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Mostly Concerning Food

 

There were good strawberries on Chesterfield market, and good value too. I bought a kilogram for £3 and an awful lot of oranges and mineolas to make up a fiver. Chesterfield has a good market for fruit and vegetables and the stall at the top corner has had at least two generations of loud voiced traders barking out, “Seven seedless oranges a pound. Just a pound your oranges.” It either attracts or repels depending on your mood but there is no disputing the quality. This stall-holder must be right at the front of the queue at the wholesale market in the early morning.

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I take a perfect cauliflower and a bunch of asparagus both of which practically smell of the field they grew in. That vital period of field to table is much shorter if you go to a good market than if you use the supermarket route. Within 24 hours all bar a few oranges have been cooked and either eaten or turned into jam.

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I like making jam. It has that lovely combination of history, simplicity and family. My grandmother made jam and so did my mother and her sisters. I’m sure great grand parents did but I’ve never traced the family back that far.

It’s all so simple and full of good feelings and delicious smells that fill the whole house.

It’s been a long time since I’ve made strawberry and it’s late by the time I set to. I simply halve the fruit once I’ve trimmed the tops. Then they go into the jam pan with the same weight of sugar. You can get special jam sugar but I’ve never found it worth the fuss and always use granulated. I can’t resist adding the juice of a lemon because I always add the juice of a lemon to jam. It’s partly tradition, partly that cooking with lemon makes me happy and partly that I have never bought jam better than the jam I make so why change a winning formula?

Bring it to the boil. I don’t bother mashing the fruit (I rather like finding a substantial piece of strawberry in my jam) and I stir occasionally. Spotting the setting point is the skill or knack. I use well chilled saucers. I have a sugar thermometer but I don’t use it very often. My advice is to err on the side of too runny. If you let it go too far you will have produced a strawberry toffee that is almost impossible to get out of the jar.

The whole process takes about 40 minutes and I’ve got two and a half large pots of strawberry jam all nicely jarred by bedtime and ready for my breakfast toast.

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Before I get to the jam and toast I use the asparagus. I poach the eggs and the asparagus in the same water; the asparagus for five minutes, the eggs for less than three. The toast takes three and the sauce is the remaining cheese sauce that wasn’t used when the market cauliflower became my all time favourite dish; cauliflower cheese. The breakfast is even better than the supper dish. I used to think that cauliflower cheese needed a rasher or two of bacon. Not true. Bread and butter is the perfect accompaniment; and someone you like a lot is the perfect company.

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It’s been a while since I made bread. Discovering a good bakery in the village has both spoiled me and denied me the opportunity of doing something I simply love doing. I don’t abandon the bakery entirely. I buy my bread flour there (and it is fabulous) and I buy my fresh yeast there as well. It is years since I’ve used fresh yeast and I want to punch myself. Instant yeast is pretty good these days but it isn’t as good. Fresh yeast is also easier to use.

Another benefit of fresh yeast from our bakery is that they haven’t gat a scale and two ounces paid for is often nearer six ounces in the bag.

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One day last week we see a mature couple sitting on the bench on our dog walk eating rather good looking pizzas from their cardboard boxes. Domino has just opened a branch in the village and we thought we’d save ourselves some cooking. The sun was shining, the garden felt inviting, we’d got cans of coke in the fridge for when Charlie and David come round. It is the first time I have ordered pizza from a well known firm and (unless someone tells me they have connections with organised crime or are ripping down the rainforest (both of which are all too possible)) it won’t be the last. T has Vege-Roma and I have Anchovy and Jalapeño. It is the start of five hours in the garden eating, drinking fizzy pop and reading in the sunshine.

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One of the reasons I gave up the pay-roll and started working for myself is so I can take off all the sunny days as holidays. I’ve started very well.

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Chesterfield also served us up a decent vegetarian cooked breakfast. It’s up one of the many little alleyways that add such character to the town centre and gave us good cheer as well as well cooked mushrooms and eggs.

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Hot rolls very rarely last long in our house. These are exceptionally nice. The flour from the bakery makes brilliant bread. The fresh yeast rises well and you can just about taste it in the bread. The bakery is good; these are better.

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A simple snack.

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The fresh yeast rises better and faster than dried or instant yeast. The end product is much superior as well.

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Mind you, the bakery has no competition from me when it comes to iced cream buns. I used to want a cigarette with my morning mug of tea. I think I must have been a bit stupid in those days. Cigarette or cream bun? No contest.

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Devilled mushrooms on toast to an original recipe.

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An instant devilling kit.

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Thursday sees us back at the bakery for elevenses. I have the eclair, T has the doughnut.

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In his book on the history of Italian food John Dickie asks the question of what would have happened if the thirteenth century peasants had realised just how wonderfully well pears goes with cheese? The peasants grew the pears and made the cheese and sold them to buy the tiniest scrap of meat. The aristocracy in the meantime were eating the cheese and pears. Marx would have something to say about it. I simply indulge my passion.

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The challenge is simple. To find out which goes best with cheese; pears or celery. I eat for quite a while and consume more than my share of all three and conclude that I’ll just have to try again some other time.

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On Good Friday I’m up early to make hot cross buns. I’ve never made them before and follow Paul Hollywood’s recipe. At least I do for a while. He’s a heck of a good baker but his recipes are too fussy for me. I also cannot keep stopping to read  the next bit. At the end I compare what I made with what he wrote and would be prepared to give him a 50% credit for the end product.

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They are superb. Four of us sit down to tea and not many hot cross buns survive the meal. It’s the start of the Easter weekend. We’ve got one child (hardly a child, he’s 24) back home and the other two coming round with partners. Plenty of good food on offer and the end of the Lenten fast. I’m rather looking forward to it.