Among the many pieces of adult advice I’ve abandoned since I grew up (at least five minutes ago) is the mantra, ‘don’t play with your food!’ Back then, things were tough (I know, nothing changes). The war was a fairly recent memory for mothers like mine who had their babies late in life; she’d had to figure out the rations from one week to the next, without any spare cash to bribe the butcher. So waste was not to be contemplated, and pushing your food around on the plate a sign of slovenly disrespect. It sounds cruel nowadays, but we had terrible battles over the eating of (sodden, overcooked, tasteless, disgusting) cabbage. If I didn’t finish it at tea-time, it was waiting for me at breakfast. I can’t remember who won; if it was me, it was at the cost of raging disapproval on the maternal front. Explains a lot, my friends might say.
Anyway, I’m free from all that now since my friend Joseph shows such blazing impudence in these matters. What on earth would my mother have made of this portrait? Or of the 36 prime apples he chucked in his bath the other night to make his dinner guests dook with a fork, from the back of a chair? She’d be turning in her gravy. But to be fair to Joseph, he did put the apples to a good use. He gave them to me, with instructions to ‘make a crumble for the crumblies’. Ageism apart I have taken said apples to the Day Centre along the road and I’m sure they’ll make good use of them. The old ladies and gentlemen who make up our clientele can’t stand waste, and neither can I. But nowadays I know how to laugh at a good yolk.
Recently I started a new project. I’m following James Morton’s marvellous book, ‘Brilliant Bread’. James Morton was the young medical student from Glasgow who reached the final of Bake-Off in 2012 – the one with the Shetland jumpers and big specs and winning ways. His book is incredibly well written – he convinces you that bread-making is easy and then shows you how. I didn’t quite believe him as I have sticky memories from long ago – up to elbows in goo and not enjoying it at all. But this time I have followed his step-by-step instructions and am delighted to report success on all fronts.
I’ve now come to the end of the first chapter, which is an easy intro with recipes that require no kneading. My very first effort was a hit and I’ve repeated it several times, positive that it must have been a fluke … but it wasn’t!
On the other hand, I wouldn’t claim that my bakes have quite the same star appearance as the master’s. The rolls pictured here are a case in point: all different shapes and sizes. They tasted good but I’d have liked them to be a bit rounder. It’s a learning process. My pittas were the same – like a bag of rejects from Woolworth’s in the good old days. I’ve now read on to Chapter 2 and see that I must face up to the kneading challenge – this apparently gives a bit more control over the dough, evening out the gluten and making for a more uniform rise. Oh how I love it: I just know that Young Doctor James would never mislead me and that I will continue turning out great bread!
Last night I made focaccia and it was wonderful but somehow I can’t get the photo out of the camera, so I’ll save that story for another day …
Last night our little short-story-to-film group met, having read Izak Dinesen’s ‘Babette’s Feast‘, and viewed the film together. The story was tightly written, spare in style, and leaving a lot to the imagination of the reader – quite modern in fact, although it was written in 1958. It told a tale of ‘a French cook working in a puritanical Norwegian community. She treats her employers to the decadent feast of a lifetime’ (DVD blurb). The story’s message is about God’s love being shown in plenty as well as in famine; that, in fact, you can go too far with abstemiouness! A great message. I commend the book to you; the film was good too but I liked the book better – we didn’t all agree on that but we all liked the story very much.
It reminded me of a feast I held a few months ago to thank some brilliant friends for seeing me through a long tough time. Let me make it clear – I am not the talented Babette in this story! It was all a bit chaotic, seven people crammed around my kitchen table and every time I needed to reach into the fridge, three people had to move their chairs … but it was a great night. I’d bought a fabulous piece of Puddledub roast rib of beef from Craigie Farm Shop and my jaw nearly hit the deck when I found out how much it was to cost. But it was excellent, and then everyone was so generous, bringing wine fit for a much grander occasion, and party poppers a-plenty …
The final picture is self-explanatory. We left the table in this state and went out to the garden to set off fireworks, then to the living room to play silly games. A great night. Captain Wunderkind reported his inner thoughts: ‘Here I am, 24 years of age with a good job and a position of responsibility, good friends and a great life … and I’m sitting in my mother’s living room on a Friday night playing hymn tune charades???!’
As you will see I have renamed my blog. I’ve been trying to think of an appropriate moniker for a while – one that encompassed my food interests – and I think I have now got it.
‘A Drawerful of Porridge’ of course refers to the well-documented Scottish rural custom of yesteryear, of making extra porridge to keep in the drawer, for cutting up and taking out to the fields with you for lunch. In solid glutinous squares. Tasty, eh? Not for the first time I give thanks that I was born in an easier age. However there’s something in this tradition that touches me. I like the frugality and efficiency of it. I like the healthiness of an era when people had to get by on so much less, compared with our current wastefulness, with obesity and malnutrition going hand in hand. (Scotland is one of the least healthy nations in Europe … don’t get me started). And I like the very Scottishness of it all. And actually, it’s such a weird idea! A drawerful of porridge … I feel it gives me full licence to continue writing random odds and sods of Scottish foodieness of a homespun variety.
The implement in the photo is of course my spurtle. It’s supposed to be better suited to stirring porridge than a normal wooden spoon. I’m not convinced about that but I like the wee thistle carved at the top so I’ll keep on using it.
Not parsley sage rosemary and thyme but ancient and modern varieties of apples and pears. I was visiting my friend Vera en route for a parish outing, and there were the stalls set up right opposite her house (this is the thing about my friend Vera, she has such style – who else has ancient and modern fruit for sale, straight from the orchard, right across the street?) Vera has an apple tree in her own garden, and took one of her harvest of six apples over to the market to see if they could help her identify the fruit. They checked all the catalogues and couldn’t find it but are on the case. Come January, the man from Newburgh Orchard Group is going to contact her to take a graft … too technical for me but clearly they really care about their rare species.
Then lo and behold, wasn’t Newburgh Apple Fair featured on Landward last week. Dougie Vipond visited Newburgh Primary School where they showed him a thing or two about growing rare apples; then he teamed up with Nick Nairn to try and encourage the good citizens of Dundee to try different apples from those normally available in the supermarket. They made the toffee with a spot of cider vinegar, and used quartered apples instead of the whole, to give a nice chunky tasty mouthful. Dundee liked them very much and I decided to give them a go, last night, for Hallowe’en.
Well I’ve never made toffee before, although I remember my Mum regularly making treacle toffee in the winter, and toffee apples at Hallowe’en. Vera had lent me her mother’s sugar thermometer (is that what it’s called?) and my recipe said ‘boil for ten minutes or until it reaches 140 degrees ‘. Even after 15 minutes it hadn’t reached 140 but I lost my nerve and stopped at that point. Anyway it all went fine, the toffee apples were delicious, but there was one left over and this morning, the toffee has sort of slithered off the apple and onto the plate. Not to worry. I thought perhaps my pot was knackered for good with all that sticky stuff coating it, but I just soaked it overnight and this morning it’s brand new. And although it was a close thing, I haven’t lost any fillings from my teeth.
Verdict? I’ve done toffee apples now; I don’t need to do them again. But don’t let me stop you. Instead I’ll try and find those rare apple breeds that Dougie Vipond was talking about.