We owed friends a lunch and since we had only a [magical though it was] twelve hour window of bewitchingly beautiful snow last weekend and it is almost (please?) Imbolc, I decided on a white theme. White lends itself well to Imbolc because of seasonal dairy produce and snowdrops. We always seem to save the Jerusalem artichokes until this time of year now too and they are best in creamy soups or dauphinoise. This year I also decided to lift some scorzonera and try the skirret, two perennial root vegetables. Skirret is frequently described in seed catalogues as a 'Tudor root' which just makes me think salaciously of Thomas Cromwell dripping in butter (Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell that is...for preference Mark Rylance's Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell) but I'll make do with chunks of roasted starch, I suppose.
whole poussin with bread sauce
parsnip purée, roast potatoes, scorzonera and skirret
Why does there always have to be a theme, you ask, especially if you are my husband? Hush, I say. Let me play with words. Away to your chopping board.
Which brings me to a reader*'s question:
'Why don't you cook? And if you do, why don't you blog about it?'
In days of yore, before I had either kids or gainful employment**, I was a vegan and spent many hours making wonderful nut loaves from scratch and dairy-free versions of every dessert imaginable. I would have had a blog about it, like everyone else, but the internet hadn't been invented back then. You sort of have to do a lot of cooking if you're a vegan in Scotland and want to be healthy and eat delicious food, and it's partly why I'm not anymore. That and the fact I refuse to ever be an anything ever again. If its got a name, I'm not being it: not vegan, not freegan, not paleo, not macrobio, not sugar-free and, above all else, never ever clean. If I should even once describe the joyful, delightful miracle of transforming the life's toil of sunshine and soil into exuberant, grateful human energy as 'clean eating', please take away all my words.
scorzonera (bottom one scrubbed of its black skin)
So anyway, I swapped vegan for garden and got really into growing food more than cooking it. I did once post about my bone broth and sauerkraut here but didn't feel they added anything to the thousands of similar posts already online and since I had neither grown the cabbages nor raised the cattle they didn't even really feel like mine, so I took them down. The only cooking I ever wanted to blog about here involved ingredients I had either lovingly tended in my garden or painstakingly foraged from the wild. They are, obviously, only a tiny fraction of the food we use but they are very valuable to me. The skirret, for example, took years to source before I could even begin to grow it. I am a competent cook but my husband is an acknowledged genius in the kitchen. Experimentation and enthusiastic failure are the way to learn most skills in life, that's how I've learnt to garden, but I'm not willing to risk culinary hit and misses on my hard won horticultural successes. I trust only him with my precious produce. And making mead for the first time from his sole honey crop of the year? That is not something with which to mess. It requires a willingness to follow instructions and use precise measurements rather than repeatedly resorting to the quantifiers 'some' and 'enough', of which I am a big fan. (Note how there is not a single actual recipe in my entire blog: I think the name of a dish constitutes all the instruction one should need...sorry if Google has had you searching here, in vain!) My posts on cooking with dandelions prove my point: I am happy to cook amateurishly with low value ingredients only.
If I had to prepare my favourite things to eat, which are all costly, the menu would be like this:
half a dozen, sustainable, raw Loch Harport oysters - NO LEMON
wild Scottish venison carpaccio, from a sensitively managed Highland estate where nobody actually enjoyed shooting them
a bowl of local cherries, still sun warmed
It would take me weeks to source them, hours to carry them home, a few minutes to prepare them. I don't think any cooking or flavouring could improve on nature. Even on a more quotidian basis, left to fend for myself I will always eat like a cave woman, and by that, I do not mean making fake cakes out of dates but rather pointing some meat or fish at fire until it's only semi-raw and adding some salad or stir fried veg. I love all sorts of elaborate dishes but not in proportion to the increase in work and washing up that they require. Not when they are readily available at the hands of my husband anyway. I always need to know how to cook everything, to have done it once, and then I am happy for partners or professionals to do it on the daily. Over the years, I have made butter and cheese and all sorts of pastry, grown wheat and ground it, pickled a variety of things, cooked most parts of most animals - including hatching, raising and culling my own, tempered chocolate and fermented fruit into wine. None of those are things I feel the need to do again, whereas making yoghurt, stock, bread and kimchi is well worth my regular effort. Food preparation time is limited and I choose to spend most of it growing and sourcing ingredients, so I can be outside and saving money. Then, when the sun has gone down, I pass my muddy wand to my partner in alchemy and retire to read Sir Michael of Pollan's Cooked in a hot lavender bath while he fires up the cauldron...
Short answer: I do cook but mostly very simple things from shop-bought ingredients that don't belong in the domain of this blog. And for everything else, mainly I have the ideas, do the planning, then grow, source*** and prepare the raw materials for the chef to work his magic on. Speaking of which:
pre- lavish amounts of gravy
The scorzonera (centre bottom, looking like scallops), despite being three years old and very thick (much thicker than the one year old roots pictured harvested), was tender and delicious. There wasn't much as I put the spade through it at the point where it must have hit a stone in my rubbly garden and taken a sharp right. The skirret (bottom left) was a delight, creamy with a slightly stronger flavour, but - despite its much slimmer, delicate roots - randomly woody in parts, which was odd. Both were only washed and fried in butter.
This plate of food has broken two rules with which I grew up:
1. (Home Economics teacher) Never serve a dish that's all the same colour.
2. (My mum) Never serve a dinner without green vegetables.
I don't think I've done either before so that was liberating. Who knew white could be so dirty?
*Oh ok, it was my friend, G, WHILE HER HUSBAND WAS COOKING US DINNER.
** This was a brief period you may have missed.
*** Sourcing gluten-free breadcrumbs for our gluten-free guest's bread sauce, for example, involved contacting a good friend, asking her to make a trip to the good baker in Linlithgow in search of the good gluten-free bread, then going into town to meet her - which may also have involved good coffee and good conversation - and taking delivery of it. It is ENDLESS WORK... (Thanks, Rose!)