The Justified Greengage

Like a sum­mer dah­lia frozen in ice, this post is pos­sibly slightly per­verse (the flower-freezing thing isn’t always daft - some­times it’s edible.) I have a slightly sink­ing feel­ing that what I’m about to embark on may repel before it entices. But, as with my posts on Fermat’s Last The­orem and the French writer Ray­mond Queneau, it may be worth stick­ing with until the end, when at least there’ll be cake.

This is a homily about the hom­onym, one of a group of words that share the same spelling and the same pro­nun­ci­ation, but have dif­fer­ent mean­ings. The word that star­ted all this off is the hom­onym jus­ti­fied, which can be typo­graph­ical or simply excusable. And the reason I’m going on about it is because of the lay­out of this page. I don’t much like text that’s

flush on the left but ragged on the right

or ragged on the left but flush on the right

And, even worse, text that hov­ers some­where in the middle of the page, without any real clue what it’s doing there

What I try to use is jus­ti­fied text — it’s so sooth­ingly square and sym­met­rical. But there’s some­thing bossily sanc­ti­mo­ni­ous about the other mean­ing of the word jus­ti­fied, that I really don’t like; boast­ing that it, and only it, is right (not as in left, but as in cor­rect, which is of course another hom­onym). We tend to use the word jus­ti­fied when we want to bol­ster our slightly flag­ging defences. Think of the 19th Cen­tury novel The Private Mem­oirs and Con­fes­sions of a Jus­ti­fied Sin­ner by James Hogg, if you want to find an example of just such a usage. Mem­oirs they may be, con­fes­sions they could be, but jus­ti­fied they cer­tainly are not.

So this is a post about jus­ti­fied in a typo­graph­ical sense, but not in a sanc­ti­mo­ni­ous sense. The green­gage of my title is jus­ti­fied in that it stops the cake from being ragged left, ragged right or simply all over the place. It’s an addi­tion that makes the cake right (as in per­fect, not as in left.)

JUSTIFIED GREENGAGE CAKE

  • 180 grams unsalted butter
  • 180 grams caster sugar plus extra tablespoon
  • 180 grams self-raising flour
  • 100 grams ground almonds
  • 3 medium eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tea­spoon vanilla essence
  • Hand­ful ripe green­gages, halved and stoned
  • Hand­ful ripe blueberries
  • Hand­ful flaked almonds

Pre­heat the oven to 175 C. But­ter a 25 cm cake tin and line the bot­tom with parch­ment. Beat the but­ter and sugar together until pale and fluffy look­ing. Whisk the eggs with a fork and mix them in, a little at a time. Sieve the flour to add a little air and fold it in, along with the ground almonds, the vanilla essence and a pinch of salt.

Tip the mix­ture into the cake tin and push the green­gage halves into the mix­ture, cut side up, until semi-submerged, but still vis­ible. Do the same with the blue­ber­ries and then sprinkle the extra table­spoon of sugar over the lot. Place in the middle of the oven. After half an hour, pull the tin out briefly so that you can sprinkle the top of the cake with the flaked, blanched almonds (add them any earlier than this and the nuts will burn). Place the tin back in the oven for another half and hour.

Take the cake out of the oven and, after half an hour, remove from the tin. This is one of those cakes that, without ques­tion, tastes bet­ter the next day. So you can be an entirely Jus­ti­fied Sin­ner by eat­ing the entire thing, single-handed, in two days.

p.s. To leaven this mix­ture a little, I will leave you with an example of what hap­pens if you muddle up your homonyms:

The thief tripped as he tried to make his get­away and landed in a cement mixer. He became a hardened criminal.

The Minutiae of Broad Beans

There’s a paint­ing by the sixteenth-century artist Titian in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gal­lery that seems to tell its entire story at a glance. Sup­per at Emmaus depicts the moment Jesus reveals his iden­tity to his fol­low­ers, after the Cru­ci­fix­ion and Resur­rec­tion. The dis­ciple on the left of the paint­ing looks suit­ably startled to dis­cover who his din­ing com­pan­ion is, while the fol­lower on the right seems to be mak­ing up his mind whether to offer apo­lo­gies or con­grat­u­la­tions. But look at the table­cloth, in front of the loaf of bread. There, oddly and even a little pro­sa­ic­ally, is a little heap of broad beans. What can they be doing there? And where are the mounds of grapes, flagons of wine and plat­ters of roast meats that we’ve come to expect from such reli­gious paintings?

Caravaggio’s Sup­per at Emmaus, painted in 1601, goes for a much grander menu to mark the solem­nity of the occa­sion: a slightly comic roast chicken, grapes, pomegranates and figs. In his 1620 ver­sion, Bar­to­lomeo Cav­arozzi plumps for a decanter of wine and enough grapes to fill a grocer’s shelves. So why Titian’s broad beans? The pos­sible answer is that broad beans were once thought to embody the soul of the dead (the Greek math­em­atician Pythagoras issued an injunc­tion for­bid­ding any­one to eat beans, ever). Per­haps to coun­ter­bal­ance the note of mel­an­choly intro­duced by the beans, Titian scattered a few bor­age flowers over the table­cloth, since these were thought to chase away sadness.

Fly­ing in the face of Pythagoras’ instruc­tions, I bring you a broad bean con­fec­tion that is res­ol­utely cheer­ful and sunny, with or without the perky bor­age flowers. August is the height of the broad bean sea­son, so cast mel­an­choly aside and celebrate.

BROAD BEAN, PEA SHOOT AND RICOTTA BRUSCHETTA

  • Hand­ful of beans per person
  • Sour dough bread
  • Clove gar­lic
  • Ricotta
  • Hand­ful of pea shoots
  • Grated zest of lemon
  • Extra vir­gin olive oil
  • Season­ing
  • Hand­ful herb flowers — I used oregano this time, but thyme, rose­mary or chive would be good too
  • Hand­ful mint leaves

Pod the beans and boil in salted water for no more than two minutes. Allow to cool and then peel off the leath­ery jack­ets. Lightly toast the bread and rub with the cut side of a gar­lic clove. Spread each slice with ricotta cheese, sprinkled with a little salt and black pep­per. Tip the beans on top, fol­lowed by the pea shoots, torn mint leaves and a few herb flowers. Mix the lemon zest with the olive oil and drip a little on top of each toast.

Looking Up, Looking Down

Bril­liant con­cepts are often described in ris­ible ways: ‘push the envel­ope’, ‘wake up and smell the cof­fee’, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, ‘let’s make a plan going for­ward’ and ‘blue-sky-thinking’. I aim to do all of those things most of the time, but never, ever will you get me to use any of those phrases. Take ‘blue-sky-thinking’ for example: the notion of devis­ing cre­at­ive ideas that are unfettered by the mundane or the ped­es­trian. The concept is per­fect, but the cliche-ridden pack­aging kills it stone dead. But then it struck me that per­haps ‘blue-sky-thinking’ would be bet­ter if I rever­ted to tak­ing it lit­er­ally rather than meta­phor­ic­ally. Lying on a forest floor and star­ing up through the can­opy of trees at the blue, wintry sky bey­ond is as good a way of think­ing new things as any and it cer­tainly took some of the sting out of the cliche.

To be abso­lutely truth­ful, the idea that came to me while I looked up through the can­opy of leaves wasn’t exactly revolu­tion­ary. All I kept think­ing as I stared up at the sky was that look­ing up is the same as look­ing down — it’s the simple action of tak­ing a dif­fer­ent view­point that counts. To prove my the­ory, I’ve been star­ing down into a pot of home-made orange curd to see what inspir­a­tion might come. My orange-pot-thinking pro­duced two and a half decent ideas — I will tell you about them in my next post. In the mean­time, here’s my recipe for orange curd to help you with a little orange-pot-thinking of your own.

ORANGE CURD

Makes four or five 200ml jars

  • 4 large oranges — finely grated zest and juice
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 300g unsalted but­ter, chopped
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 3 extra yolks, beaten

Add the but­ter, sugar, lemon juice, orange zest and orange juice to a pan and heat gently until the but­ter has melted. Pour the mix­ture into a heat­proof bowl and place above a plan of sim­mer­ing water. Strain the eggs into the mix­ture and stir con­stantly until everything is com­bined. It will then take at least an hour to thicken. Stir it fre­quently and do not allow it to get too hot — it will sep­ar­ate if you do. If you’re cau­tious with the heat, the thick­en­ing will take longer, but you will avoid calam­ity. Once the mix­ture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, pour it into the ster­il­ised jars and cover with a circle of greased paper. It will keep for around 6 to 8 weeks in the fridge.

P.S. I have used the phrase ‘orange-pot-thinking’ three times in this post. It is now offi­cially a cliche and I prom­ise never to use it again — unless, of course, literally.

Back to Front Vintage Rice with Pomegranate

Research­ers have been por­ing over not the front but the back of the Bayeux tapestry, to prove that it wasn’t woven by dif­fer­ent teams of nuns in sev­eral sep­ar­ate pieces, but by the same group of people in one long length. After all, the back of a work of art says as much about its cre­ator as the front.

My Great Auntie Susie loved sew­ing, knit­ting and crochet of all kinds. But when I took her to the Vic­toria & Albert Museum to see the work of the great tapestry artist Kaffe Fas­sett, she had abso­lutely no interest at all in the beau­ti­ful artistry on dis­play. ‘I want to see the sew­ings’, she kept repeat­ing crossly. ‘I don’t want to see the front. I want to see the back.’ Her meas­ure of real crafts­man­ship was how beau­ti­fully Kaffe Fas­sett had fin­ished off his threads at the back of the can­vas. Sev­eral times, she tried to creep behind a dis­play to peer at the neat­ness of the ‘sew­ings’ and each time we were warned not to get too close. Finally, she could bear it no longer; she grabbed one of the canvases and lif­ted it up to get a bet­ter look. We were politely asked to leave, but not before she pro­claimed that, accord­ing to her stand­ards, Fas­sett had done a good job.

I love the work­ings of an object: the half-finished paint­ing with pen­cil marks show­ing through, the hand-thrown pot with the indent­a­tion of a thum­b­print or the drag of a fin­ger­nail. I even love the sound of an orches­tra as it tunes-up before a con­cert. It lays itself bare in all its ragged, dis­cord­ant imper­fec­tion, like a host­ess before the party starts, dressed in posh frock and high heels but hair still in curl­ers. An orches­tra tuning-up always makes me think of the great sitar player Ravi Shankar at the Con­cert for Bangladesh in 1971. ‘Thank you’, he said testily, as he fin­ished his pre­par­a­tions and the audi­ence star­ted to applaud. ‘If you appre­ci­ate the tuning-up so much, I hope you’ll enjoy the play­ing more.’

This is a dish in which all the sew­ings, the work­ings, the ingredi­ents and the method are laid bare. There’s no con­ceal­ment, no obfus­ca­tion, no trick­ery. It’s pure, simple, hon­est and above all deli­cious and every com­pon­ent can be seen clearly. And yet there is a mys­tery; the taste of the rice. It may look like per­fectly stand­ard bas­mati rice. But this is vin­tage bas­mati rice. Like Stra­di­vari viol­ins, the best har­vests of bas­mati rice become finer over time. This par­tic­u­lar Tilda vin­tage is from 2006 and the dif­fer­ence was appar­ent as soon as I bur­ied my nose in the packet. It has a stronger, more toasted aroma and the fla­vour, when cooked, is both nutty and del­ic­ate. It seemed cruel to plonk some­thing on top of it; hence my back to front rice salad that is both refresh­ing and refined and in which the rice is the star.

Back to Front Vin­tage Rice Salad

Serves 4

  • 40g of vin­tage bas­mati rice per person
  • 1 cucum­ber, peeled and cubed
  • 8 spring onions, finely sliced
  • Large hand­fuls of fresh flat leaf pars­ley, cori­ander and mint, chopped
  • Seeds of 3 pomegranates
  • 4 table­spoons clear rice vinegar
  • 4 level tea­spoons caster sugar
  • Salt and black pepper

I tried two dif­fer­ent meth­ods to cook the rice: first, soak­ing it in a bowl of cold water for half an hour before cook­ing it in a small amount of water with the lid on. My second method was to simply rinse the rice well and then sim­mer it very gently in an open pan. The second method pro­duced a more dis­tinct tex­ture and bet­ter sep­ar­ated grains.

When the rice is cool, add the herbs, cucum­ber, spring onions and seeds. Mix the vin­egar with the sugar and season­ing and then pour over the rice, stir­ring to coat it well.

This salad, with its zingy, sharp dress­ing, is per­fect with grilled sal­mon. It’s a dish that my Great Auntie Susie would have approved of, given that it reveals its ‘sew­ings’ so clearly and hon­estly. And she adored pomegranates. She would pull them apart and spear the seeds with a dressmaker’s pin from her sew­ing box. And so the post about the back to front salad that star­ted with the stitch­ing of the Bayeux tapestry comes full circle. It ends with a pin.

Post Hoc

In the gal­van­ising spirit of New Year optim­ism, I set myself an arbit­rary chal­lenge. These are my inven­ted rules: shut eyes, pull book from shelves — it turns out to be The Dic­tion­ary of Dif­fi­cult Words - slap right index fin­ger down some­where on ran­dom page. Whichever word or phrase I land on will provide the mater­ial for both some­thing to eat and a semi-coherent set of ideas. And the phrase is, hon­est truth.….. post hoc, ergo prop­ter hoc.

I don’t like to admit defeat, so here we go. The mean­ing of post hoc, ergo prop­ter hoc is ‘a phrase to point up the error in logic of con­fus­ing sequence with con­sequence.’ The lit­eral trans­la­tion, in case you’re slightly baffled is: don’t be daft enough to think that just because it happened after this, that it happened because of this.

The phrase is designed to detach what hap­pens from the events that lead up to the event. I don’t want to sound smug, but I think I’ve found a way round the argu­ment. I’ve just been to Aus­tria and when I came home, post hoc, I made the sweet Aus­trian del­ic­acy of Kais­er­schmarrn. But if I hadn’t been to Aus­tria where I was told about the recipe by my god­son Arthur, I would never have made Kais­er­schmarrn because I would never have heard of it. If that’s not a solid case of iden­ti­fi­able and jus­ti­fi­able prop­ter hoc, I don’t know what is.

And if an Aus­trian winter tree smothered with snow doesn’t inev­it­ably come after an autumn tree covered with leaves, and isn’t fol­lowed by a massive stack of fire­wood, then I’ll eat my thermal vest.

Kais­er­schmarrn, with its over-generous sup­ply of con­son­ants, should, of course, be in The Dic­tion­ary of Dif­fi­cult Words itself. It appar­ently means The Emperor’s Muddle, although no-one knows pre­cisely why. Essen­tially, it’s a sweet pan­cake, but it’s cut up into little squares in the pan as it cooks. That way the chef makes enough for six people at once, rather than stand­ing for­lornly at the stove mak­ing one pan­cake at a time and los­ing the will to keep going after pan­cake num­ber three.

KAISERSCHMARRN

  • 60 g but­ter
  • 4 eggs
  • 100 g flour
  • 150 ml full cream milk
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Pinch salt
  • Hand­ful sultanas
  • 75 g caster sugar
  • Sprink­ling of caster sugar

Whisk the eggs until frothy. Sieve the flour into the milk and whisk in as much air as pos­sible before adding the salt, lemon zest and eggs. The bat­ter will be the con­sist­ency of double cream. Melt 30 g of but­ter in a fry­ing pan on a low to medium heat. Pour the bat­ter into the pan and allow to cook for a minute or so until brown on the bot­tom. Scat­ter the sul­tanas over the pan­cake and then turn over using two spat­u­las. With a wooden or plastic spoon, and while the pan­cake is still in the pan, slice it across and down into small squares. Melt the remain­ing but­ter and caster sugar into the pan and stir it around so that everything is coated. Tip the squares out onto a plate and dust with icing sugar. Serve with fruit com­pote of whichever kind you like best. 

Post the pan­cake you will be happy. Prop­ter, Kais­er­schmarrn is good. Ergo, Arthur deserves a lifetime’s supply.

Fresh Wasabi Versus The Weary Adverb

This is an ode to sim­pli­city — in part a trib­ute to fresh was­abi, and in part a war against the adverb. One is pure, intense and noth­ing but its own glor­i­ous self. The other is flouncy, florid and dilutes everything it attaches itself to. The adverbs I’ve got it in for go like this: I’m truly, hon­estly sorry — as opposed to dis­hon­estly sorry? I’m act­ively engaged in this task — how else could you be? I’m excep­tion­ally busy — busy is busy, after all and to add the adverb is to boast.

In the spirit of sim­pli­city, pur­ity and all-round reduct­ive delight­ful­ness, fresh was­abi is the culin­ary anti­thesis of adverbial. I’ve just been sent a gnarled, green root of fresh was­abi from The Was­abi Com­pany, grown, bizar­rely, in my favour­ite county of Dor­set. Its looks are against it — it resembles the index fin­ger of an aged warlock’s hand. But peel it and grate it, and it’s a revelation.

Com­mer­cial was­abi mixed up from powder, or the little khaki green blobs of was­abi that come with pre-packed sushi, usu­ally con­tain only 5 to 10% actual was­abi. The dif­fer­ence in fla­vour that comes from the fresh root is remark­able — like a full orches­tra play­ing Bach, com­pared to My Old Man’s a Dust­man per­formed on a kazoo. The taste of freshly grated was­abi plays all over the tongue and has a del­ic­ate per­fume to it, as well as all the usual nose-twanging, mouth-tingling, throat-sizzling effects that you would expect.

For the nerdy amongst us, there’s the added appeal of the little tools that are needed to turn Gandalf’s digits into pale green deli­cious­ness. There’s the grind­ing, the brush­ing, the heap­ing into chartreuse-coloured mounds on a plate. I can think of few other ingredi­ents that are so simply and per­fectly them­selves. It needs no glit­ter, no tin­sel, and cer­tainly no adverbs to be just itself. And at this time of year, when glit­ter and adverbs are slosh­ing around all over the place, that pur­ity is some­thing to celebrate.

The Complete Nose to Tail

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

The Com­plete Nose to Tail: A Kind of Brit­ish Cooking

by Fer­gus Hende­r­son and Justin Piers Gellatly

Pub­lished by Blooms­bury — £30.00

Pho­to­graph of Pea and Pig’s Ear Soup by Jason Lowe

Fer­gus Hende­r­son writes about food in the way that Beat­rix Pot­ter wrote about rab­bits; his ingredi­ents have their own perky, slightly wil­ful per­son­al­it­ies. His quirkily anthro­po­morphic approach means that the ‘dis­cip­lin­ing of veget­ables is not to be taken lightly’, food needs con­trolling so it doesn’t ‘mis­be­have’, ingredi­ents should ‘get to know each other’, and nettles must be sieved to ‘spir­itu­ally defeat’ them. Not that this is a cute or win­some book in any way. Its ingredi­ents and its ethos are too charm­ingly bru­tal for that, with recipes con­tain­ing instruc­tions such as ‘with the tex­tural side turned inwards, find part of the stom­ach with no holes in it’ and ‘open the pig’s jaw and pull out the tongue’.

The Com­plete Nose to Tail brings together all Fer­gus Henderson’s recipes in one vast volume. The pho­to­graphy is suit­ably eccent­ric, at times even fright­en­ing; images of a pig’s head being shaved with a dis­pos­able razor, an escapee from a Mag­ritte paint­ing shield­ing him­self from showers of brains, as well as the com­plete inner organs of an unnamed beast dangling down the front of a chef’s chest. There’s shock value in some of the recipes too, espe­cially if Calf’s Brain Ter­rine or Duck’s Hearts on Toast are your idea of hor­ror movies. But there’s a coher­ence to this book, an ideo­lo­gical pur­ity that argues that noth­ing should be wasted and everything should, if pos­sible, be enjoyed.

The prose reads as though it’s been trans­lated from the Latin, with much revers­ing of verbs and nouns for emphasis. (That’s a huge com­pli­ment, by the way, in case you’re won­der­ing.) I like the way Fer­gus Hende­r­son writes very much and admire his refusal to resort to the impov­er­ished lex­icon of lesser food writers. His ethos of using the whole beast in his cook­ing extends to an insist­ence on using the whole vocab­u­lary in his writ­ing. His gen­eral shuff­ling about of nouns and objects means that Grilled, Mar­in­ated Calf’s Heart isn’t just a good dish, it’s a ‘won­der­fully, simple, deli­cious dish, the heart not, as you might ima­gine, tough as old boots due to all the work it does, but in fact firm and meaty but giving.’

I’ve never met Fer­gus Hende­r­son but whenever I see pho­to­graphs of his jaunty, pink cheeks and cir­cu­lar spec­tacles, I think what good com­pany he looks. If ever there was an advert for the advant­ages of eat­ing everything, he would be it. No doubt the med­ical pro­fes­sion would swoon in hor­ror at the thought of so much fat, car­til­age, flesh and bone being chomped, guzzled and slurped, but Fer­gus Hende­r­son cer­tainly makes it look fun.