We were away last week. We went on holiday over a long weekend, and ate gorgeous food, and coveted beautiful houses, and met brilliant people, and saw more paintings of 17th century militia than I previously thought possible. We get home late on Monday evening, and put the washing in the machine and slippers on our feet, and I move through my kitchen, touching things. Things that ground me. My chopping boards. My tea towels. My measuring cups. The little things that make our home, well, our home. And then I pick up a tin and a mixing bowl, and choose a knife. And I make cornbread.
I love recipes. As someone who learnt to cook not at her mother’s knee, but through a combination of google searches and cook books that had previously served only as door stops, I owe a lot to recipes. I am not yet the sort of cook who can confidently throw ingredients into a pan without clinging onto a book for stability and reassurance. If it weren’t for good recipes succeeding and swaddling me during my first forays into cooking, I would likely have abandoned the whole endeavour.
Sometimes, especially when I’m sad, or just find myself in a bit of a cooking rut, I realise that what I need is a taste of home. And growing up in the North East, in Newcastle and South Shields, that taste of home is the stotty bread. So I have spent the last week making stotties, and it has been glorious.
Brioche is amongst the loveliest of breads to bake, and the most rewarding. But it’s also one of the most daunting. You don’t fall into brioche. You don’t find yourself accidentally making it at 10pm at night. It requires planning and perseverance and a lot of eggs. This is serious baking. This is reading a phone contract before you sign it bread. This is buying bin bags before the last batch have run out dough. This is consider getting a pension, realise you can’t afford it, and then consider having children, so that they can look after you in your old age kneading. Brioche is grown up baking.
At my 21st birthday party, I had a perspex tower of cupcakes, with huge swirls of icing – ivory and duck egg blue, to match my invitations. I was so desperately proud of them. I was 21 and energetic and brave and stupid. Stupid because cupcakes are simply dreadful.
In Alice Through The Looking Glass, the White Queen offers Alice ‘jam tomorrow’:
‘It’s very good jam,’ said the Queen.
‘Well, I don’t want any TO-DAY, at any rate.’
‘You couldn’t have it if you DID want it,’ the Queen said. ‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.’
This is quite a silly post about a very silly recipe. This cake is not big and it is not clever. So much so that I very nearly did not write this post. But it turned out to be really quite joyful, and a perfect cake for Easter, and so here it is.
There is something deliciously liberating about cooking something you know will be unremittingly ugly. Step forward Brutti ma Buoni.
This is a tale of two books, and one pot of soup.
Jane Grigson does not like rhubarb. Jane Grigson does not like rhubarb at all.
Her Fruit Book is a delightful and beautiful thing: each chapter is a paeon to an individual fruit, listed in alphabetical order. All, that is, apart from her chapter on rhubarb. That chapter is something to behold: a barely disguised invective against rhubarb, laced with vitriol. Yes, there are recipes within the chapter, but each speaks of flavours that will ‘improve’ or ‘ameliorate’ rhubarb, and are littered with caveats.And don’t get her started on rhubarb and custard: one two line instruction exists and begins with the fatal line ‘if you must have rhubarb with custard’. The entire chapter drips with disdain and derision.