Celeriac Soup with Apple and Chestnut

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

Serves 6

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

Truffle oil

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.

Solidarity Pudding

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.

Solid­ar­ity Pudding

Serves 6 Friends

6 eat­ing apples — Royal Gala are good for this

40g soft brown sugar

1 tea­spoon Chinese five spice powder

140g but­ter

120g caster sugar

2 eggs

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

Albert Camus

Poems, Roses and Butterbean Soup

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

Serves 6

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.