Sunday, 29 January 2012

January 29th - Saffron and Honey

Dear Nigel,

Well, i finally unearthed my book of Cornish recipes. It is written by the Cornish WI in 1968 and reprinted eight times. My copy dates from 1990, which is about right as we moved to Cornwall in 1991 and it was a gift from my then husband to help me settle in.

There are three recipes for Saffron cake. It is many years since i made it. Initially, i go for the one entitled "Real Cornish Saffron cake" until i notice that it contains 1/2lb chopped peel (and i'm not really a fan of peel anyway).  I decide that the second recipe - which is at least forty years old - is traditional enough for me. It is similar but the peel has been reduced to 2oz. My only confusion is the quantity of saffron which is 1/2 drachm. Have you any idea what that is? Failing that, i will marry the two recipes. The other main ingredient is 1lb currants which pleases me greatly. I like the dark richness of currants. I was trying to work out at Christmas what it was about my Granny Burn's Christmas cake recipe that made me treasure it so much, and decided then it was the increased quantity of currants which gave it a kind of old-fashioned  taste so often missing in modern raisin -heavy recipes.

 The Saffron, i brought back in a little box from Southern Spain, where it is considerably cheaper than here. It is so often adulterated, particularly in its powdered form (which this is not), but the true scent is so intoxicating, like deep warm honey. I remember, some of the less-reputable bakers would sell bright yellow saffron buns that were surely coloured with turmeric. The true Saffron cake is only mildly coloured as the spice is so expensive to use.

I look, briefly, at the third recipe which is for Saffron yeast buns, but  - shame on shame, WI - under ingredients  it says "saffron, if used". I'm sure things have moved on in the WI since the sixties.

There are few smells so evocative to me of  Summer than Saffron and warm Honey. If your only brush with Honey is from a cold jar then you are missing something magical. The smell which rises as you lift the lid on a working hive or uncap the waxy comb and watch ooze forth, is Summer unbottled, warm and vibrant. The aroma from the extractor as you rotate the frames to collect the Summer's bounty is little short of heaven - a lingering memory of Summer's lease. The jars i filled, and labelled with the beautiful line drawing of a hive which my friend Andre designed for me, and lined up in the pantry - a vision in amber.

My Bee keeping days started with a lucky encounter at a meeting, with Raymond, soon to become a very dear friend. Raymond was a wonderful old Yorkshire man in his eightees with a pony tail and gypsy earrings, who had been the county Beekeeper for many years. I was lucky that he lived in the same little village of Praze-an-Beeble near me; and he took me under his wing and became my mentor. He lived in the tiniest pepperpot house, down a little farm track which ran out before it got to the house. There he'd lived for over forty years with his tiny child-like wife, Dolly, and row upon row of beautiful handmade Beehives.

It was Raymond who showed me how to keep Bees on the cheap: that Marigolds were just as good as expensive Beekeepers gloves, that wellies were fine, and that a small pair of men's farm overalls in white from Cornwall farmers (with the fly sewn up - i wasn't taking any chances), was more than adequate. I had two beautiful old WBC hives, which i bought from Raymond, a smoker and a hive tool, and the greatest fountain of Bee knowledge i have ever come across. He was generous in every way and passed on something of a life that still exists if only you look carefully.

That first year i took a bumper crop of 120lb of Honey from my two hives - enough to keep Hannah in her favourite Honey Ice Cream for a very long time.

I turn to your book and see you are making a clear hot mussel soup, which sounds wonderful. I have fought shy of buying mussels since a bad bout of food poisoning once at a restaurant. Shame, as i love the flavour of mussels, which tastes more of the sea than any fish. Perhaps it is time for me to get brave again, and buying a kilo of mussels might be just the place to start.


No comments:

Post a Comment