I LOVE EUROVISION

It’s the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend. If you are not hanging up the bunting and getting in the booze, then you are missing out, in my view. Especially at the moment, watching all the mud-slinging of the Brexit/Bremain stuff, I sort of despair. I adore Eurovision. Always have. To me, it’s a chance to celebrate all the good things about Europe – cultural diversity, shared experiences, and, above all, a sense of massive fun. In the UK, we tend to look toward America for our foreign music, and I still remember the shock and mild horror when I realised that French radio played a lot of French music – and Spanish, and German, and whatever was popular in the European club scene at the time. Eventually I came to enjoy it, and I still listen to as much French music as I do English, I suspect. I shan’t rehearse all the reasons why Eurovision is BRILLIANT here, (though I shall direct you to this radio show with by the Swedish Ambassador, which is very good), but suffice to say that, while the top-rated songs are generally genuinely good (not always- I’m looking at YOU very bad Polish butter-makers in 2014 – terrible, terrible technique), it’s the mixture of great – average – dire and sheer WTF which makes the whole evening such a joy.

I am head down writing chapters of A Greedy Queen like a demon at the moment, so I shall make the rest of this post pithy. Here’re my favourite songs, and, as the point of this blog is to muse in a historically meaningful way, some suggestions of what to cook to celebrate them in a suitably ye olde way:

Austria: OK, I LIKE THIS SONG. How about Kaiser-Schmarn, from Countess Morphy’s Recipes of All Nations? It’s a pancake on LSD – 1/2lb of flour, 1/2 pint of cream, sugar, eggs, raisins, salt and butter. I ate a modern version last year while on the Great Austria Trip and it was immense. Countess Morphy is also immense, as she’s a fake Countess, and wrote what is, in my view, one of the best cookery books of the 20th century. In an amazing departure from every academic norm ever, I refer you to the Wikipedia entry, which has been edited by a crack team based around the Oxford Food Symposium, and therefore is one of only about ten accurate food history articles on the web.

France: Inevitably. I am the only person I know who liked Twin Twin’s Moustache. For France we can delve into the 18th century, as high end cooking was all French influenced at that stage. I’d like to offer up wine chocolate, published in John Nutt’s Cook’s Dictionary of 1726. The French drank a lot of chocolate, and this one has booze in, which you tend to need about halfway through the first song. Anyway, take a pint of sherry, or a pint and a half of red port, four ounces and a half of chocolate, six ounces of fine sugar, and half an ounce of white starch, or fine flour; mix, dissolve, and boil all these as before. But, if your chocolate be with sugar, take double the quantity of chocolate, and half the quantity of sugar; and so in all. I use rice flour as the starch and it’s divine.

Belgium: She’s a sort of foil-clad Kylie. Fun. Go for Brussels Biscuits, which were Princess Victoria’s favourite snack when she was recovering from illness in 1835. Essentially they are a rusk made of brioche dough. Additive. If you seriously want to try them, ping me a comment and I can send the recipe. It’s going in the book…..

Australia: good on the Australians for taking it seriously enough to send a really good song, and being undecided enough to only send her with only half a dress. We’ll plump for an 1880s Beeton recipe, which I suspect no-one ever cooked: parrot pie. It’s the same as pigeon pie (steak, egg, bird), so clearly adapted for a hypothetical Antipodean audience (or possibly just friends and family at home) based on existing recipes, and decorated in the same way with feet sticking out of the lid except….feathers. Love it. It’s as flamboyant and unreal as the whole contest.

parrot pie beeton 88
Can also be made with parakeets.

I should probably admit that my actual menu for my own evening with friends is not exactly this. It’s entirely modern, unusually for me, and rather random. I’ve got recipes representing the UK (Kay Plunkett-Hogg’s Xinjang Lamb), Sweden (Swedes are involved in about half of the entries, so it’s kind of broad – Bronte Aurell’s Cinnamon Buns), France (Pierre Hermé’s excruciatingly complicated macarons),and Israel except also France (taboulé, which I learnt to cook in Paris). I have Austrian, Spanish and French wines though…and German, British and Belgian beers.

Music should be enjoyable, right? (NOT YOU, GEORGIA), and so should food. A winning combination. Here’s to Eurovision, 2016!

 

 

A sad day in the tomato patch

My tomatoes have blight. Two weeks ago, it was merely the odd brown leaf, and I looked proudly at them and considered them rustic and French potager-like. But in the last few days I have had to face facts: they are blighted, benighted and frankly buggered.

Happily, I am not the only sufferer. It’s the first year I’ve grown them in the ground, since up to last August my garden was roughly the size of the average sofa, and everything was in pots and growbags. I feared it was a novice gardener thing, but apparently our passive aggressive allotment-owning neighbour has lost all of his tomatoes too, so all is well with the world. I’ve ripped out the vines, lamented over the vast, squishy, brown ex-crop and, in a spirit of blight defiance, stripped off all the green tomatoes which remain unaffected. I really hate waste. I had vaguely planned a green tomato chutney, but it seemed far too obvious. Plus, I have only just finished the divine, but incredibly rich 1870s chutney from three years ago, and I have three jars of various homemade chutneys people have given me. All lovely, I’m sure, but how much chutney does a girl need? Obligatory with a cayenne-laden Victorian kedgeree, good with a meat chop or a cold pie, but after that… Mouldy chutney beckons once again. So, given a recent mild obsession with a particular type of Scandinavian pickle, it seemed obvious that pickled tomatoes was the way to go.

Pickled veg seems peculiarly un-British in 2014. Branston, yes, pickled things, yes (onions, eggs, gherkins, beetroot – bring it on), but beyond that, the habitual use of pickled veg (and fruit) seems a bit Scandinavian, or maybe Japanese. Fermenting, salting, brining, pickling, all techniques which we’re turning it enthusiastically, if the food press is to be believed, but when it comes to using the results, are a little but harder to place. I’ve gone back to the 18th century, when pickling the various gluts from the garden (and hedgerow) was a normal part of the culinary year, and I’ve started using pickled bits of stuff as a general accompaniment to pretty much everything. A typical lunch at the moment would be a poached egg, some beans or rye bread, chopped parsley and oodles of pickles. For the tomatoes, I dug out a recipe from 1924, from Warne’s Model Cookery. No point in looking much further back than the mid 19th century, for tomatoes weren’t widely grown until the Victorian period, and early recipes tend to revolve around ‘tomata sauce’, or catsup.

All you do is slice and salt, then cook the tomatoes up with pickling vinegar, sugar, garlic, chilli, mustard and cloves. They retain a certain amount of texture, and they take on flavour from the spices. The tartness of the green tomatoes cuts through the sugar, and the spices pack a fairly hefty punch, compared to some of the anaemic shop-bought pickles around today. They are much better than a chutney would have been, and I confidently predict that they won’t be around for long. I’d have loved to keep my lovely tomato plants cropping and bursting with health, but it was not to be. I feel this is a suitable elegy to the heap of sorry brown badness now in the council’s green bin. RIP, tomato plants.

Poor bastard tomato bushes.             Salting, resting overnight.            2014-09-07 11.29.19