Monday, 30 December 2013

Brockley Market - Lucky Lewisham

Van Dough
 at Brockley Market

For my last blogpost of 2013 it seemed fitting to finish on a market, the lifeblood of London food.  London Farmers' Markets (LFM) now have 20 market sites covering areas from Balham to Wimbledon. LFM's principle of "We grow it. We sell it." is laudable but its rules and regulations can mean some good "local" producers don't quite qualify.  I shop at one or two LFM markets but they don't satisfy all my needs.  Some very good producers and traders who do not fit neatly into LFM's strict criteria find a home for their goods at Brockley Market in SE24.  That's not to say Brockley doesn't have high standards of its own, they're just different and, in fact, some of their stallholders also trade at LFM.

Brockley Market offers a cracking list of traders in a compact area where stalls are ranged around the car park to Lewisham College.  The estimable BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Awards described Brockley as "a market that serves a community without pretence or artifice, a model to be followed". Brockley Market is doing a great job of finding, hosting and presenting some of the best food and drink producers and suppliers.  Some of what's on offer is very locally produced and some not, but Brockley Market has most of the food bases well covered.  With a central area devoted to seating, it's a family-friendly place to shop and eat.  This adds to the relaxed and welcoming feel of the market.

So who's there?  To mention a few, there are two excellent Organic fruit and veg stalls in the form of Wild Country Organics from Cambridgeshire and Kent-based Perry Court Organics; meats by my three favourites, Jacob's Ladder Farms, representing a small cooperative of Sussex farmers rearing animals on organic and biodynamic principles, The Butchery, the Bermondsey-based whole carcass butchery owned by Nathan and Ruth Mills and poultry from Fosse Meadows Farms in Leicestershire; East Sussex-based Hook & Son for raw milk; Hartland Pies who I know also make the excellent pies sold by The Butchery using The Butchery's meats; Flavours of Spain with a good range of Spanish ingredients; Blackwoods Cheese Company selling a small selection of Neal's Yard cheeses alongside their own Lewisham-made fresh cheeses.  Food vans include Van Dough selling freshly-made pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven mounted in the back of a 1970s Citroen Hy van; Mother Flipper offering burgers; and Good & Proper serving tea with, that irresistible pairing, crumpets.  Coffee is represented by Dark  Fluid.

Blackwoods Cheese Company has quickly become a favourite of mine for their lovely marinated raw cows milk Graceburn.  The fledgling cheese-maker is already getting noticed, being stocked by both Neal's Yard Dairy and the recently-opened shop attached to the Quality Chop House restaurant on Farringdon Road.  Look out for a Blackwoods washed-rind cheese coming soon, I'm expecting it to be pretty special.

You really get a sense of passion from walking around and from looking at the Brockley Market website.  It's a market I want to go to more and if I lived closer I'm sure I'd be shopping there every week.  Luckily, I can shop on Saturdays at some of the same traders in Spa Terminus/Druid Street, Bermondsey.  From talking to those traders, I know that they love trading at such a well-run and well-supported market as Brockley.  I can see how hard the organisers work at getting the best and Lewisham is lucky to have it.

Happy food shopping in 2014.

Brockley Market
Lewisham College Car Park
Lewisham Way
Saturdays 10-2pm
The market is a stone's-throw from St John's train station (7 minutes from London Bridge)

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Pear vanilla upside-down cake

Pear vanilla upside-down cake

There's something undeniably retro about an 'upside-down cake'.  Say the words and most people will have a memory of a pineapple, maraschino cherry and sponge cake.  Depending on when you were born it's either a classic or a joke.  If Fanny Craddock didn't make a Pineapple upside-down cake she should have done as, for looks alone, it's very Fanny and Johnnie.  Putting the fruit on the bottom of the cake tin means it will hold its shape beautifully.  It's a cake that has had its fortunes revived so many times that there's got to be something in the recipe to account for it.    

Slice of Pear vanilla upside-down cake

There are still devotees of the pineapple version.  It dates from the early 20th century when pineapples began to be available in cans, but 'upside-down cake' may go back rather further than that.  An old copy of Reader's Digest Farmhouse Cookery offers a recipe for Upside-Down Winter Pudding and refers to it as a "Victorian Pudding".  Pears provide the necessary fruit layer.  Golden syrup, black treacle and lard enrich the sponge and the addition of cinnamon and ginger make it positively festive.  I have made it and it's very good, if rather rich, and the Christmassy spicing might be just what you're looking for right now.  The version below is lighter and allows the delicate pear flavour to shine through rather better than the "Victorian" version does.  My spice of choice with pears is vanilla, and Muscovado sugar is highly recommended for a better 'toffee' quality.

Pears don't store as well as apples do.  They rot from the core so there may be no outwardly visible signs of decay.  If you see British pears in January they've probably been kept in cold stores where the oxygen has been removed.  All the more reason to choose pears for an upside-down cake right now.  Pear, caramel and sponge - all the makings of a good pudding.

Another slice of Pear vanilla upside-down cake

Pear vanilla upside-down cake
(for an 18-20cm round cake tin)

3 pears
2 tbsp mild honey (such as either Orange Blossom or Acacia)
1 de-seeded vanilla pod (save the seeds for the sponge)

50g softened unsalted butter
65g muscovado sugar
1 tbsp mild honey

125g softened unsalted butter
125g raw cane caster sugar
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
2 large eggs, mixed together
125g plain soft flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk

Heat oven to 180oC/160oC fan/Gas 4.
Peel, halve and core the pears, place in a saucepan, pour the honey over them and add the de-seeded vanilla pod.  
Add just enough water to cover the pears and cook at a simmer until just tender.  
Take off the heat and leave in the syrup until needed. 

Cream 50g butter with 65g sugar and 1 tbsp honey until light and fluffy.   
Spread over the base of the cake tin.  
Drain the pears, remove the vanilla pod, and place the pears flat side down in the tin.

Mix 125g of butter with the caster sugar and vanilla beans until soft and fluffy.  
Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a little of the flour if the mix starts to curdle.  
Sieve the flour and baking powder together and fold into the mixture.  
Gently mix in the milk.  
Smooth the mixture over the top of the pears.

Bake for about 45 minutes.  Turn out after a further 30 minutes.

Good served just warm or at room temperature - keeps well for a couple of days, though doesn’t look as pretty as on day 1.

This recipe is an adaptation of Nigel Slater’s 'Honey Pear Cake' 
published in The Observer magazine on 6 December 2009

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Christmas Gifts for Food Lovers 2013

Tea towels at Thornback & Peel

As usual, most of my suggestions for Christmas gifts re modestly priced with one exception for anyone wanting to push the boat out. Many can be bought on-line but, living in London myself, I've given information for where you can buy directly in the capital.  I hope you find this list inspirational however much you want to spend:

Cotton Tea Towels from Thornback & Peel.  These 60% linen/40% cotton towels are British designed and made.  These deliciously quirky and humorous designs by Julia Thornback and Della Peel will brighten your day.  £12.00-12.95 each

Preserves from England Preserves.  Selection is highly seasonal and, from their Bermondsey HQ, priced around £4-£4.50 per jar or £10 for 3.  Right now I'd recommend the Swan's Egg Pear & Aniseed Butter.  If you can shop at their Bermondsey base, they also have a lovely Paul Nash design cotton tea towel at £12.00 each.

Nyeri Gichatha-ini Kenyan Coffee Beans from the Gikanda Farmers Society at Monmouth Coffee.  Delicious redcurrant and plum flavours with grapefruit acidity.  Price £3.60 per 100g.

A bottle of Bermondsey London Dry Gin from Jensen Gin (73cl, 43% proof). An original London gin, priced around £25.

Original Beans Chocolate 4-Bar Gift Library.  Filled chocolates have their place but, for me, nothing beats the pure taste of a good bar of chocolate.  Last year I recommended Marou chocolate bars and I'm really pleased to see this Vietnamese chocolate has gained in popularity.  Marou is still on my shopping list, but this year I find myself again returning to Original Beans rare cacaos from sustainable farming.  Price £16.95 (280g) from Natoora

Appleby's Cheshire Cheese.  At Neal's Yard Dairy right now this is tasting so perfect I'm recommending this one cheese rather than a selection this year.  It's an unpasteurised cow's milk cheese with a moist, crumbly texture and a savoury, minerally flavour with a cool lactic tang.   Prices vary depending on weight but less than £30 kg.

Wynad Black Peppercorns.  Prized as the world's best these highly fragrant single estate peppercorns are grown completely free of artificial fertilisers, ripened on the vine and hand-harvested.  You can buy them from my favourite spice merchant Spice Mountain on-line or at Borough Market at £4.50 for 75g.

Tiffin Box from Divertimenti.  A 3-compartment stainless steel tiffin, or dabbas, lunch box set.  Lovely to look at and practical.  Price £18.95.

Ulcigrai Panettone.  The Ulcigrai family panettone from Trieste is still unbeatable for me.  Available at Leila's Shop in Shoreditch and also sold at Monmouth Coffee's Covent Garden and Borough Market shops.  Priced at £17 it is far from the most expensive around but I believe it is the best.

Stemless Riedel varietal wine glasses from John Lewis.  I like these for their practicality on the dinner table.  Price £20-25 depending on size for a box of 2.

A bottle of natural wine from Gergovie Wines.  Take Raef Hodgson's advice but perhaps a sparkler for Christmas morning such as Domaine Les Hautes Terres Josephine, Cremant de Limoux priced around £19.

Duralex Lys Stacking Bowls. These chip resistant tempered glass bowls are attractive and incredibly durable.  Available in 6's at Leila's Shop or individually at Heals in sizes 9cm/14cm/26cm priced at £2/£3/£8.

Jesus Salami from The Ham & Cheese Company on-line or from their maturing rooms in Bermondsey on 14, 21 & 23 December (normally open every Saturday)  Price around  £25.

My luxury suggestion this year is a traditional Japanese Chazutsu Tea Caddy from the Kaikado company of Kyoto, the oldest maker in the world.  In materials of brass, tin or copper, these exquisite containers have been made in Japan by the Yagi family for generations.  Normally made to order, Margaret Howell on Wigmore Street, London W1 have a small number in stock.  Over time the caddies take on beautiful patinas from regular handling.  Priced from £110 up to £235 for a boxwood-handled version.

My final suggestion is to buy and plant a native tree.  Cost negligible, pleasure rating enormous.


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Books for Food Lovers 2013 - My Selection

There are plenty of book recommendations around at this time of year.  Most concentrate on books published over the preceding 11 months.  I don't feel constrained to limit my list in this way.  Two of the books below were published in 2013 and share a certain philosophy of food; one stems from 5 years of conversations about food and hit the bookshelves in 2012; another first appeared in 2009 with my copy being from 2012; there's a paperback first published in 1997 and, sadly, as relevant now as it was 15 years ago; the final book is a 1984 encyclopedia updated in 2004.

This mix of publications over such a long period owes something to my bad habit of letting books pile up to enjoy when I can give them my full attention.  I never seem to learn that the perfect time doesn't come.  I've just discovered the Japanese have a word for this habit:

Tsundoku - buying books and not reading them, letting them pile up.

The Modern Peasant
by Jojo Tulloh
The title 'The Modern Peasant' didn't hook me, it was the subtitle 'Adventures in City Food' that did.  Rooted in this maddening, chaotic, fascinating city of London, it pays to have an adventurous spirit, not least where food is concerned.  It's not the multiplicity of cuisines on offer in this cosmopolitan metropolis that the author, JojoTulloh, finds so enthralling.  It's the new wave of small urban producers that interest her.  Buying food from them, growing some of her own and making simple food from scratch - "rediscovering an earlier tradition of cookery" - has reconnected her to the source of food.  She sees the word "peasant" not as a negative term but as a description of a person producing high quality food.  Whether they are doing so for pleasure, profit or out of necessity - these are her 'Modern Peasants'.  Read more ...

Published 2013
Book courtesy of Chatto & Winds

The Ethicurean Cookbook
The 'Ethicurians' Jack Adair-Bevan, PaĆ»la Zarate, Matthew Pennington and Iain Pennington share a philosophy: "eat local, celebrate native foods, live well." It's a credo that appeals to me, so, my attention was immediately engaged.  This book emerged from the glasshouses and kitchen garden of Barley Wood, a Georgian Estate in the bucolic Mendip Hills of Somerset.  "British seasonality, ethical sourcing of ingredients and attention to the local environment" are the declared foundations of the business which took form in 2010.  The menu changes on a daily basis according to what is available and this book is, not surprisingly, chaptered seasonally.  Recipes and techniques sit alongside vignettes of growers and suppliers, appreciating the seasons and observing local customs and festivals.

Most of the 120 recipes are striking in their simplicity, albeit in some cases calling for unusual ingredients and maybe the aid of a helpful forager - 'pineapple weed' for one.  The writing and the beautiful photographs by Jason Ingram are as seductive as the recipes.  A simple winter dish of Beetroot Carpaccio with Honeyed Walnuts glows on the plate; Ewe's-curd-stuffed Courgette Flowers with Fennel Sherbet make you feel summer can't come quickly enough; and Deepfried Aubergine with Rose Hip Syrup make you wish you'd made time to gather those hips when you had the chance.  Recipes marked by me to try this winter include Sea Robin (Gurnard) with Fennel Butter Sauce and Herbed Pink Firs and Milk Stout and Chocolate Steamed Pudding.

Published 2013
The Random House Group

McGee on Food & Cooking
by Harold McGee
If you have a culinary question, you'll almost certainly find the answer here.  First published in 1984, Harold McGee's fantastically useful encyclopedia was revised in 2004.  Hugely appreciated and valued by chefs, cooks, food writers and the plain curious, once you have this book you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.  Whether you have a question on food storage, the science of water baths, how bees make honey, how to tell whether eggs are fresh or stale, how to temper chocolate or who wrote down the first recipe for ice cream, the answer lies within these pages. Then there's the Chemistry Primer.  Invaluable.

Published 2004
Hodder & Stoughton

The Vegetarian Option
by Simon Hopkinson
It's difficult to think of a British cookery writer I admire more than Simon Hopkinson. With this book he reclaims vegetarian cooking from the bizarre world of fake meat and 'rice & veg' some vegetarians inhabit.  The chapter on 'Vegetables' is broken into Simon Hopkinson's signature style such as 'Asparagus & Artichokes', 'Ginger & Spring Onions' and 'Chillies & Avocados' - before going on to Herb, Pasta, Pulses & Grains, Rice, Eggs, Fruit.  The recipes are beautifully simple throughout, from the thoroughly English spring dish of Warm salad of asparagus and new potatoes to the Paul Bocuse inspired rich autumnal Pumpkin Soup and a Persillade of ceps & potatoes.  A dish of Congee with bok choy, golden fried garlic, green chilli & soy is definitely on my 'to cook' list, along with a Potato pie with Beaufort cheese; Blackcurrant jelly trifleDamson & almond sponge pudding and …..   This one is definitely earning its space on my bookcase.

Published 2012 (original 2009)
Quadrille Publishing Limited

Claudia Roden
The Food of Spain
It took Claudia Roden 5 years to research her most recent book The Food of Spain.  Each visit to Spain unearthed more food memories than she could have hoped for.  Each contact came up with yet another person to meet.  She would talk food favourites, festivals and folk history in kitchens as "people open up in the kitchen, not in the living room".  Most, be they workers or nobility, spoke of peasant cuisine being central to their food memories.

Claudia's thesis is that Spain's history of conquering armies meant a population on the move and tastes were, by necessity, unsophisticated. The aristocrats despised vegetables and ate meats, mostly game, though rabbits were left to the lower orders.  In Bourbon and Habsburg times the Spanish nobility ate French cuisine.  They followed the lead of King Philip V who employed cooks trained in the French court at Versailles.  The current haute cuisine in Spain, she was assured, was a cuisine of "today", though chefs claim to look to the roots of Spanish food for inspiration. 

A quote from the Catalan writer Josep Pia "A country's cuisine is its landscape in a cooking pot" is apt.  The diversity of the landscape of Spain has led to three styles of cooking: the sea; the plain; and, the mountains.  Claudia pointed out that, unlike Italy, dishes are not contained within regional borders.  Read more ...

Published 2012
Penguin Group

by Mark Kurlansky
I never thought I'd be recommending a book on the subject of Cod as a rollicking good read.  This paperback was given to me a year ago and received with polite thanks.  Finally I picked it up and couldn't put it down.  First published in 1997 it is, sadly, just as relevant today as it was then.  It's a celebration of one of nature's great gifts and what happens when we don't treat it with the respect it deserves.  The book takes you on a fast-paced ride through historical fact, folklore, fighting and fishermen's secrets.  Stuffed with detail and written in a lyrical style, Kurlansky's book is fascinating whether describing the life-cycle of the cod, the social history of a fishing community or offering guidance on 'The correct way to flush a cod' - from Hannah Glasse to W H Auden and Louis MacNeice via Emile Zola.

Published 1999
Vintage Books

Books I would like to read in 2014:

Eat by Nigel Slater
The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters
One Good Dish: The Pleasures of a Simple Meal by David Tanis
Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson
How to Boil an Egg by Rose Cararrini
The Honey & Co Cookbook by Itamar Srulovic & Sarit Packer (due to be published Summer 2014)

I hereby resolve not to commit Tsundoku in 2014.