Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pot au Feu

It was a French chef who said that a Pot au Feu was one of France’s greatest dishes. To me it has been a very nice way to feed plenty of people a dish of boiled meat with plenty of available vegetables. It is certainly not a stew as the clear liquid forms almost the main part of the dish. I suppose that a Pot au Feu is a peasant’s title. The upper class description would be Une Petite Marmite – being a French dish in which all the ingredients are boiled for several hours. Look at a pot of Marmite and you will see an illustration of the proper French pot.


You will need:
Meat in the form of brisket and possibly a bit of ox tail
Vegetables of your choice, like:
Divided cabbage
The white of leeks
Whole shallots
Celery and more of the root variety if available

In an iron casserole place the meat (see above). Now add the vegetables cut up into large bite-size pieces. Add beef stock (cubes are fine) to cover. Salt and pepper it.
Bring the liquid to the boil and turn down the heat to keep the dish cooking for two hours or more depending on the cut of beef. Soon after the liquid reaches boiling point, some scum will appear on the surface. Spoon it off, or, as Mrs Beaton said: “scum it off as anything rises” – or something like that.
If you can make this dish the day before wanted, fat will rise to the surface overnight and can be scraped off and discarded. 
When ready to eat, extract the meat and carve it up for the plates. Then I like to place the Marmite on the table with a ladle for guests to help themselves to cover the meat with the vegetables and liquor.
This is a splendid dish for lots of people, and is, anyhow, best made in quantity.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Spring 2016

Springtime is always an exciting time for those who love their gardens. Mahonia fruit ripens for our Mrs Blackbird, damson flowers become our cherry blossom, pear and apple buds grow, and the mistletoe bunches on our potted apple tree start to show new life. Will they flower and fruit this year at last? We hope that they will.
Snowdrops are over, but from the centre of two pots of special tulips have sprung elaborate daffodils. I cannot recall having planted them.
Lilies shoot up from the soil in their pots, the Pieris fans out red leaves leaving tired winter ones still on its branches.
The small lemon tree that held on to its few green fruit in the shed over the winter, displays its lemons now as brilliant yellow in the sunshine. These are as bright as any flower.
A Typhoon rose cutting that I have nurtured for a friend turns out to be a Reverend F. Page-Roberts instead. How could I have made such a mistake? At least two Typhoon cuttings put in last autumn seem to be alive. So the recipient will have to wait until this coming winter to get her rose. But I am not really upset about it. The Rev. P-R in its day was the rose. Now it has almost disappeared from view as roses have become stronger and more floriferous.
Impatiens (Busy Lizzies), because of disease, have, I am told, been replaced by New Guinea. So Plants have been bought, but do not look like those they have replaced. Perhaps I am too impatient.
Autumn planted broad beans (Aquadulce) are already in flower. Runner bean seeds have been pushed down into plastic sacks of well-composted soil.
Other than herbs, they are our only vegetables – except for two bucketsworth of Foremost and Charlotte potatoes. Harvesting these is great fun when we turn the buckets upside-down on the garden table and treasure-hunt through earth for the tubers.
Seaweed with trace elements is the new fertiliser, with tomato fertiliser to be applied on alternate weeks. Vines come into bud.

We bought our hardwood bench because of its alluring curves. But it was just a bench. Now, annually, I sandpaper the slats to reveal the timber’s pale ochre colour, and linseed oil their supporting frame to darken it like mahogany. Although made of the same wood, this treatment makes it a rather special object. It is jobs like this that herald the summer, but the bench does now look a bit too smart for our simple garden.