The Legendary Cassoulet

The cassoulet in its cassole
The cassoulet in its cassole

Cassoulet is a legend here in the South West of France. Quite literally. It was supposed to have originated during the Hundred Years War when the English were besieging the nearby town of Castelnaudary in 1355. The story goes that the inhabitants cooked up what was left of their beans, bones, scraps of meat and dried bits of ham, then went out and beat the English!

Like many of my favourite dishes, I suspect it has its real origins in “peasant food”, cooking whatever is to hand, but over the centuries, it has become a complex and truly wonderful dish. It takes its name from the large earthenware pot in which it is cooked and served – “le cassole” – hence “Cassoulet”. When it’s cooked for you by my good friend, Philippe Seguier then it is, quite simply, probably the best cassoulet you’ll ever taste. Continue reading “The Legendary Cassoulet”

Keeping Up with the Joneses

The 70s was the era of the dinner party. Never more so than in foreign lands, where expatriates clung together, socialising amongst themselves by circulating around each other’s houses, consuming pineapple cubes on sticks, platters of coronation chicken, and boeuf Wellington, all washed down with enough alcohol to drown a liver or two.  At eighteen I started my married life as an expatriate wife, set to travel the world with postings in Ghana, Zambia, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Bahrain, and Haiti. Continue reading “Keeping Up with the Joneses”

New Zealand Chocolate Cake – my mother’s fifty year-old recipe!

My mother's recipe in the Longtown W.I. cookery book and in my own collection of recipes
My mother’s recipe in the Longtown W.I. cookery book and in my own collection of recipes

Last week, I was finally able to unpack one of my boxes of cookery books and found a copy of the Longtown W.I. Cookery Book to which my mother had contributed her recipe for “New Zealand Chocolate Cake – 1966!”. I also found the small recipe book she gave me as a teenager in which I’ve written up many favourite recipes. Glued in under the cakes section, written in her distinctive hand-writing, I found the same recipe. Continue reading “New Zealand Chocolate Cake – my mother’s fifty year-old recipe!”

Oh Deer, Oh Deer

There is no law, no rules or regulation that say that you have to love, like or even get on with your siblings. As a mother of four, I would be horrified if my children didn’t at least like, rub along with and support each other. Horrified.

But my relationship with my brother was far from harmonious. Continue reading “Oh Deer, Oh Deer”

An Ode to Carrots

Some of the ingredients for carrot and cardamom pilaf
Ingredients for carrot and cardamom pilaf

Carrots have been one of my favourite vegetables since way back when. As a child, I was never keen on meat, especially beef. I hated all that chewing and would end up with dry indigestible lumps hidden in my cheeks like a hamster. Muttering that I had finished, I would leave the table and head for the toilet to spit out the offending lumps. So my mother wisely compromised by serving me potatoes and carrots covered with the meaty gravy which I would then mash together. For a four year old, it was my idea of the perfect meal.

In those days, carrots were the inevitable pairing with potatoes – mashed, roasted or boiled – for the traditional ‘meat and two veg’. My grandmother sliced her carrots in roundels and boiled them, as did my mother. Generation after generation of us eating sliced carrots… Continue reading “An Ode to Carrots”

Salt and Pepper – Earth and Fire

Fleurs du sel
Fleurs du sel

Having lived as many decades as I have (six and counting), it’s easy to forget how some of the most basic elements of cooking have changed over my lifetime, and you cannot get more basic than salt and pepper. Continue reading “Salt and Pepper – Earth and Fire”

Starry, Starry Nights

In my mind there are three types of campers. The itinerant workers travelling around wherever work takes them, using only tiny tents to sleep in or renting site caravans; those that are looking for cheaper holidays, eating and sleeping in camper vans loaded with bicycles; and those few who enjoy the actual art of camping – the joy of sleeping under canvas, eating under starry skies and enjoying the feeling of being outdoors, far removed from the urban life of bricks and mortar.  I would count myself in the latter category with a few provisos. Continue reading “Starry, Starry Nights”

College Days – cooking my oats!

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

This is the simplest of recipes, but whenever I make flapjacks, I am transported back to my college days in Oxford at Lady Margaret Hall. One of the first women’s colleges at Oxford, LMH (as it’s called), had a reputation for being a college where the ‘posh girls’ went.

By the mid-1970s, Oxford University was under pressure to admit more state school candidates and I clearly qualified, having gone to the local grammar school in Buckingham. At my interview I was asked which colleges at Oxford had my parents gone to. My heart sank. When I replied that I was the first member of my family to ever go to university, the tutor looked visibly surprised! Continue reading “College Days – cooking my oats!”

An Entente Culinaire – a mere trifle at stake!

Marinading the lemon peel for syllabub
Marinading the lemon peel for syllabub

When I first met Philippe, one of the first laughs he had at my expense was expounding on the terrible food that English people eat: everything was covered in a terrible brown floury sauce; we ate mountains of greasy ‘feesh and chips’; and of course, there was the famous ‘Engleesh triffle’ – a ghastly concoction of green jelly and solid custard. I quizzed him – had he actually been to England and eaten any of the food? His answer was “No”, but he’d heard all about it from his friends.

The reputation of English food in France is both legendary and apocryphal. I have done my best in the thirteen years that I’ve lived here to disabuse my French friends of some of their prejudices – but Philippe has remained sceptical. When I invited him and his wife Nathalie to lunch this weekend, he threw the gauntlet down. “I’ll only come if you make a trifle,” he said. The challenge was accepted. Continue reading “An Entente Culinaire – a mere trifle at stake!”

It’s My Birthday And I’ll Sigh If I Want To

I find myself sighing a great deal more as I get older. We seem to be bombarded by gloom and doom on all fronts – Brexit, Trump, numerous wars, heatwaves, fires, floods, refugee crises, Brexit. Perhaps that’s why, in urban areas, people closet themselves into their own worlds, head phones on, mobiles in hand, unaware of either their surroundings or the people. Even Dog is on high alert these days when we travel by tube in case unaware feet land on his tail or paws. Continue reading “It’s My Birthday And I’ll Sigh If I Want To”