Mum’s packed lunch left rather a lot to be desired. On the journey down to my folks’ place in the south of France, she served up a picnic of browning iceberg, bendy carrots and hard-boiled eggs with yolks the colour of pumice (“I forgot they were doing, so I boiled them for 35 minutes”). We arrived at the house just in time for a quick trip to the local Intermarché and I was ready to pounce on anything that might satisfy my desperate palate.
Look at this! Mum didn’t take much persuading. Her side of the family is up there with Peter Rabbit when it comes to radish love and this one was enormous. And BLACK. I think these things must be unfamiliar to the French consumer too because each had a big orange label with cooking instructions: eat raw or fry with garlic and parsley. We chose the latter and picked up a great big sausage and some endive to go with it.
Alas, the lovely dark skin had to be peeled off, but underneath was crisp, white goodness that tasted … exactly like radishes. I had expected the pepper rule to apply here (small = dead pokey; large = hardly hot at all) but not so! This chap had a good, mustardy noseburn. We chomped on a couple of slices and put the rest in the pan.
Cooking turned the radish into something completely different. All its strength disappeared and it took on a taste and texture not unlike that of a Jerusalem artichoke. The big wimp needed an awful lot of garlic and salt, but was a decent plate filler. Next time I’ll keep it raw and maybe grate it, or put some chunks in tupperware to accompany whatever delicacy my mother has prepared for the way home.
Hurrah for more pub quiz victory! (Glasgow edition) I rather like my handwriting. It’s all swirls and flourishes, and it has quiz benefits if, hem hem, your quizmaster can’t decipher what you’ve put. Q: What was the name of the French line of defence in World War One, which the Germans walked through without much trouble? We wracked our brains and couldn’t quite think of it, but somebody swore it was maginsomething, so I swirled ‘Magincourt’, knowing it was probably wrong, but it was worth a try, right? I’m sure you know the correct answer is Maginot, because you’re brainier than us, but thanks to my lovely script we were either given the benefit of the doubt or the benefit of the quizmaster’s myopia and were therefore marked correct and given two points.
We won the quiz by one point. Bottle of vodka collected. Much clapping. Then instant karma struck as we drew lots for the booze and it was taken home by a friend-of-a-friend cheesemonger, not part of our regular team, who hadn’t given us any answers we didn’t already know. Bah.
I had famous pork on Sunday. It came from Stinky Jim, you know, of Jimmy’s Farm fame. Jamie Oliver’s mate. That’s the one. Anyway, it had been brought from his piggery in Essex to Durham by my friend Pippa, who was there visiting her parents and invited me to join her for the weekend. She hadn’t been able to get a roasting joint, so she bought some huge ribs instead and her mum stuck them in the Aga while we went off to pick apples, damsons and the three remaining blackberries in the garden for a crumble pud.
Mrs D. was worried they wouldn’t come out right, not having been marinaded, barbecued or any of the other things you’d normally expect to be done with ribs, but they came out lovely. She’d salted the skin well and the crackling was so crunchy I had trouble biting through it, the fattiness (they were pretty fatty, but that’s bellies for you) kept the meat from drying out and becoming chewy and they tasted pretty good too. In fact, they more than made up for the five hour train journey I’d endured to get to Durham, what with the East Coast line being closed all weekend.
THINGS I HAVE LEARNED FROM GROWING MY OWN BASIL
1. Pinch off the top of your plant after 4 sets of leaves to make it more bushy and less beanpoley
2. If you buy cheapo compost from Poundland, you will get a bonus crop of mushrooms
MON DIEU, C’EST UN RIP OFF!
The French market held in Glasgow on Saturday as part of the Merchant City Festival looked promising. A long row of colourful stalls stretched the length of Candleriggs and only the addition of a couple of peasants walking around carrying live chickens by their feet would have made it more authentic. They were even selling gaudy homewares (glass roses in rainbow colours, mmm) and items of clothing nobody in their right mind would purchase.
Strictly following my mother’s marketing technique, I trailed round every single stall before making a purchase. There were Breton cakes, steaming pots of proven’ale potatoes, shiny red tomatoes, tubs of pure pork brawn and interesting vests that looked like they should fit a baby, but which magically expanded to the kind of size which would cover the chest of the average lady. I bought none of these, but I did acquire the following: six figs, three peaches, four almond squares, two chunks of cheese, some pat’ de campagne and a wild boar saucisson.
The saucisson stank out the bus on the way home and by the time I got it all into my kitchen, my mouth was watering. I’d picked up some bread from my friendly local organic baker, so I thought the pat’ would be a good start. It was a reassuringly coarse, chunky looking thing and the lady had given me the slice off the end which I, in my naivety, had thought would be the choice cut. You see, I’m the kind of girl who likes the crust of the bread, the skin on the custard and blackened sausages. Oh dear. This stuff was so overcooked I couldn’t even squish it onto the bread and the dark edge tasted like gravy browning. I had a go at a couple of figs for dessert, but they were dry and sandy and tasted of nothing.
By this point I was feeling suspicious about the standard of produce I might have bought from the other stall holders, so I had a taste of everything to check I hadn’t been ripped off. The saucisson was so garlicky I couldn’t have known whether it contained wild boar or swamp rat. The almond squares were sweet and crumbly, but I soon realised that only their shape differentiated them from the almond fingers you can buy cheaply from any supermarket. The peaches were enormous and juicy, but almost tasteless. Only the cheeses were good – 250g each of Tom de Savoie and Comt’ – but I’d paid six quid for them.
I can’t imagine that any market trader worth his salt wouldn’t have a taste of his fruit before buying it from his supplier, let alone putting it out for sale. I really hate to think that some of the stall holders had brought across the goods they couldn’t sell to their regular French customers to flog to eager Brits at inflated prices. I’m kicking myself for trusting a trader who will sell me a rotten bit of pat’ because she knows she can get away with it. Let’s face it, I was blinded by the exotic novelty of a French market in Glasgow. What I should have done is take the bus up Great Western Road to buy exactly the same things from Roots & Fruits and I J Mellis, probably a good deal cheaper. The next time this girl goes to a French market, it will be in France.