Sunday, 17 January 2016

Isn't it good, Norwegian wood?

Dear Nigel,

There is snow on the ground and a snowman in the garden dressed in a fair isle scarf and hat. It is not really 'snow' as yet - perhaps only a couple of inches - but the children find enough to play out in, stamping in their wellies and making tracks across the field. And, although there is not yet enough snow for sledging, Sophie's baby doll goes flying past down the meadow on her doll-sized purple sledge, dressed in a snappy ski suit and pink-tinted shades like the creme de la creme in Klosters.

I am shovelling salt onto the drive so that the postman won't refuse to deliver the post to us. I look over to admire my handiwork yesterday of a tightly piled stack of logs in the woodshed. I saw the snow coming the other day and ordered another load from the log man. He told me that it was mainly larch this time. We discussed the merits of both hardwood and softwood logs. He said that he'd done timed trials with both kinds, and, although the hardwood ones may last that bit longer, the difference it makes isn't  really justified by the increased price.

Driving through a snowstorm across the lanes to Bakewell I see two drystone wallers patching up a bit of wall near Monyash. They look ruddy and cold and show no sign of stopping in the blinding sleet. Although it is not settling much on the ground, visibility makes me slow right down. I have a good friend Michael who is a drystone waller and I wonder if he's out working in this weather. It is a hard way to earn a living. Michael comes to the pub to hear me play fiddle and to talk with other locals; a quiet man with a genuine smile and always a kind word. We rub along.

I am making your version of a 'Raclette tart' (page 8) to keep 'out the cold for yet another winter's night.' I am horrified by the price of the raclette, but then I see this tart is supposed to be for six people. It will be two of us in front of the wood burner and lunch tomorrow, quite probably. We have had the toasting fork out lately. The children got bags from Father Christmas full of giant-sized marshmallows (from America, where everything comes super-sized). They proved very easy to toast; although one each was quite enough.

Tonight's raclette tart has much of the same melting unctuousness that we seem to crave when snuggled up to the wood burner on a cold, dark night.
'The ancient idea of melting a large wedge of cheese in front of an open hearth, then, as it softens and melts, scraping the flowing cheese on to bread, is a notion I find almost too delicious to contemplate.'

The snow has fallen harder now, and, although the main roads are clear and the gritter has been round, the hills and grass lanes are covered and it makes for a fine walk with the dog. She is happy and leaps and bounds over the soft carpet of snow. One plus point is that she comes in clean without the tell-tale trail of muddy footprints which I have had to get used to of late...dogs don't take their shoes off when they come in the backdoor like everyone else.

The pastry has an egg yolk in it (which always makes it that bit easier to roll out, I find). With free range organic eggs it has a pleasant yellow tinge to it. After rolling it out and into the flan case, chilling the pastry and baking blind, it is an easy matter to fill with the mixture of creme fraiche, egg yolk and black pepper, over the base of raclette, salami and tiny cornichons.

Yes, I remembered to get the right sort this time. Last time you suggested cornichons I came back with something which was more of a small gherkin. (I had no idea there were gradations in gherkin size!) Anyway, these smaller specimens, which have the appearance of U-boats on a choppy sea once chopped and placed in the flan (....just my over-active mind...or perhaps remnants of persuading awkward toddlers to eat up their food), do appear to be altogether finer, lighter in colour and thinner-skinned.

Supper is made and on the table and devoured greedily. It tastes delicious, with just the right contrast of acidity from the pickles to cut through the rich fat of the salami and raclette. My pastry leaves a little bit to be desired (as can be seen readily from the photograph) as the pastry shrank a bit; but as it is the taste that counts as far as I'm concerned, I wasn't too upset. I'd forgotten how simply tasty an egg-enriched pastry can be.

At least this time the flan made it to the table in one piece. Sometimes I find easing them out of the case over an upturned bowl, can end in disaster ...or perhaps a inventive renaming of the dinner on my part. All good cooks should learn to become proficient liars - it is amazing how you can turn round a 'disaster' and 'add value' to something perfectly ordinary...but perhaps I shouldn't admit to that in front of my family...

Best wishes,

Martha x


  1. Tart looks lovely as does photo of snow which fortunately has not reached us in the south east

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  3. Sorry Barbara, I meant to say that I hope you only have the kind of snow that you wish for i.e pretty on the hills and rooftops and clear on the roads.
    The tart was lovely and easy to make and I don't mind the 'homemade' look to it - it just proves it didn't come out of a packet! Take care, Love Martha x

  4. Your blogs would make a fabulous book. I so love your writing.