Sunday, 22 November 2009

Brassicas and birthday cakes

By now I suspect that some close family members will no doubt be wondering how I can have come this far and neglected to mention my love - well obsession really - of cabbages in all shapes and sizes. When I was a child I would have so many extra helpings that whoever was doing the cooking would get in extra, just for me. I always remember Sunday lunches at my grandparents’, granny proudly announcing that she got lots of cabbage in, just for me. Given the dread this foodstuff instils in most children, my family must have thought me a little odd. I could happily occupy the space in my stomach others saved for pudding with mountains of the green stuff, when other children around me would offer me theirs too. I don’t remember there being the adverse side-effects associated with such a habit, any classmates sidling away from me in confined spaces, or siblings running for the hills…at least, I don’t think so.

sprouts water

This addiction has since spread to all green veg; broccoli, spinach, beans, peas, asparagus – in fact, apart from Gossip Girl and SATC reruns, one of my guilty BSG-less pleasures is a bowl of freshly cooked peas, a knob of butter melting into them and a dollop of salad cream…the BSG just about tolerates the presence of a bottle in our fridge…

In eating terms, these leafy delights were probably my first love; though I have discovered many things that I have adored since, it is that intense joy I experienced during these cabbage-laden feasts that remains with me. Happily, and unlike many first loves, I have not endured the lows – apart from the odd school dinner, of course, though the associated self-denial perhaps comes in the revelation that my younger self would not have indulged quite so vigorously had it not been for the ever-present butter or gravy to mop it up with. My adult self is certainly more than capable of taking down a bowl of pure, unadulterated emerald veined Savoy, a mountain of squeaky greens or a plate of tight, firm Brussels sprouts. Just season to taste.

sprouts pan

It is at this time of year that those tiny, compact members of the green family come into their own. The sprout. They are so often murdered in boiling water until soggy and yellow, and that is why so many people avoid them. So I suggest trying them a different way. Last week we cooked them in a shallow pan, with butter and a lid, for five minutes, until lightly caramelised but still acid green and slightly firm. They were great. This week they’re for the wok, to be stir-fried with soy and ginger.

So it is Stir-Up Sunday (thanks OFM), the day when traditionally you start on the Christmas cake, and this morning we were indeed baking. However, the candied fruits didn’t leave the cupboard – it was the BSG’s sister’s birthday – Victoria Sponge time. She is one top baker, so the bar was set at astronomical. Watching the BSG doggedly working at the butter and sugar, creaming them carefully to a paler hue, I realised what I had been doing so wrong all my life. Care and attention to this seemingly simple process makes all the difference. How can a mixture of such mundane ingredients; flour, eggs, sugar and butter speak so profoundly to us? I know a girl who used to follow cake recipes to the complete raw stage, then take the bowl, hide under her bed, and eat the lot. What happens during the baking process still completely astounds me, the magic, the alchemy that makes the humble cake batter transform into such a floaty princess of a thing. It speaks to so many of us and conjures countless food memories. We served ours (worthy of the W.I thanks to the BSG's lightness of touch) with a filling of crème fraiche and apricot jam, with steaming cups of fragrant Earl Grey tea, the weather stripping the last leaves from the trees outside.

cake 2

1 comment:

  1. At long last the humble sprout gets its just desserts and the honest cabbage its place in the sun. Even by your exalted standards this was quite an entree!