Sunday, June 26, 2011

Strawberries for Wimbledon

It is halfway through Wimbledon fortnight - and therefore I reckon it is practically compulsory to eat strawberries.
The end of Wimbledon will also coincide with my move to London. So it was symbolic in all kinds of ways when I finally got around to doing pick-your-own strawberries this weekend. I went to AG Meale at Wayford Bridge in north-east Norfolk, and thought about the differences between rural life and life in a big city.
I was quite restrained - we managed to come away with a reasonable number of strawberries rather than punnets and punnets of them, though this was partly because it was late in the day and other people had got to most of the strawberries first!
To add to the symbolism, my parents were visiting, so we had strawberries from their garden on the edge of London to add to the Norfolk strawberries. Good things obviously grow in London too!

Eton Mess is one of my favourite strawberry dishes, but on a scorching hot day like today I think a sundae might just have the edge over it.
One of the beauties of a sundae is that you can vary it according to your preference, but the basics are ice-cream, fruit and whipped cream. This is not an occasion when you need to be restrained though - it is definitely a case of the more, the merrier.

For the ultimate strawberry sundae:


Good-quality strawberry ice-cream
Whipped cream
Meringue nests or pieces
A chocolate Flake or similar


Take half of the strawberries and mash or liquidise them into a sauce and leave the rest whole (or halved / quartered if they are large). Taste and add a little sugar if you think it needs it. Layer all the ingredients in your serving dish (a very tall glass per person is certainly the best thing to serve it in, but a bowl will do) breaking the meringue into pieces if it is not already in pieces. Finish with whipped cream, decorate with the last few strawberries and stick a Flake into it. Enjoy greedily.

Cheat's strawberry shortbread sandwich

Here is a really easy dessert that you can enjoy while watching Wimbledon on television.

Take good quality all-butter round shortbread biscuits, a large tub of clotted cream, and strawberries, hulled and halved/ quartered.
Spread a biscuit generously with the cream and top it with strawberry pieces. Place another biscuit on top of that and apply more cream and strawberries. You can carry on to make even more layers if you have the inclination and the engineering skills!

Monday, June 20, 2011

If music be the food of love...

As I prepare to move to London I have been trying to slim down my music collection, so I have music on the brain a bit more than usual. Added to my usual preoccupation with food, it got me thinking about the relationship between the two.
Plenty of musicians have put food into song, some more appetisingly than others. One of Leonard Cohen’s most famous songs is Suzanne, and one of its most lovely lyrics is “And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China.” The foreign fruit provide exoticism and beauty – a bit like the Strawberry Fields of the Beatles song, even if John Lennon was possibly not referring to literal strawberry fields.
Leonard Cohen. Photo by HollyWata

Possibly the first song which made me think about food and music at the same time was REM’s Bittersweet Me, which is a lament for unsatisfied appetite. The refrain goes: “I couldn't taste it /I'm tired and naked. / I don't know what I'm hungry for / I don't know what I want anymore.”
The trouble is that eating is not a very rock star thing to do. The Oasis song Cigarettes and Alcohol certainly suggests that their priorities were elsewhere.

When music becomes specifically about food, it tends to be from earlier styles of music than rock and often has more than a touch of humour. There is the Tom Waits song Eggs and Sausage, which lovingly enumerates the menu items at an American diner. “Eggs and sausage and a side of toast, Coffee and a roll, hash browns over easy, Chilli in a bowl with burgers and fries, What kind of pie?”
Tom Waits: Photo by stunned on Flickr

Meanwhile folk singer Steve Goodman laughs wryly at the healthy diet inflicted by his girlfriend, in the song Chicken Cordon Bleus: “When I first met you baby, you fed me on chicken and wine. It was steak and potatoes and lobster, and babe I sure felt fine. But now all you ever give me is seaweed and alfalfa sprouts, and sunflower seeds and I got my doubts.” The spiritual successor to this song is surely the Kink’s Skin and Bone, which warns of the effect of a crash diet. “Fat flabby Annie” doesn’t seem to be any happier once she is skinny, and the chorus “Don't eat no mashed potatoes, Don't eat no buttered scones, Stay away from carbohydrates, You're gonna look like skin and bone,” seems to list the forbidden foods with more longing than anything else.

What are your favourite songs about food? Let me know using the comments.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The nostalgic power of food

Saturday afternoon was blessed with sunshine, and I spent an enjoyable half-hour outdoors demolishing half a tub of strawberry ice-cream. It was palest pink (no colourings here), deeply creamy and just sweet enough. An old-fashioned strawberry ice, in fact – ice-cream as it used to be.

This was Norfolk Farmhouse Ice-Cream from North Tuddenham, whose products I am particularly fond of. To be honest, I prefer their raspberry sorbet, which is a shocking pink, with intense fruity flavour - more of an Italian-style gelati. But I also enjoyed the quiet charms of this strawberry ice-cream.

This got me thinking about nostalgia – a powerful emotion, and one easily evoked by food. Our fascination with the past is amply demonstrated at this time of year, as weekends fill with old-fashioned fetes, wartime re-enactments (complete with Spam sandwiches) and classic car rallies. But though re-enactment societies also cover the Civil War and other distant conflicts, if less often than the second world war, our enthusiasm for food rarely goes back further than our own childhood. Actual historical food, as opposed to things we can remember, remains strictly a curiosity.

I asked a friend for his favourite foods from childhood. “Mars bars,” he replied without a second’s hesitation, adding, “Fishfingers; fried eggs; chicken supreme.” You can probably take a good guess at his age from that list alone. My strongest memories are of children’s party food – bowls of cheesy Wotsits; jelly and ice-cream – plus the dinosaur-shaped pasta we had once as a treat, and then for some reason, my mother’s fish baked in tomato sauce, of which I was not very fond.

I know an elderly lady who often says that certain foods don’t taste like they used to. To her, cheese scones are rarely cheesy enough, and oranges not as sweet as they used to be. It is hard for me to judge whether all this is completely true, or whether memory has deceived her, or whether her taste buds have declined with age. I have several fond food memories from my childhood which I have no particular desire to revisit – sherbet fountains with liquorice straws to dip in the sherbet powder, or the tuna-fish sandwiches, heavily laced with chopped onion, which my father made for trips to the beach. Like most children, I expect, sweets were among my biggest edible excitements – I remember considering giant strawberry-shaped jellies, laced with e-numbers no doubt, as a gastronomic delight.

What are your favourite nostalgic foods? Let me know using the comments.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Time for a change

This is both a new blog and a continuation of an old one.

For the past couple of years I have been writing the Fruits, Roots and Shoots blog on the Eastern Daily Press website at - a celebration of what I like to eat as well as the best of Norfolk food, with a few other observations thrown in.

Now I am preparing to move to London, a city I have spent time in but never lived in full-time. Much about my life will change, but I am pretty sure that food will remain a large part of it.
I am sorry to be leaving my local farm shop, where I always get a warm welcome, and the pleasures of Norwich market, from its cheese stall to its organic vegetables.

I am saying goodbye to hedgerows filled with wild plums and blackberries, and I will no longer be able to visit my favourite wild garlic spot or buy asparagus straight from the farm.

No doubt London will have foodie joys of its own. I will soon be discovering them.