Thursday, May 22, 2014

Three Words

Three words to do with food and drink popped up in our conversation. Margreet, being unfamiliar with any of them, wanted a dictionary definition. Even her smart computer’s dictionaries and my large Concise Collins dictionary were in the least bit helpful.
            Those words were punt, musseau and chabrot – one very English and the others French.
            Starting with punt. In conversation I was referring to the “thief”, “voleur” or indentation at the base of a wine bottle. It took a lot of roundabout questions to the computer before she found definitions. They were mainly of boats and gambling. Although “punt” was not in a dictionary, the definition was found.
There are various reasons for having a punt at the base of a wine bottle, the most common being that it is there for stability and when Champagne bottles need to be turned by hand.
The word musseau, again, did not appear. So I referred her to a recipe in the Oldie Cookbook that I wrote in 1993. There it was, and she had eaten it many times when it had been my turn to cook. It is a wonderful way of consuming leftover meat – especially when served as a main course with hot potatoes.
Slice the meat finely, cutting away any fat. Place the result in a serving dish and cover it with capers, cornichons (gherkins) chopped finely, chopped onion or shallot, pepper, salt, olive oil and vinegar (we make our own cider and wine vinegar in 5 litre jars). Turn the mixture around to marinate. Serve with some fresh herb as garnish.
My own speciality is to add pickled black peppercorns to the musseau’s dressing. Almost fill a jar (having a plastic lid) with black peppercorns. Cover with vinegar. It will take some time for the peppercorns to soften and become ideal for a musseau or other dishes (use sparingly). They will keep indefinitely, but may need a top-up of vinegar over time.
The last word was chabrot. To “faire chabrot” is a French peasant’s custom of pouring red wine into the dregs of his or her soup, swilling it around to blend, warm, and clean the plate, and then drinking the result from the plate’s rim. It may look as peasanty as it is, but delicious. I have found that poorer red wine makes a better chabrot than a good one.

Sunday, May 04, 2014


A boar, who slept on his back with his legs in the air, having been bought by a farmer for a great sum, had failed dismally at his job and was to be sold at a considerable loss to be turned into sausages. He had to escape if possible.
            On the other side of the Downs a sow, who slept with limbs outstretched like a dog, had also been bought for a lot of money. She had not provided the farmer with a single litter and was to go the slaughterhouse to be turned into legs of pork and chops. She, too, had to escape.
            Both sow and boar managed it. And they ran.
            The boar, on his escape route, saw a couple of male acrobats disporting themselves on Downland turf. He watched and thought to himself that he could learn from their antics and become fertile with his newly-found knowledge.
            The sow, also escaping on downland, saw a couple of lady acrobats cavorting on the sloping grass. She, also, thought that she might learn to become fertile by watching them.
            A nasty storm of black clouds, combined with heavy rain, covered the Downland hills.
            When the storm passed and visibility was clear once more, the pigs found themselves together.
            They fell in love and produced some fine piglets.

Dreams are sometimes quite charming..


The slats in our garden bench have been sandpapered to a lovely yellow ochre colour (when dry) – set off by arms and legs oiled to a deep mahogany hue.
            The positions of potted winter plants of mahonia and camellia  have been usurped by pots of burgeoning lilies.
            Sweet peas, grown from seed, have taken the place of tomatoes, which are trouble to grow outside and not much better than those in season bought in the market.
            Of our trees, the damson that took the place of a silver leaf fungussed morello cherry, flourishes. But will I be able to espallier it?
            Pears may be few, like apples. But our planted mistletoe thrives on the potted apple tree. Somehow this parasite has become the rare star of our garden. Everyone is interested in it.
            Daffodils and narcissus lasted well, are dead-headed, and over. But our tulips, that look more like peonies, have lasted well, and light up the garden. We didn’t think we would enjoy tulips so much.
            We have planted the kind of busy lizzie that has survived the disease that killed off most varieties.
            Over-wintered rocket went to seed quickly and has been replanted with sown seed saved from last year. It sprouts almost instantly.
            Agapanthus and flox have risen from their outside winter hibernation, as has the Bolivian begonia that over-wintered on our kitchen windowsill.
            Two spears of asparagus appeared in our large asparagus pot and were eaten raw. But as the crop has declined in vigour over the years, five new plants were grown from seed and been planted as replacements. On their seed packet it declares that a crop of spears may be obtained from their first year’s growth. But I am sure that such salesmanship is vastly over optimistic.
            Our only vegetable this year is runner beans. They climb a bamboo frame and give a constant crop of beans – to be eaten at about 4” long. Some pods are left to grow to a foot long or more in length. These are for next year’s seed and wonderful hors d’oeuvres when boiled and served with garlic, salt, and olive oil.
            The grapevine, in its now reduced span, is coming into leaf – a bit late. Last year’s small vintage lies on its lees and will be bottled soon.
            Our much admired and quite wonderful Typhoon rose flourished as usual. A friend found it to be unobtainable. Just why one of the best roses ever produced should be thus, I have no idea. I will take cuttings of it later in the year.
            The peerless pieris continues to astound us with its changing coloured leaves, flowers and berries. What a wonderful small garden plant  (shrub?) it is.
            A carrion crow has just eaten all the young blackbirds from our resident couple’s first brood. They will start again for sure, as they usually have several families each summer.