Friday 8 January 2021

Lockdown CBe food, part 1

The story so far: on the first day of Lockdown 3, I received in the post a notebook for recipes along with an author’s corrected proofs. So, Lockdown project: I invited all CBe writers to send recipes. More will follow: squirrels, haggis, flapjacks … I’ll probably blog two or three at a time.

It’s fascinating, how could it not be. I’m getting recipes invented on the street – ‘absently picking on a sprig of rosemary as I ate a flapjack’ – and recipes as cooked by granny in the 1940s, using powdered egg. You could email to ask for the exact recipes and I’ll happily send those but in most cases you’re going to be none the wiser: most people are not calculating in teaspoons or precise timings (‘Put into the oven for an unspecified amount of time’). Except in the foundational sense that it is – how this thing reacts to that thing at a given temperature and for a given time – this isn’t science. It’s pleasure, and play.

1 Will Eaves (The Absent Therapist; The Inevitable Giftshop; Broken Consort; and Murmur, first from CBe but now with Canongate): Haddock and Cannellini Cassoulet. Leek, mushrooms, courgette, beans, veg stock, and haddock; paprika, turmeric, ‘a blast of Worcestershire sauce, a shake of balsamic vinegar and a splodge of tomato concentrate’. This is my regular kind of cooking, so an easy way in, but delicious, I’ll go here again. New to me, about the tin of beans: ‘Don’t bother draining them, or only drain them a little: the salty sludge is good’ – a line Nigella would be proud of.

2 Eric Mace-Tessler (translator of Gert Hofmann, Veilchenfeld): I’m out of my comfort zone here, not just because I’m not vegan but also because I don’t have a thing his recipe calls a ‘pressure cooker’. I have pans. (During the last lockdown, or was it the one before, I did acquire a skillet, for hob and oven both, but I’ve only used it once.) So this is a ‘version’, as free-wheeling translators sometimes say, of the original. My expectations were not high: how can bully-boy chickpeas be, as Eric promises, ‘subtle’? Turns out they can. A little salt, no other spices. Onion, chickpeas, ‘scallions’, buckwheat noodles, and the green bits are roasted nori.

3 and 4 Schnitzel from Stephen Knight (The Prince of Wails; Drizzle Mizzle Downpour Deluge), pork not veal. Here, with red cabbage and from David Collard (About a Girl: a Reader’s Guide to Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing), Leftover Roast Potatoes, as served (for free) by Rose in The George, Parkholme Road, Hackney, in the 1980s. Potatoes get the regular treatment (but the oil mustn’t be olive, ‘which smokes’, or goose fat, ‘which is an ostentation’); the only ‘difficult part’ is leaving them in a bowl (not in the fridge) for 24 hours: ‘They're best eaten cold the following day as leftovers, sprinkled with sea salt.’

The recipe for Stephen Knight’s Schnitzel is printed in the form of a letter from his mother at the end of his superb novel Mr Schnitzel (2000; long out of print but try AbeBooks). ‘PS If not clear please ring.’ The centrepiece of Knight’s Drizzle Mizzle Downpour Deluge is an elegy of sorts for his mother, who died in 2019; it’s a poem of contained fury at the kind of poetry that offers itself as consolatory – ‘faced with this pabulum / who wouldn’t look glum’. Pabulum: ‘pap,’ says my online dictionary, adding: ‘mid 17th century (in the sense “food”): from Latin, from the stem of pascere “to feed”.’ This business of writing and food and mothers is complicated.

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