Monday, 22 April 2013

April 21st - Blackpool '68 and Eating Benjamin Bunny

Dear Nigel,

It was a beautiful Spring day here yesterday, and, after lunch in the garden - the first one of the year - I took the kids for a walk up the village for 'an outing'. After the thrills of 'the locals' evening at nearby Alton Towers (only a handful of miles away) the night before, it took a little bit of persuading that a meeting of the local history society inside the church was going to match things for thrills. In the end the children all played out in the sunshine, running round the patinaed  tombstones in the ancient churchyard, as generations of children have done, whilst the adults ate cake and looked at census returns going back to 1841 and old photos laid out on tables. Because everyone here seems to be related in some way and migrance to the surrounding villages is about as far as most people go, there was quite a crowd, mostly tracing their family trees.

For me, the most interesting thing of all was a photo taken in 1968 of the 'Youth Club' visit to Blackpool. Not being of that generation (- the midwife said I had a Beatles haircut when I was born, so that places me), I was intrigued to look at all these young people - this 'Youth Club' - who were probably all mainly in their late twenties - not the image of a youth club that we have today. But then, the sixties is when the 'teenager' was invented. These young people dressed like their parents, although one sparky lad at the back hinted at the revolution to come.

The photo is a faded black and white one with a border round the edge. The young people are standing in front of Leek monument, smiling, with a round-ended coach behind them. Someone has added names round the edge; there are Renshaws - Vera, Harold and Howard; Mollatts - Geff and Eddie; Brindleys - Ted, Jinny and John; and names I recognise locally like Bagshaw ( the Butcher) and Wint (the tiny coach company at the back of one of the farms, that still does day trips to Blackpool, most probably).

Looking down, there is a smiling Barbara Woodward, who still tends the churchyard and does the altar flowers. I stare at the faces of these happy young people, excited at the prospect of a welcome day out, and then go to check on my children playing in the churchyard. I look at the names on the stones and follow families generation by generation. I find one to Howard William Lawrence Renshaw died 8th August 2003, who smiles out to me from '68. And Geoffrey Eric Mollatt 17th March 2006, age 68. Never went far. There is also a rather sad and telling one to Graham John Bagshaw, age 27, beloved son on Linda and Bert, who died the year after this photo was taken. Linda is there in 1980 (age 67) and Bertie added on in '93. There is no 'coming home' for these folk -the truth is that most of them never left. For one who has so often felt the call of the clever North Wind, I find this strangely trapping.

You are carving up Benjamin Bunny. It's a strange thing, isn't it, how ambivalent we are towards rabbit. On the one hand 'farmed rabbits are almost always tender', and 'the wild meat is often a tad more interesting from a flavour point of view'. Yet 'generally one doesn't eat ones pets'. We have had chickens that have ended up in the pot, and goat (unfortunate males only), but never the children's rabbit - and yes, he did look like a wild rabbit and we did call him Peter: a fox dug him out in the end. So maybe I am a little 'chicken' about eating rabbit, or at least cooking with it, and there isn't really a good answer why. - I don't have a problem cooking and  eating Bambi.

Your chosen herb is Tarragon, which is one of my all-time favourites; and the fact that this recipe (Rabbit with Tarragon page 166) can be adapted to chicken 'if bunny is too cute for you', is great. Still, you make me question my own unfounded prejudice and I am wavering. Your bunny arrives as 'wild rabbit portions' and maybe this is the thing: The idea (which I gently declined) of being left with a couple of recently shot rabbits to skin by Terry the Gamekeeper next door, is probably what puts me off more than anything.The lack of fat on rabbit (which makes it an ideal candidate for a Spring-induced reining in of the calories) gives rise to fears that the meat will be dry or tough. You have been working on a way to get the meat to remain moist and tender involving simmering it in stock with onions and fennel, and finishing with a tarragon cream.

On most day you make a salad of some sort, and today is no exception. However, you devote an entire page of your diary to 'The salad spinner', do you not? I know exactly what the problem is - why so many words - I hear it is the undercurrent...It is 'a present from a friend to the cook who has everything...or a mad purchase online'. What you are trying so very hard to avoid saying is that this piece of equipment is very, very naff. Unfortunately, it also works exceptionally well. So, like you, I also have one in my kitchen. I hide it in the cupboard out of view ( even if it is the slightly less-naff modern version of the really naff - although probably gone hip and retro? - seventies version I remember my ex-husband's mother using). I have tried waving a chic french wire egg basket round my head, but it really doesn't get the salad leaves nearly as dry. And, as you say, 'It's fun, like our first chance to play with a humming top since we were four.'

So, go for it Nigel, let loose with a little bit of culinary naffness and enjoy a salad with dressing which 'adhere(s) nicely to the leaves without slipping off or turning watery.' I would hate to be without mine, too.


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