No not Clarissa wearing Penguin Shorts...sorry, all will become clear.
'Bring me a brace of pheasant my good man' I said to the Gamekeeper the other day.
He looked as me a little askance because we could trip over pheasant here and I don't usually pay too much attention.
'Minus the feathers and the innards of course,' I added,
'Because I have a late fifteenth century recipe for game casserole and I'm in the mood to try it. The mood will have passed by Wednesday so be quick....and bring some red wine in with them.'
In fact the birds only shuffled off their mortal coil yesterday, and then have to hang until they are almost coming back to life but I am readying the cinnamon, cloves, saffron and ginger etc.
I am reading A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright and I am liking it. I have had a soft spot for Clarissa since those Two Fat Ladies days, and then listening to her reading her autobiography, Spilling the Beans.
I'm not a great one for food writing, or cookery books, or reality chef TV, though even I was riveted by the Masterchef semi-final this week. It's the music mainly isn't it, really cranks up the anxiety to fever pitch. Will Steve's jellies make the transition from cold room, up in the lift to the heat of the main kitchen, and get plated up without melting and thence to thirty of the nation's top chefs for eating. I was beside myself with worry for Steve's jellies, and then Michel Roux offers that piercing gaze and does some chivvying and that ought to be enough to have jelly on the ceiling. I tell you I was exhausted by the end. We missed the final but our virtual money would have been on eventual winner Ash who stirred things with both hands, took a direct hit in the eye with some boiling oil, stuck his head under the cold tap and just kept going.
Clarissa's tome romps through from the cuisine of the Crusades right up to the present-day and thus far I am finding the book fascinating, engaging and very lovely to pick up and read after a stint of fiction. I've already learnt the origins of eating Umble Pie. The umbles were the kidney, liver, lights, hearts, testicles and parts of the tripe left over when a deer had been killed and the select cuts had gone off to the select people, leaving the bits and bobs for the huntsmen or the beaters on the shoot. If I tell you that on yesterday's shoot the Gamekeeper, with his father Bookhound the Beater in tow, lunched on pheasant and leek pie followed by a delicious coconut and almond tart with custard then you can see that the days of Umble Pie for beaters are long gone here.
I will carry on ambling through A History of English Food because flicking ahead I can see news (to me) that curlew, lapwing and lark should be served with salt, sugar and water, whilst sparrows and thrushes require salt and cinnamon to taste their best (Tudors) and a cracking recipe coming up for calves feet (Elizabethans) and I love Clarissa's informed but humourous tone, just right for a non-serious foodie like me.
Meanwhile my attentions have been also drawn a little closer to the season, and thanks to the arrival of a Kobo e reader from Penguin loaded with the new selection of Penguin Shorts I have been able to see what I think of a touch screen e reader whilst reading Felicity Cloake's Perfect Christmas Day 15 Essential Recipes for The Perfect Christmas.
The Penguin Shorts are billed as a 21st century legacy of those early days of Penguin Books which offered affordable, quality books for a mass audience, and for the cost of a cup of coffee these latest editions for e reader are taking up the cudgels in the busy digital books market. I of course am the only numpty not to have noticed that Kobo is an anagram of Book, but I have no complaints about the very readable touch screen which saves all that energy wasted pressing the page forward button, whilst the battery charge life seems to be everlasting. Having originated in Canada ( I think) this is the e-reader now supported by W.H.Smith's and clearly an attempt to challenge the Kindle juggernaut (a million Kindles a month being sold... a million...). I haven't got as far as registering it yet, or seeing what else may be available because when I do I will lose the Penguin Shorts and I am enjoying them, but I'll let you know my further Kobo thoughts eventually.
Priced at £1.99 the Penguin Shorts are designed to be read over a 'long commute or a short journey' or in a lunch hour and as a means of providing a new angle on an old subject, or a new subject or perhaps a short story. Interestingly I discover that Shorts can also be produced very quickly, within four weeks of commissioning a work, so the series could be very contemporaneous, a slew of writers are working on them and we are also promised essays. I for one would relish more essays so I like the sound of all this and will be keeping a close watch.
But enough of that we have Christmas dinner to think on. Felicity Cloake runs through all the basic Christmas recipes on the basis that many of us are welded to our traditions and have a hard fight to persuade the family into new ones, so we might as well do what we do as well as possible. Mulled wine, prawn cocktail, sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce, pigs in blankets, turkey the lot. Each recipe offers a resume of past and present methods and comes up with the best. Now I don't cook the Christmas dinner here, Bookhound does it but I have read out the muslin steeped in melted butter and draped over the turkey for the duration method and he'll give it a go, so we'll see what happens.
Felicity Cloake says this and it rings true here...
'Some Christmas traditions deserve to be quietly laid to rest, and the turkey thing is long past its sell-by daye. We all eat turkey. We all complain about turkey. Well, it's time to man up and opt for something else instead or finally learn how to cook this majestically sized bird properly.'
Every year we say we'll have beef...or a goose, and every year our turkey finds its way home. Ours is still trotting around. The Gamekeeper has been to visit it and says it has been living a happy and fulfilled free-range, rural life and they will read it poetry in its final minutes, so we can eat it safe in that knowledge, which I find always helps.
How about you...any Christmas food traditions to share??
Any tips for complete success??