Aug 01

Globe artichoke

Version 2Strangely, I have always thought of globe artichoke as a hazard food…occupying the same place in my mind as, say, durian fruit or puffer fish. With the durian fruit, it’s a hideous smell and with the puffer fish it’s the poison but what these all have in common, is that the gourmet’s prize is supposed to be worth the hazard. Err, yes and with the artichoke? Well, having parents of the ‘modern’ variety, I was encouraged to eat grown up foods from very early on. Children were rarely served up something different and we now adopt the same policy with our own children. When I was a child growing up in the North of England, artichokes were an uncommon delicacy from continental Europe. Those that were available were the large, full grown heads. Whether expensive or not, they were certainly a treat. So they were usually boiled whole. That way, we made the most of it by tearing the leaves off one by one, sometimes sharing. The sense of delicacy attained by that mode of eating was immense: Dipping each morsel in vinaigrette, then turning the leaf to scrape the tender smear of flesh from its root with your bottom teeth, then savouring the unusual flavour. Both the act of dipping and of extracting with the teeth are actions we naturally associate with delicacy. They appeal to the human animal in us all, and to children especially, with their enviable lack of self consciousness. But that is just the beginning, because eating an artichoke like this is so much more; it is a religious allegory! Those who are humble as they climb the Hill Difficulty will be rewarded with a joyous abundance in the Delectable Mountains…but not before they endure one more test in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for Beelzebub shoots arrows! Enough butchering of Bunyan.  As a child I was instructed how to remove the hairy core cleanly from the heart before slicing up this prize. But I did not have the dexterity to do this and remember the horror of these irritant hairs stuck in my throat. These days I can dodge the arrows. Home alone last Monday night, I cut my first home grown artichoke of the season and trotted confidently up the Hill.

Dec 26

Malabathrum

Sometimes things just float into place.  We’ve had Indian tejpat in stock for months – I bought some when trying to put a more complex and authentic taste into home-cooked curries. A subtle bay-like leaf, it has been lending a cinnamon warmth to many a dahl and sauce in our house this autumn.  And at some point I clocked that this was the stuff -Malabathrum – that Apicius uses over and over again in his cookery book of ancient Rome. I hadn’t found much reference to its use in modern western cooking but had resolved to experiment anyway.
Malabathrum

Making rich, smokey venison stew for Boxing Day this morning, the time came.  Looking through the cupboard for suitable seasoning…marjoram, juniper, clove, black pepper, parsley, bay leaf…I came face to face with cinnamon. We have German relatives staying for Christmas and it would not be unusual to find this type of goulash being laced with cinnamon in Germany but cinnamon in savoury dishes has never strongly appealed to me, except for in Eastern food.  With that thought in mind, the bay leaves sailed down to lick the bubbling surface of the stew…and were joined moments later by their stripy-veined eastern cousins. The result: Truly perfect and suited to all tastes of the household.