Saturday, 2 November 2013

November 2nd - Halloween and Turnip lanterns

Dear Nigel,

Today I took the children to a Halloween Party dressed as a pair of witches. Molly, with her entirely authentic pair of fangs and front teeth missing looked completely right for the part. It's such a wonderful opportunity for imaginations to run wild with pumpkins, bats blood and green slime for tea. The most popular activity by far seemed to involve four grown men being turned into mummies by hoards of children with two dozen toilet rolls - such is the ease with which this modern techno-savvy generation can be pleased if given half a chance.

Growing up in the Lake District I remember lanterns being made from turnips rather than pumpkins, which hadn't seemed to arrive over here from America then. The custom originated in Ireland and was common then in Scotland and the Isle of Man. The Irish immigrants took their custom to America where pumpkins were more common, and the custom was transported back here in latter years as pumpkin lanterns. My friend tells me that turnip lanterns were usually left outside on posts as they used to smell very quickly of a rotten cabbage-type smell. I don't remember that bit, but probably as a child I was just caught up in the magic of it all, in an era before the depressing advent of trick or treating.

You are following tradition with recipes based on pork and apple. 'All Hallows is often pork based, this being the season for killing the family pig, and apples usually get a look in too, often baked in the embers of the fire.' It seems somehow right that this night's simple meal is left to cook slowly 'over a low heat, quietly puttering away, filling the kitchen with the scent of welcome.' It is 'a simple smell (barely half a dozen ingredients), yet deep and rich (beef stock, browned pork, sweet carrots) and seasoned, reeking of nostalgia.' The recipe is 'Rich ragout with pappardelle' ( page 428). The slow cooking will take a good three hours, simmering away in the background with the occasional stir, and perfect for a day when you are pottering around blissfully not getting very much done. The depth of colour is as dark as the night. When the weather is chucking it down outside it feels good to be inside comfort-cooking. I like the idea of this recipe moving me away from automatically sticking potatoes or rice in a pork rib recipe. We get caught up in our own traditions and carry on unthinkingly at times.

Two incidents occurred this last week which made me realise how isolated we all really are. My daughter, living in a lovely new yuppie complex by the canal basin in the city, was burgled just before five o'clock in the afternoon along with the flat opposite; despite being a gated complex with pretty lighting and cameras everywhere. Later, having seen the broken door, bludgeoned to pieces, I feel safer living away from city life, I think. Two days later I am overcome at a Hospital eye test appointment with a fainting fit that refuses to go away. They want to keep me in but I want to get back home to my own little world but am beset by obstacles: I can't drive, so I have to leave the car and ring a friend to pick me up. I'm unsure about being on my own in case I take another turn. Suddenly I feel vulnerable. The children are all away and I am on my own with no neighbours at present. There is a fine line between being alone and being lonely, between the peace in the space between quietness and feeling isolated and vulnerable. I ring Will and persuade him to accompany his old mum back home for the night.

I am looking at your recipe for 'Apples with maple syrup' (page 423), dated 29th October, with its lovingly lemon-coated peeled apples (to prevent discolouration), its sprinkle of ground cinnamon, a few cloves, a vanilla pod tucked neatly in.... and back at my own entry for 15th October. There I am tucking into a midnight feast of apple bunged 'in the microwave...'and eaten 'straight from the dish drizzled in the amber syrup.' Embarrassed, I could be, for my lack of finesse, but mainly I see the sheer coincidence -  and I thought I was being so inventive, sitting there on the bottom of the stairs with my bowl and spoon listening to the night.


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