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British Seasonal Food by Mark Hix
Published in paperback on March 4th 2011 (Quadrille, £14.99)
Photography © Jason Lowe
RAZOR CLAMS WITH WILD BOAR BACON AND HEDGEROW GARLIC
Mark Hix grew up in a house so close to the sea in Dorset that he could spot mackerel from his bedroom window. At school he learned how to kill and pluck chickens and after lessons would sidle over to the pier to go prawning with his mates.
Brought up by his grandparents, Hix describes eating simple suppers of nothing more than his Grandad’s homegrown tomatoes served with dark brown Sarson’s malt vinegar, salt and buttered bread. Or a bowl of freshly boiled onions with melted butter. His Gran swore the home-grown onions would keep colds away, but he suspected they ate them because they were cheap. It was ‘a simple household’ where there was ‘nothing posh, just honest, earthy ingredients.’ His evocations of a frugal but happy childhood make British Seasonal Food a quirkily charming book. The recipes make it a great one.
While Mark Hix was eating tomatoes and Sarson’s by the sea, I was eating beetroot dipped in the same brand of vinegar a few miles along the coast. I recognise the childhood he describes. But what he has succeeded in doing is transforming those fleeting memories of sea air, shrimping, home-grown cucumbers and his Grandad’s prized chrysanthemums into a style of cooking that’s strikingly original.
The recipes he describes for razor clams with hedgerow garlic, skate cheeks, cod’s tongues, rabbit brawn, lovage leaf fritters and fried green tomatoes in beer batter are honest but supremely artful dishes that combine local, home-grown and foraged ingredients to magical effect. I imagine his Gran would have sniffed that the recipes are ‘too fancy’. My Great Aunt, provider of the beetroot of my childhood, certainly would have done.
Hix is notorious for his energy and has a ferocious appetite for work. True to his grandparents’ values he still forages for wild mushrooms and seashore plants because otherwise it would be ‘like ignoring free food.’ British Seasonal Food, in this new paperback edition, includes recipes for soused gurnard with sea purslane, fried duck’s egg with brown shrimps and sprue asparagus, as well as elderflower ice cream, apple mayonnaise and homemade celery salt. Most are relatively straightforward to make, if sometimes challenging to shop for.
Mark Hix now has three London restaurants as well as Hix Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis, a few miles west of his old childhood home. He has the kind of crumpled, creased face that Gordon Ramsay used to have and arms like a no-nonsense hospital matron. But his food is delicate, exquisite and inspired.
This is the first Eggs on the Roof book review. There will be more reviews later in the year.