The Darkling Thrush and Pontack

It’s that bleak, oppress­ive time of year when light is sparse and joys are scant. ‘Winter’s dregs’ was how writer Thomas Hardy described it, in his poem The Dark­ling Thrush. Depend­ing on my mood, I either sign up to the plucky cour­age of Hardy’s wind-battered bird, trilling mer­rily from his twig. Or I side with the lugubri­ous poet, shar­ing his bewil­der­ment that the thrush could find any­thing remotely jolly to sing about.

I leant upon a cop­pice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made des­ol­ate
The weak­en­ing eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all man­kind that haunted nigh
Had sought their house­hold fires.

The land’s sharp fea­tures seemed to be
The Century’s corpse out­leant,
His crypt the cloudy can­opy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spir­it upon earth
Seemed fer­vour­less as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs over­head
In a full-hearted even­song
Of joy illim­ited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the grow­ing gloom.

So little cause for car­ol­ings
Of such ecstat­ic sound
Was writ­ten on ter­restri­al things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, where­of he knew
And I was unaware.

I’ve decided that today belongs to the brave little bird, des­pite plenty of evid­ence to the con­trary. And in that spir­it I reached for blood oranges, both tart and sweet; for fen­nel, full of ani­seedy crunch; and for Pon­tack sauce.

Pon­tack sauce? I knew noth­ing about it until I dis­covered For­age, a group of gather­ers and for­agers from Here­ford­shire who pick nat­ur­al ingredi­ents from hedgerows and wood­lands and turn them into deli­cious-tast­ing products like Pon­tack, wild rose spice mix and wild herb rub.

I had no idea what to expect when I ordered a bottle online. Pon­tack is made from cider vin­eg­ar, eld­er­ber­ries, onions, root ginger and all­spice and appar­ently dates back to the 18th cen­tury. It’s a rich, deep red in col­our and tastes like a roun­ded, fruity vin­eg­ar with a hint of cloves. Hav­ing tasted it, it seemed to me to be the per­fect ingredi­ent for a vinai­grette, although I dis­covered that a couple of spoon­fuls were also deli­cious stirred into a slow-cooked beef cas­ser­ole.

BLOOD ORANGE AND FENNEL SALAD WITH PONTACK VINAIGRETTE

For each per­son you will need:

  • One quarter of a fen­nel bulb, sliced very thinly
  • Half a blood orange, peeled and thinly sliced. Any sur­plus juice can be added to the vinai­grette
  • Hand­ful salad leaves
  • Hand­ful wal­nuts
  • Extra vir­gin olive oil
  • Pon­tack sauce
  • Salt, pep­per and a pinch of sug­ar

Whisk 2 parts of Pon­tack with 1 part extra vir­gin olive oil. Add salt, black pep­per and a gen­er­ous pinch of sug­ar. Once emul­si­fied trickle the vinai­grette over the salad, oranges and fen­nel and top with wal­nuts. Serve this sharp, cit­rus salad with char-grilled sal­mon. The two bal­ance each oth­er per­fectly.

Such a vibrant, bright, fresh-tast­ing salad would, I ima­gine, have cut no ice with the per­en­ni­ally gloomy Thomas Hardy. But that plucky little thrush would have loved it — espe­cially the eld­er­berry Pon­tack. That’s prob­ably what he was singing about.

If You are con­cerned in pur­chas­ing medic­a­ments online, now may be the sea­son to do so. So the next prob­lem is where can you find inform­a­tion that is reli­able. You can get such info fast and con­veni­ently by going online. There are many ill­nesses such as schizo­phrenia which have no cure. One of the most pop­u­lar medi­cine is Via­gra. What about com­par­is­on between Cial­is versus Levitra and ? Nearly every adult knows about . Oth­er ques­tion we have to is . The symp­toms of sexu­al dis­orders in men include lack of sexu­al fantas­ies. Not­with­stand­ing sex is not vital for good sound­ness, it’s cer­tainly good for any­one. So if you are exper­i­en­cing erectile prob­lems, it is essen­tial to see a cer­ti­fied phys­i­cian instantly for a com­plete medi­cin­al test­ing. Cer­tainly, online phar­macy can hands-down help you for solv­ing your all per­son­al dif­fi­culties.

Miss Galindo’s Canape

I love the concept of the canape. All the fla­vours of an entire plate­ful, heaped extra­vag­antly into one per­fect mouth­ful. But I’ve just dis­covered some­thing I love as much as the canape, and that’s the deriv­a­tion of the word. Canape was coined in 18th cen­tury France  and means ‘sofa’ — a wel­com­ing, capa­cious, invit­ing seat on which to place a host of con­vivi­al part­ners. The per­fect descrip­tion of the best kind of canape, in oth­er words. I haven’t enjoyed a word so much since I dis­covered ses­qui­ped­ali­an — a very long word which means a very long word.

Idle thoughts about sofas took me to Eliza­beth Gaskell, the Vic­tori­an nov­el­ist and bio­graph­er of Char­lotte Bronte. In 1859 Mrs Gaskell com­bined a group of stor­ies under the col­lect­ive title Round the Sofa. Char­ac­ters gath­er around the sofa of Mrs. Dawson to hear her account of Lady Lud­low. The sub­sequent story of the Count­ess, her feck­less son Lord Sep­timus and her loy­al com­pan­ion Miss Galindo became one of the most com­pel­ling strands of the bril­liant BBC tele­vi­sion adapt­a­tion of Mrs Gaskell’s work, Cran­ford.

This is the canape I’ve devised in hon­our of Miss Galindo, the spin­ster daugh­ter of a Bar­on­et. In Mrs Gaskell’s story she struggles uncom­plain­ingly to sup­port her­self and I figured it was time she was treated to a little lux­ury. So in trib­ute to the vali­ant Miss Galindo, here’s an edible sofa to enjoy while sit­ting on a sofa, read­ing Round the Sofa.

CANAPES OF SCALLOPS ON A JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE CRISP WITH ARTICHOKE PUREE AND PANCETTA

  • 500 g Jer­u­s­alem artichokes, scrubbed but unpeeled
  • 200 g fresh scal­lops
  • A little lem­on juice
  • 1 large knob but­ter
  • 100 ml single cream
  • 200 ml ground­nut oil
  • Season­ing
  • A few fresh thyme leaves
  • Around 6 slices pan­cetta

Reserve one large, evenly shaped artichoke — put the oth­ers to one side to use for the pur­ee. Slice the reserved artichoke very finely with a man­dolin. As you slice, place the pieces in a bowl of water which has been acid­u­lated with lem­on juice. The lem­on will stop the artichoke from dis­col­our­ing.

Dry the artichoke slices. Heat the ground­nut oil in a pan until very hot — it should be about 1.5 cm deep. Test the tem­per­at­ure by put­ting a cube of bread into the oil and check­ing that it fries crisply.  Lower the artichoke slices care­fully into the oil for around two minutes until crisp and brown. Remove from the oil and place them on kit­chen paper while you pre­pare the oth­er ingredi­ents. (The crisps are deli­cious on their own, with a little sea salt, but you want to end up with enough crisps to part­ner the scal­lops, so count care­fully.)

Bring the remain­ing artichokes to a sim­mer in a pan of salted water and cook until soft.
Pur­ee the cooked artichokes, along with the but­ter and cream. Sea­son to taste and keep warm.

Fry the pan­cetta until crisp and remove from pan. Using the same pan, add a little olive oil and fry the scal­lops for a couple of minutes each side, until golden. Don’t over­cook them or they will become tough.

Assemble your sofas by heap­ing a tea­spoon of pur­ee on a crisp, pla­cing a gen­er­ous shard of pan­cetta on top and crown­ing with a thyme-topped scal­lop. Squeeze a few drops of lem­on over the scal­lops if so inclined. Eat imme­di­ately — no-one likes a soggy sofa.

If You are con­cerned in pur­chas­ing medic­a­ments online, now may be the time to do so. So the next prob­lem is where can you find data that is reli­able. You can get such info fast and con­veni­ently by going online. There are many ill­nesses such as schizo­phrenia which have no cure. One of the most pop medi­cine is Via­gra. What about com­par­is­on between Cial­is versus Levitra and ? Nearly each adult knows about . Oth­er ques­tion we have to is . The symp­toms of sexu­al dis­orders in men switch on lack of sexu­al fantas­ies. Not­with­stand­ing sex is not vital for good hearti­ness, it’s cer­tainly good for any­one. So if you are exper­i­en­cing erectile prob­lems, it is essen­tial to see a cer­ti­fied phys­i­cian forth­with for a com­plete med­ic­al test­ing. Cer­tainly, online phar­macy can hands-down help you for solv­ing your all per­son­al dif­fi­culties.

When Colours Run Riot

There was a phase in the 1970s when interi­or design ran riot. I remem­ber my grandpa announ­cing proudly that he’d dec­or­ated the walls of his small front room with four wildly dif­fer­ent wall­pa­pers and picked out the wood­work in egg-yolk yel­low.

I thought of my grandpa as I walked around Dav­id Hockney’s new exhib­i­tion A Big­ger Pic­ture at the Roy­al Academy in Lon­don. The exhib­i­tion is vast and over­whelm­ing and throbs with wild col­ours and pat­terns. It’s gen­er­ous, showy and utterly inde­pend­ent in spir­it and yet it’s metic­u­lous and some­how dogged too — qual­it­ies that pretty much sum up my grandpa.

Walk­ing through Oxford’s Uni­ver­sity Parks later that day, I felt some­how let down that the winter branches didn’t have the vibrancy of Dav­id Hockney’s trees.

But turn­ing 180 degrees so that the sun was shin­ing on the trunks, the col­ours jumped into life. I got a whole new per­spect­ive. And if that’s not a meta­phor for life, I don’t know what is.

Muted, restrained food is the last thing I wanted after the Hock­ney tid­al wave. I craved the idea of eat­ing a riot of col­our. When in that mood and at this time of year, there’s really only one choice — full throttle, lip-stain­ing, fin­ger-smear­ing, red and yel­low beet­roots. I found a bag of just such a thing for half price at Whole­foods, along with a sil­ver foil hick­ory smoker from Fin­land for £2.29.

I have a dis­astrous record at home-smoking. The last time I tried we had to evac­u­ate the house. But I figured I’d be safe in the hands of the Finns. If you want a really strong smokey fla­vour, this bag will dis­ap­point you. But for a del­ic­ate hint of smoke, without the need for a full evac­u­ation plan, this bag works fine.

SMOKED RED AND GOLDEN BEETROOT WITH GOAT’S CURD AND SMOKED GARLIC

Serves 4

  • 2 red and 2 golden beet­root
  • 4 small red onions
  • Salad leaves
  • Goat’s curd
  • 1 head gar­lic
  • 2 table­spoons bal­sam­ic vin­eg­ar
  • Bunch thyme
  • 2 table­spoons olive oil
  • Black­berry vin­eg­ar — I bought mine from Womers­ley Foods
  • 1 dis­pos­able foil smoker — bought from Whole­foods for £2.29

Wash the beet­root, but don’t both­er to peel them. Slice into rounds about 1.5 to 2 cm thick. Peel the onions but leave whole. Toss the beet­root, onions, whole head of gar­lic and thyme in the olive oil and bal­sam­ic vin­eg­ar, sea­son and place in a single lay­er inside the foil smoker. Seal the foil and place in a pre-heated oven at 250 degrees C. After 15 minutes turn the heat down to 190 degrees C. Cook for a fur­ther 45 minutes. Remove the pack­age from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before cut­ting open the foil. Peel the beet­root and slice into thin­nish circles.

Make a salad dress­ing from a little olive oil, black­berry vin­eg­ar and season­ing and dress the salad leaves. Pile the beet­root, onions and scoops of goat’s curd over the leaves and trickle over a little of the bal­sam­ic and olive oil from the smoker. After its hour of bak­ing, the gar­lic will be rich, sweet and unc­tu­ous — per­fect when spread on a little sour­dough bread.

 I ate my riot­ous salad and bread with beet­root soup that I made by bak­ing beet­roots and apples for an hour and blend­ing with veget­able stock and a little grated fresh horseradish.

apple on a plate

My grandpa was wild with his col­our schemes but excep­tion­ally tim­id in his tastes. He would have hated this recipe. But he would have loved the ideas that lie behind it, and that’s good enough for me.

If You are inter­ested in pur­chas­ing medic­a­ments online, now may be the sea­son to do so. So the next mat­ter is where can you find inform­a­tion that is reli­able. You can get such info fast and con­veni­ently by going online. There are many ill­nesses such as schizo­phrenia which have no cure. One of the most pops phys­ic is Via­gra. What about com­par­is­on between Cial­is versus Levitra and ? Nearly either adult knows about . Oth­er ques­tion we have to is . The symp­toms of sexu­al dis­orders in men turn on lack of sexu­al fantas­ies. Not­with­stand­ing sex is not vital for good health, it’s cer­tainly good for any­one. So if you are exper­i­en­cing erectile prob­lems, it is essen­tial to see a cer­ti­fied phys­i­cian imme­di­ately for a com­plete med­ic test­ing. Cer­tainly, online phar­macy can hands-down help you for solv­ing your all per­son­al dif­fi­culties.