a child’s nativity play, or flick through an old cookery book to find the recipe that your mother swore by for Christmas turkey, or attend a Remembrance Day service, or go to a Thanksgiving party, as I did last week. And then you will know that the post-past is a fiction dreamed up by people who favour the smart remark above the truth.
And just in case you need a little more persuading, here is my recipe for celeriac and chestnut soup, a divinely fragrant concoction that I first ate when I was a child. As far as I’m concerned, the post-past is dead. Long live the pre-present.…
Celeriac Soup With Apple and Chestnut
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 floury potato
1 medium onion
1 garlic clove
I whole celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks
I litre vegetable stock
100 ml double cream
100 ml full cream milk
100 g vacuum packed cooked chestnuts
2 Granny Smith apples
Cut the potato, onion, 1 apple and celeriac into chunks and slice the garlic. Soften the onion gently in the olive oil for five minutes, and then add the potato, garlic, apple and celeriac. Don’t allow the vegetables to brown. Season and continue to cook gently for another five minutes and then add the hot vegetable stock and simmer for twenty minutes. Puree with a stick blender before stirring in the cream and milk. Reheat the soup, but don’t let it boil. Adjust the seasoning. Break the chestnuts into smallish pieces and saute briefly in a little olive oil. Cut the second apple into the finest julienne — (don’t peel the apple — the flash of green at one end is good). Serve the soup with a scattering of chestnuts, a sprinkling of apple and a circular drizzle of truffle oil. Eat your soup like the Roman god Janus, facing backwards and forwards at the same time. And let’s have no more talk of the post-past.
I took a long walk with a dear friend this morning and he commented that of all the words to crystallize the meaning of friendship, solidarity is perhaps the best. So this week’s post is an Ode to Solidarity. As Laurence J. Peter said so wisely, ‘you can always tell a real friend: when you’ve made a fool of yourself he doesn’t feel you’ve done a permanent job.’
I love the substantial, comforting heft of the word solidarity. The mere sound of it would protect against the coldest of winter winds and the bleakest of times, just like the best of friends.
So here is my Solidarity Pudding — a warming apple and almond confection — to be served to your closest allies and greatest defenders.
Serves 6 Friends
6 eating apples — Royal Gala are good for this
40g soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
120g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
2 tablespoons self-raising flour
Handful of flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Peel, core and slice the apples and mix with the soft brown sugar, the five spice powder and 20g of the butter, which you’ve melted. Place the fruit in a baking dish around 18 cm in diameter or similar.
Cream the butter and caster sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and add them gradually to the butter mixture, mixing thoroughly as you go. Stir the almonds and flour together and fold gently into the butter, sugar and eggs. Pour the mixture over the fruit, scatter the flaked almonds on top and bake in the oven for around 50 minutes or until golden brown. The pudding should still be a little gooey in the middle and served with cream.
Light the candles and eat your substantial, nourishing Solidarity Pudding while you laugh like drains about old times.
Don’t walk in front of me
I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me
I may not lead
Walk beside me
And just be my friend
I was entranced to hear that the British poet Ian McMillan used to tuck a poem into his children’s packed lunches before school each morning. I’d pay good money for someone to do that for me, although I did once have a boyfriend who used to put a rose in my handbag every time I left the house. That was, I suppose, a little bit of poetry in itself.
Today the frost has finally come and I have a yearning to make butterbean and peanut soup, a recipe my mother used to make. She would stand at the Aga stirring the soup with the bread knife because she thought it was the only utensil anyone ever really needs. It cuts, it stirs and it spreads she would say, and that pretty much covers most things — unless you have a penchant for piped potatoes which I really don’t.
I’m going to eat my soup reading Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley. And I might even tuck a copy of it into my own handbag afterwards.
Butterbean and Peanut Soup
500g dried butterbeans
1 litre vegetable stock
6 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
Salt and pepper
Soak the butterbeans in 1.5 litres of cold water for 24 hours. Drain and rinse well and then put them in a pan with another 1.5 litres of cold water. Bring to the boil and let the beans bubble briskly for 10 minutes, skimming the water as you go. After ten minutes reduce the heat and cook gently for another ten minutes. Tip away the water and replace with the vegetable stock — Marigold Bouillon powder is good for this — and bring to a gentle boil. Add the peanut butter and continue to cook gently for an hour, adding more water if you need to.
Adjust the seasoning at the end and serve with a scattering of chopped chives. This, I have to confess, is as much an aesthetic as a taste thing. Beige soup needs a little colour in its life, just like we do.