pitcher-with-tangelos-and-lemons-tony-saladino-182019For some reason I don’t get arund to keeping up this blog even though I write so much about food on other blogs. Trying to find a voice and a stronger approach or theme I suppose.

 

Tomorrow I’m off to Cape Agulhas at the tip of Africa and taking along a refilled black peppercorn grinder and a bsket of fresh lemons. We shall buy freshly caught fish at the harbour and have that grilled over the coals or flashfried or baked in foil in the oven, suppers for most of the week.

 

We will also be going to the harbour cafe ( Pelican’s, I think) or frsh calamari and chips with vinegar. Simple, rutic and uncomplicated food, our appetites heightened by sun, salt air and sea.

This morning I read an article in the Independent announcing that a council in mid-Wales has taken Marmite off the schools menu for children. Marmite is too salty.

 

Well, I suvived Marmite and so did thousands of others of my generation. But I do need that Marmite cannot be spread thickly on toast. Just a smear will do.  Ever since 1902 when the Marmite Food Company  was set up in Burton on Trent in the UK, the treacly black vegetable extract Marmite has been a staple of the breakfast table. If you have had gastric flu, nothing beats black tea and just a lick of Marmite on dry toast.

 

In South Africa, Marmite feels local. I have tried Bovril but it is another kind of spread. Nothing beats the familiarity and comfort factor of Marmite. If the kids don’t get it at school, they will go on getting it at home.

I read something in African Agriculture about 57% of African maize being genetically modified. If famers don’t use genetically modified maize, they need more pesticides. Between the devil and a hard place.

 

So I stopped reading for a while and instead I am just cooking beans. Small round beans with no name, grown in the Karoo. Pale small round beans that taste nutty but bland and need to  be combined with onions and carrots and garlic. Or spring onions, zucchini, mushrooms, fish sauce and chillies, lemon grass and chopped fresh coriander. With beans I can go Tuscan or Thai.

 

Out here in the Overberg I can find as many varieties of beans as I need. The farm labourers eat them with meat and potatoes, simmered in a balck pot. Or with a whole sheep’s head. Chakalaka as a tomato and red bell pepper relish on the side.

 

Next week I shall be making beans with the organic white pumpkins grown on hillsides all over the Western Cape. A substantial dish made spicy with cumin and with a green salad on the side.

There are new cookbooks out from Heston Blumenthal and Fernon Adria of El Bulli. Molecular science of surprsing the unwary dinner. I can’t cook like that. I enjoy tasting menus when i am eating out and flush with cash. That is how we eat when we are not hungry. But I don’t want to cook like that and I don’t want to eat like that, most of the time.

 

There’s reson why bistro food or Mediterranean peasant classics keep coming back. The same way we wake up to a sudden craving for breyani or Vietnamese stirfries.

 

Simple and filling works. Tasty is always tasty. Carbohydrates and umami.

 

When I don’t have much money and need retail therapy I go out and buy beans. A store cupboard is a store cupboard becaue of dried grains and legumes. In Hereford I bought pale green flageolet beans that wouldn’t soften after a day soaking in water. A mystery.

 

Here on the toenail of Africa I buy butter beans, navy beans, speckled sugar beans, brown beans, red beans, black beans, fava beans, black-eyed peas, small round bans, cannellini beans, borlotti beans, hard little white beans, chick peas and split peas. Some legumes have famous names but many of the local beans are anonymous. They are mostly cheap. I wonder if the dried peas labelled as marrowfat are in fact cowpeas?

 

They come in impolitically correct packaging and some may be old and need a very long soaking. I also buy brown rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, buckwheat, barley, stampkorning, samp and beans, tiny brown lentils, Puy lentils, green-grey lentils, red lentils and a beige lentil for North Indian curries. Then I get couscous and polenta, semolina, a large variety of pasta noodles as well as Asian undon noodles and glass noodles.

 

It might be my Scottish background, the fondness for porridgey grains and legumes. I have always loved the smell of beans cooking, that earthy delicious fragrance. As a student I thrived on lentils and brown rice. On feast days when study grants came in I would have sliced mushrooms with my lentils and brown rice.

 

Recently I did a vipassana retreat and redicovered the subtlety of low-key flavour. No spices, no pepper, no salt. Very slow-cooked dishes of split-pea puree or bean mash. It was delicious and since then I have tried to flavour the food more lightly, to trust the essential ingredients.

 

I prefer my beans vegetarian. When I cook beans in casseroles with meat, the dishes are heavy. Pork and beans leads to flatulence. Beans are lighter and easier to digest with vegetables, with a mirepoix of chopped and sauteed celery, carrots and onion. Or a sofrito of onions, peppers and garlic.

 

There should be a recipe here, but the reality is that my bean dishes are often too simple for any recipe. I use what vegetables I have at hand. Swiss chard, eggplant, tomato puree. I soak the beans the day before and then saute the onions and chopped veg, add the beans and plenty of water. Sometims I use wine or chicken stock. Sometimes I add cumin or soy sauce or ponzu or balsamic vinegar.  I grow herbs and freeze or dry them, so there is always rosemary or thyme and bay leaves at hand.

 

Beans the staple, the essential, the beloved.

I spent the afternoon reading Michael Pollan’s Open Letter to the Farmer-in-Chief in the NY TImes and thinking hard about what I understand and do not understand about the politics of food.

 

I am not First World. What I saw in Wales shocked  me, the waste and apathy and the really tasteless food in the supermarkets.

 

But here in Africa, I don’t know how to make sense of what goes on around me in the Overberg. Our summers are so much longer and hotter and there are ongoing problems with drought and pests. With invasive species. With weeds. Many crop farmers struggle to change over to organic farming along the lines done in the First World.

 

Our farm labourers are unskilled and very badly paid. The farmers are white and the labourers are black or Coloured. Much of the legislation on labour rights isn’t implemented.  There is less mechanisation, but that is changing.

 

I do know our food often tastes better. Is that because it is regional or grown in better soils or fresher? I am not sure.

 

The farners do slaughter on the farms rather than at the abattoir even though this is illegal. Sometimes it means we get very strange cuts of meat. And all mutton is called ‘lamb’ here. In the UK lamb was very young and tender, hogget was two or three years old. There didn’t seem to be mutton available. Over there farmers don’t have to do much farming. They ‘drive and spray’ or get the livestock dosed regularly with antibiotics. Here the farmers don’t do much all that much work themselves but they have labour problems with drunken and unruly and unskilled llabour. Exploited labour.

 

I went into the kitchen thinking about farmers’ markets and artisan farmers and kitchen gardens. There are ripe tomatoes in a ceramic bowl on the table. I don’t know if they come from Cape Town or further afield. It is too early in the summer for good local tomatoes. Out in the back garden I have tomatoes growing in barrels and I hope to get at least one bush of plum tomatoes.

But all the basil seedlings have been snapped up by the birds.

 

It is hard to bring together global and regional and personal observations. But I have to start somewhere and it fascinates me to just note the contradictions. Una brought me a pair of hand-carved slad servers in  a light wood from Johannes burg. And a small bottle of truffle oil. Imported, or made up locally with imported truffle essence. Has it ever had anything to do with a French white truffle? At that price it should have, but I doubt it.

 

A few years ago my MD in media said as an aside. ‘You know, we can get everything here that you would find in London. White anchovies, micro-greens,  and even fresh scallops taken out of the Scottish loch yesterday.’

 

My blood ran cold but she was right. If luxuries are necessary to convey notions of status or cultural sophistication, they will arive in local delis and supermarkets.

 

I don’t know what the West will do when those fossil fuels really become unaffordable. I don’t know what we will do when the West runs out of fossil fuels. And we run out of water. Drought and locusts and plagues. I am not wildly optimistic. Pollan talks about sun and soil. I keep wondering about water. Clean affordable water.

 

But there is squeaky young broccoli in the bottom drawer of the fridge, and courgettes (zucchini) and a selection of cheeses, including a local Parmesan. It bears very little resemblance to a cheese from Parmigiano-Reggiano. but the cheddar comes from the Klein Rivier dairies near Stanford. You need to be a skilled detective to track down some local produce but not the kind of detective you have to be in the UK, with baby carrots from Kenya, oranges from Spain and onions from Holland.

 

Let me go and turn the Overberg fresh chicken thighs and drumsticks in  locally produced Kikkoman Ponzu sauce. Citrussy light soy, very tasty as a marinade. I have my wn store cupboard of luxuries.

And I’ve retitled and changed the focus of this blog becuse I’m now back in South Africa and want to go on writing about food from time to time.

 

It wasn’t the food adventure I had hoped for and some of that was because I was unhappy and in an unhappy relationship. The eating out suffered and my enjoyment of food suffered. I cooked badly and wthout confidence.

 

Anyhow, moving on…

 

I flew out of London in late summer after an unexpectedly good snack supper of mezze in the Heathrow Terminal One airport restaurant Giraffe. Good tahini and tzatziki, great comforting tender blankets of naan bread, small meat balls, just spicy enough, a bulgar salad with chopped fresh mint. I am used to just enduring airport food and this was a pleasure.

 

The South African Airways supper on Flight 221was awful. Stringy, gristly lamb lumps and a cold mashed potato. Some round carroty discs that tasted like boiled sweets.

 

It was cold and rany as we wallowed into Cape Town over False Bay with Robben Island below us, a late winter morning. The friends who met me wanted to shop at Fruit & Veg retail grocers in Somerset Mall so we went there. The Cape very ramshackle and dingy after the green UK and the beauty of Wales. The vegetables piled high looked secondrate and bruised. Cheap and nasty. But they were local and that made me feel as if I was at home again. No more bloody Dutch or Spanish imports, immaculate and tasteless.

And I found I felt able to cook again, to go into the kitchen and play. Made a ragu following Marcella Hazan’s recipe and roasted a free-range chicken with herbs and butter and half a cup of dry white wine.

No money to eat out so I am just browsing through vegan recipes on the Internet. Tonight, all alone, I shall be making myself a pot of black beans with birds-eye chillis, lemon juice, carrots, onion, garlic, broccoli and eggplant. Celebrating the new moon in Virgo and being able to cook to please myself.

 

The rationale behind the interest in vegan is that I am going off on a vipassana retreat in a week’s time and want to get used to vegan dishes. But I am also craving grains and legumes. Some kind of deep solace only found in the lentil.

 

Home again. I wish it felt like home and that I did not miss the Welsh borders so much. Or the Welsh cheeses. Or the bara brith tea cake.

At least once a week I dream of going back to Ludlow. Not just for the six butchers’ shops, the five bakers, the seven Michelin-award restaurants, the food market, the cafes and coffee shops and cheeses in abundance…

Ludlow is also a town which has retained its medieval and Tudor aspects. It is old-world without the hackneyed look of many tourist destination towns. Ludlow’s recorded history begins in 1086 when the impressive castle was first developed. The impressive towered castle on a hill, overlooking the rivers Teme and Corve, was built as one of a line of castles along the Marches to keep out the Welsh. The castle was founded by the de Lacy family of Stanton Lacy, probably between 1086 and 1094, at that time occupying a much smaller area than it does now. A planned town was laid out at the castle gate very soon afterwards. Ludlow seems to have been taken from the existing parish of Stanton Lacy, the church which lies about three miles to the north-west. Until the last century the keep of the castle remained an isolated part of Stanton Lacy parish, the boundary of the parish extended up to the very edge of the town.

There are nearly 500 listed buildings in Ludlow following the surviving medieval street layout. Many of the more attractive facades are Jacobean: John Milton’s masque Comus was first presented in the grounds of Ludlow Castle in 1634.

I thought back to the stories of the princes in the tower, that cruel moment of classic child abuse in English royal history. The watchtower and round chapel of this ruined castle date from the late 11th century. Ludlow Castle played a key role in some turbulent events in English history. One of its 14th-century owners, Roger Mortimer, helped his mistress Queen Isabella, in the overthrow of her husband Edward II. In 1473, the Prince of Wales and his brother were held here before their mysterious death in the Tower of London. In 1502 Prince Arthur, Henry VII’s son and heir to the throne, died at Ludlow.

In the 18th and 19th centuries Ludlow was a fashionable social centre and county families built elegant brick houses, well-proportioned Georgian. Glove making was now the major industry reaching a peak production of 660 000 gloves in 1814.

Of aesthetic interest is the Feather’s Hotel, a Royalist stronghold dating back to Jacobean times and with ostrich-feather motifs in the decorative carving around its timber frames. Broad Street has an elegant parade of shops which include De Grey’s famous tearooms.

The view back to the town from the River Teme is lovely in the late afternoon. The bridge with its wide arches once stood on a Roman road. Whitcliffe Common, steep and wooded, overlooks the castle and the river: it offers many short walks, and two internationally recognised geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Literary connections? The ashes of the poet A. E. Housman (1859-1936), the author of ‘A Shropshire Lad’, were scattered in the churchyard of the 15th-century St Laurence’s church.

‘Oh come you home of Sunday
When Ludlow streets are still
And Ludlow bells are calling
To farm and lane and mill.’
A E Housman

Sausages? Start with Reg Martin & Sons in Castle Square. Proprietor Stuart Martin’s father Reg founded the business in 1954 and the old shop is crammed with marbled sides of beef, venison, free-range chickens and Stuart’s award-winning sausages. They also produce their own salted silverside, which is something of a rarity. All of the meat Stuart sells comes from farms within seven or eight miles of the town, local herds of Red Poll and Longhorn.

Breads? Prices on Castle Square who still make their bread in the old-fashioned way, kneading the dough the night before baking to develop the flavour. Swifts in Parkway also produce excellent traditional and continental breads, including the Shropshire Brown loaf and some Italian ciabattas and foccacias.

In 1994 Shaun Hill with his Merchant House restaurant put Ludlow on the map as a foodie mecca. The town has never looked back.

Situated on the edge of Ludlow Town, The Clive Bar and Restaurant with Rooms is
a unique blend of traditional and contemporary. Originally a farmhouse, the main building has been developed so as to retain the original features of the Clive Bar alongside the more minimal approach in the the Clive Restaurant ‘areas’. Look out for Carlingford Lough oysters and smoked salmon from the Wye Valley.

Dinham Hall Hotel restaurant offers country-house dining from rising star chef Peter MacGregor. Again contemporary English food with Italian touches. The new Mediterranean.

Graham Moore welcomes you to the Unicorn Inn, a traditional 17th century coaching inn; offering good beers & fine wines and featuring good homemade food from seasonal ingredients cooked simply and with finesse. Situated in a lovely street in the market town.

Then there’s La Becasse with Alan Murchison overseeing strict French interpretations of pig’s ear, gribiche, lamb chump, pork belly and a sauce vierge with the sea bream. Light and elegant.

For those wanting Pan Asian in this out-of-the-way spot, there’s Koo Japanese restaurant. Popular orders are sushi, gyoza dumplings, karaage (crisp, fried chicken) and sake itame (baked salmon parcel).

 

And there’s a new young chef making waves: Marc Hardiman at the restored Regency house now called Fishmore Hall, tackling oxtail ravioli, tapenade-crusted turbot, cassoulet. Great appetising gourmand food with bold flavours and reckless portions. Make sure you get there ravenous.

 

One visit to Ludlow, as I said, and I have dreamt hungrily of returning there — perhaps for the 2009 food festival?

The most popular place for coffee, glasses of local apple juice (Worcester Pearmain, Bramley’s Seedling) or a bowl of ice cream on a summer’s day is Shepherd’s Ice Cream Parlour in the High Town.

 

Although I made the mistake of getting in a strawberry ice cream bombe for a supper party one night and finding it bland beyond description, the ice cream choices at Shepherd’s are tantalising and seasonal.

All year round you will find firm favourites like vanilla, toffee and fudge, choc mint chip, amarena cherry yoghurt, mokka, banana toffee crunch, and chocolate. Alongside these there is a changing range of flavours that might include ginger, coconut, amaretti and marsala, coffee and walnut, pistachio, stracciatella, pannacotta, almond praline, rum and raisin, or orange and Cointreau. 

Products: Sheep’s milk ice-cream made in the Golden Valley, with whole milk from dairy sheep. Real flavours including several using local fruit. Also available at Shepherd’s Ice-cream Parlour, High Town, Hay-on-Wye.

And you will probably find something exotic like cardamom and lavender, blackcurrant cheese cake, rose, liquorice, mango and chilli, chocolate and chilli, or chocolate hazelnut.

Fruit flavoured ice-creams like strawberry, tayberry, damson and blackcurrant, are made from Shepherd’s own purees when the fruit is ripe and available.

In the summer you’ll find two or three fruit ices made with spring water and no milk at all: blackcurrant with fresh mint, lemon, strawberry, mango and passion fruit, peach, pear, cider apple, or orange and cardamom. In the autumn and winter there are fewer fruit ices but there are seasonal compensations like rhubarb crumble, hazelnut, marron glace, Christmas pudding, or fig and brandy.

 

During the Hay literary festival, it is amusing to watch the floppy-haired writers and grizzled academics walking around in the spring sunshine with cones of pink and mauve and stripy raspberry, looking like schoolboys on a school outing.

 

Juliet Noble and Martin Orbach moved to Cwm Farm in 1984; a small farm of about 60 acres in the west of Herefordshire. They bought their first milking sheep in the summer of 1985 and began milking the following spring. Initially they sold the milk to cheese makers but soon decided to make their own product.

In the spring of 1987 they made their ‘first ice-cream in five flavours – Vanilla, Strawberry, Ginger, Lemon and bizarrely Carob – offered to a somewhat bemused wholesale trade’. They haven’t looked back since.

Shepherds Ice Cream
Cwm Farm, Peterchurch,
Herefordshire, HR2 0TA
Contact: Martin Orbach
Phone: 01981 550716
e-mail: martin@orbach.fslife.co.uk

From the 1923 record of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Wales by Mary Lewis, this is the unpalatable reality of alternative medicine in rural Wales. Fascinating food history, but stomach-turning for us now in our 21st-century squeamishness.

 

‘Snail broth was a great country remedy for
consumption in old days. 

Culpepper, in his
“Herbal,” gives a recipe for it.  “Snails with
shells on their backs, being first washed from the
dirt, then the shells broken, and then boiled in
spring water, but not scummed at all, for the scum
will sink of itself, and the water drank for
ordinary drink, is a most admirable remedy for
consumption.”  “Snail water” is also prescribed for
the same complaint; this was a really terrible
mixture, as besides “Of Garden Snails two pounds,”
there was included the juice of ground ivy, colt’s
foot, scabious lungwort, purslain, ambrosia, Paul’s
betony, hog’s blood and white wine, dried tobacco
leaves, liquorice elecampane, orris, cotton seeds,
annis seeds, saffron, the flowers of red roses and
of violets and borage; all to be steeped three days
and then distilled.  One wonders if the unfortunate
patient who imbibed this decoction had any idea of
what he was swallowing.  A fox’s lung dried and
made into a “lohoch” (a substance to be licked up,
rather thicker than a syrup) and sucked off the end
of a liquorice stick was also “a present remedy in
pthisicks.”‘

“The breakfast was delicious, consisting of excellent tea, buttered toast and Glamorgan sausages, which I really think are not a whit inferior to those of Epping.” George Borrow, Wild Wales, 1862.
 Glamorgan sausage (Welsh: Selsig Morgannwg) is a traditional Welsh vegetarian sausage whose main ingredients are cheese (usually Caerphilly), leeks and breadcrumbs. Originally made with Glamorgan cheese (which was made with milk from a special breed of white cattle known as Gwent), now no longer available. Despite its name, Glamorgan sausages are meat-free. They are a Welsh delicacy now often made on a varied combination of breadcrumbs, onion, cheese and herbs, rolled into a sausage shape and fried.
Glamorgan sausages and red-onion marmelade
Ingredients for 4 servings
For the sausages
– 200 g fresh white breadcrumbs
– 100 g grated cheese, such as Caerphilly, feta or Wensleydale
– 1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley
– 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
– 1 small leek, finely chopped
– Salt and freshly ground pepper
– 1 tbsp grainy mustard
– 3 eggs
– 1 tbsp flour
– Milk as needed
– Pork fat, butter or vegetable oil
For the red onion marmalade
– 400 g red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
– 25 g (5 tsp) butter
– 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
– 1 tsp fresh thyme
– Salt and pepper

Making the sausages

Combine 125 g breadcrumbs with the cheese, fresh herbs and leeks; season.
Lightly beat 2 eggs with the mustard; blend into mixture until well-combined, adding a little milk if necessary.
Divide into 12 parts and roll into sausage shapes. Season the flour with salt and pepper; roll the sausages int the seasoned flour and place in the refrigerator to firm up for at least 20 minutes.
Just before cooking, beat the final egg in a shallow dish; dip each sausage into egg, then the remaining breadcrumbs to coat them.
Fry the sausages in fat in a skillet for about 10 minutes until nicely browned. Serve with the red onion marmalade.
Marmalade

Chop the onions finely; sweat in butter.
When they begin to turn translucent, add the balsamic vinegar, thyme and seasonings. Simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring often. At the end of the cooking time, the liquid should have evaporated, leaving a rich shiny onion marmalade.

Laverbread is an acquired taste as even devotees acknowledge. The jury’s out on whether most of us do get to acquire that taste.

Seaweed just isn’t to everyone’s taste. and that sadly is that. Even if sushi and the crackling black-green sheets of nori became an international foodie success, laverbread needs a gifted publicity campaign and perhaps some more innovative recipes to get it star status.

‘Laverbread is a smooth fine seaweed found off the shores of South Wales. It is gathered daily in places like Penclawdd.The seaweed is thoroughly washed to remove all sand and grit. It is then boiled for five to six hours until it is quite soft. The liquid is drained off. This prepared laverbread is sold from wooden tubs lined with white cloths in the markets of Wales. It should be used and eaten as soon as possible.’ Not the most appetising prospect.

The laver itself is more accurately a type of seaweed, parchment-like, shiny black in colour and usually found lying flat on rocks. The laver is relatively easy to gather but then has to be washed and re-washed until completely free of sand and then boiled for up to ten hours until reduced into the pulpy mass that we know as laverbread.

Laverbread is rich in protein, iodine and vitamins (A, B, B2, C, and D) and is very low in calories. It is also akin to the Japanese Nori.

And this is what I was told to do:

Divide the laverbread into four pieces and coat with oatmeal. Fry gently for 5-10 minutes in bacon fat. Grill or fry the bacon in another pan. Serve hot. A little malt vinegar over the laverbread brings out its delicate flavour. Seve up the laverbread with bacon and buttered oatmeal cookies.

Well, the local bacon is delicious. Laverbread takes a little more getting used to.

Cockles and laverbread have been gathered on the shores of the Gower peninsula since Roman times, from traditional cockle beds, gathered mostly by women loading cockles in panniers onto donkeys to transport the produce to market in Swansea. The Welsh pitmen made a traditional breakfast of cockles and laverbread called bara lawr a chocos. The actor Richard Burton referred to laverbread as ‘Welshmen’s caviar’.

General note. Many edible seaweed species are found in unpolluted waters across the world. These edible types can be roughly categorised into the finer weeds, Laver and sea lettuce, the short-stemmed, dulse, Irish moss or Carragheen and “horse tail” kelps which grow on or below the tide mark

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.