Tuesday, 20 November 2012

November 20th - The kitchen Diaries volume 2, and grave robbers in the night.

Dear Nigel,

A whole year has passed since we started corresponding. Some would say that time has flown past, but for me this has been a long and difficult year. The churning mud and thick fog on the moorlands outside seem symbolic of my progress at the moment. Stoic, perhaps, but ever optimistic that a new spring is only hiding away behind the winter that will surely follow.

There was a funeral in the village church a few days ago. There had been much mutterings by the bus shelter as we waited for our offspring from the 'honker bus' about dates and family. In a small village like this where nearly everybody seems to be related, it was inevitable. And, as i drove through the village it was wall to wall  with vehicles - more vehicles than houses - as relatives came by from the nearby villages of Sheen, Hartington and Onecote. The churchyard is full of Salts and their names can be followed from one generation to another. I passed by  a bit later and all the cars had gone. The watery sun had dropped low in the sky and the fog was drifting in once again. Over in the churchyard a lone figure in a flat cap was digging in the vast silence. Like a scene from a Sherlock Holmes film: another life moving on, another bit of history added to the tapestry.

You are by your kitchen door gazing lovingly at the rich Autumn hues of your two pear trees - 'the Doyenne du Comice..a mass of copper and orange...the Winter Nellis (with) crimson leaves as slim and fine as a feather.' As you gaze around you are caught by the 'romantic melancholy' which is the beauty and poetry in a garden which has been left to blow over,- to seed, to fossilize on the stalk, as the structure for a winter rime is embroidered on the canvas.

You celebrate the beauty with a hazelnut-scented pear cake.It has a lovely cinnamon-dusted crumble to make a contrast of textures and a drizzle of syrup for indulgence. I have always played shy of using pears because of their notoriously fine ripeness window - either like raw potato or slush - but this cake just seems so fitting for a place not quite winter yet  past the first flush of Autumn's new pencils and Halloween revelries.The gentle poaching removes that problem and it will make a nice change from the onslaught of apple-based puddings of late.

I return to a bowl of soup made yesterday and kept on the hob. It is roasted sweet potato, scattered with ground cumin, and blended with lemon juice, yoghurt and stock. It is a hearty Autumn feast and will feed a crowd.

The pie you are making is of dried mushrooms and spinach, with a 'proper' pastry crust enriched with Parmesan. How sad that we have to remark on proper pastry these days, as opposed to the whipped-out-of-the-packet frozen puff pastry (which has its place, but is too often substituted by a lazy chef). This will make a substantial  and welcoming non-meat alternative for my vegie friends. The spinach is mixed with creme fraiche for a creamy filling. I welcome the opportunity to use my pie dish and the old Blackbird sitting on the dresser: It is a reminder of something older than me, of memories of my childhood and Granny Burn's pies, and of making something ever fashionable and completely out of date. I see you are making an arrangement of overlapping squares for its coat - like some mondrian block art fixture that will be demolished in seconds. Sometimes only the cook knows what love is poured into the food we eat - or maybe it is simply the parmesan making the pastry too short to roll out in one piece?



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