Wednesday, 3 April 2013

March 31st - A huge dollop of Treacle

Dear Nigel,

For a while now I've been thinking that British Street Food was some kind of Urban myth. I've been searching for it, and finding a little here, a little there; but the idea of rows of stalls each trying to outdo each other with heavenly wafts of scent, was something I thought might only exist in the city where you live. Until now. Today I visited the Treacle Market in Macclesfield with James and Hannah.

Maxine was there with her mobile pizza oven, and a whole row of Street food stalls with enormous dustbin lid-like pans of Paella, towers of homemade steaming pork dumplings and golden noodles; and pies, Burritos and organic sausages sizzling on smoky barbecues. There were queues of lively, excited, hungry people everywhere taking in the intoxicating fog.

My pie man was there, tucking into someone else's Burrito. Another stallholder was taking round a kitty for the couple on the wooden garden furniture stall who were getting married next week. There was a lovely, convivial attitude. The sun came out and musicians started strumming away in an alleyway close by.

Treacle market differs from the other Farmers markets that I've visited lately in that it has a huge emphasis on Street Food (Good thing as poor Richard Johnson is probably pulling his hair out right now with my inability to conjure something out of nothing most of the time.) Its name originates from a centuries old incident when a horse-drawn waggon overturned on the cobbles spilling its cargo of treacle. It was shortlisted for the BBC Food and Farming Award - Best Food Market 2012, and named as one of the Top Ten UK Farmers Markets by the Independent. It also has an amazing party atmosphere, probably helped by the arrival of the sun for about the first day this year, it seems.

'Eat noodles - live longer,' grins the young Chinese lad with the Chow Mein who tells me he runs Sushi workshops during the week.

I stop to buy some wonderful chocolate from the Grenada Chocolate Company being sold by Pure Origin Chocolate, and the stallholder and I discuss the merits of 60% cocoa with nibs ( I couldn't be persuaded by the 100% cocoa). I love the painting on the  bright sun-drenched wrapper with its burnt orange foil, like the setting sun, and the footage we'd both previously seen of the chocolate being brought over to this country on a huge old fashioned square rigged sailing ship called the Tres Hombres (which took two months).

 A quite amazing company who pride themselves on producing chocolate from tree-to-bar in an Organic Cocoa Farmers and Chocolate-Makers' cooperative in Grenada. The stated aim of this small company is to revolutionise the cocoa-chocolate system that typically keeps cocoa production separate from chocolate-making and therefore takes advantage of cocoa farmers. The Grenada Chocolate Company think that the cocoa farmers should benefit as much as the chocolate makers.

I'm diplomatic and I buy one of the guy from Pure Origin's Grenada chocolate bars too.

By the end of the market we have eaten our way round half the market and my over-grown teenagers are sunk. I have enough photographs and notes to keep me busy for a while writing reviews ( though I'll have to go back again next month as there's simply so much more to say here). Our taste buds have been tantalised, interests kindled...and it's good to know that the next generation is learning by example to make good choices and think about the provenance of the food they eat, if only some of the time. Knowledge is a powerful weapon.

I look to find what you've been up to and find a photo of a tree in leaf. Not here I'm afraid, Nigel. Not a single leaf anywhere. The garden, as I left it on Tuesday was still a carpet of white and the trees are hanging on to anything precious away from the cruel frost. The sun was out here today and I predict that a couple of sunny weeks will bring Spring tumbling into Summer in a rush of leaf and bud. I wonder how this will affect pollination this year.

You are cooking with olives - a rare thing by your own admission. I have to admit that I use them more freely than that in my cooking. For while I don't particularly like the look of a wizened olive sitting on a pizza base, I am totally addicted to their warm and juicy taste. I don't know if it's really "allowed" but I have even been known to take a box of olives from the Deli counter and warm them in a microwave just for the joy of sucking the warm oil out of the fruit.

The dish you are making is 'Chicken, olives and lemon' (page 141). The chicken thighs are coated in a spice paste of smoked paprika ( something else I can't get enough of  - and ought to be far wider known), turmeric, garlic, cumin and a little olive oil. With lemon, saffron and green olives this dish wafts on the breeze of a Mediterranean summer which will hopefully come. And we all need a little hope. This Winter has been just a little too long. I love the cool and the white but now I am eager for it to move on and let my poor flowering currant burst forth. There is a pent up energy everywhere and the moles still having a field day in the high meadows. I saw a fox, silhouetted against the snowy meadow, run past above my house the other night, like a page from a Pienkowski story book. The birds are scoffing every scrap of crumb I leave them on the bird table.

As if we hadn't eaten enough of the black stuff lately you are tempting our palates with discs of dark chocolate and crystallised rose petals. The photo is simply beautiful. You have added pistachios, sugar almonds and sea salt flakes. (The adding of salt to chocolate of late has been my undoing; added to the salted caramel and burnt salted fudge I have vainly struggled to stay away from.) There is no chastising by you over the use of this or that percentage of cocoa in the dark chocolate and I am thankful for that. There has been a kind of inverted snobbery these last few years against anyone admitting to (heaven forbid) actually liking milk chocolate. Well, I like milk chocolate. And, if my tasting of rare chocolate bars of late has taught me anything it is this: I, who profess to not really liking anything over 70% cocoa content will happily eat one 85% bar whilst turning down the next with a lower percentage, simply because beans and chocolate from different countries and different sources have as much variety in taste as any grape.


1 comment:

  1. I am enjoying your blog very much and must confess I have similiar conversations with Nigel in my head as I am cooking. Please keep doing what you are doing. Thanks. Cynthia