As a cook, it is not unusual for me to find myself uncomfortably perched on the pointy bits of the dilemma which involves guessing an egg’s age. Not unlike ourselves, eggs of different ages behave very differently and I find that I can misjudge the age and behaviour of an egg quite as easily as I can misjudge the age and behaviour of my fellow human beings Living in the country has been a great help to me in respect of both of these failings as the date of an egg’s emergence is noted in pencil on the shell and there are not many people. However, individual egg dating is only evident when I buy, beg or borrow eggs from one of our neighbouring farms which is not every day…if indeed that was the case, I would have an egg mountain or be egg bound, which sounds like Westward’ho but isn’t and what few people there are here would hide from me which has set me wondering if there are in fact, or more precisely in hiding, more people here than I imagine. The two ages of egg that interest me are the age of easy separation, which in the human only depends on having someone from whom to separate, and the age of hard boiledness which is the eggage when the shell will peel off with ease after boiling..only Caligula or H.Lector would be an authority on the human equivalent. My relationship with egg white, as I have mentioned at other times, is strained and unreasonable: it is not unlike Henry VIII’s fickle attitude to wives’ heads and their continued attachment. There are boiled eggs, the mere sight of whose “white” will induce gagging, whereas I can stand at a bar on a market morning sipping a glass of muscadet and happily chomp on a lightly salted, hard boiled egg, a small basket of which it is not unusual to find perched on the “zinc”. The eggs that you see in the opening still life of this post, dated 15/7, would, by yesterday, have been ideal to be hard boiled but, following an unerring sense that allows me to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I chose to ignore their clearly marked age and treat them as adolescent ova whose albumen and yolks would be only too willing to separate from each other and in so doing allow me to transform one half of their eggy gestalt into soft sweet pillows of meringue. It is hard to imagine that any ambitious young egg would be able to resist such a career move but, as you know, these were not thrusting youngsters but old dodderers whose albumen and yolks were bound together for eternity, to whom separation was anathema. Never was the adage of the impossibility of making an omelette without breaking eggs so clearly illustrated, and that is what they inevitably became:a perfect liaison of their elements bound together with fresh herbs from the garden together with tomatoes, whose scented ripeness declared them unmistakably as fruit and hot, sweet butter. An omelette is the perfect solution for a person who plays roulette with eggs..
I have never eaten a TV dinner and for that I feel I am the richer; on the other hand, nor have I had a TV supper with Grayson Perry for which I may well be the poorer. My knowledge of TV dinners is limited but I have in my mind’s eye the image of a tin foil tray on the surface of which there are a series of indentations, each conceived to hold one of the ingredients of that particular meal and each molded into the manufacturer’s idea of the shape of that ingredient. The same experience may be enjoyed on an aeroplane but the catering options in a long metal tube packed with anxious people travelling at hundreds of miles per hour several miles above the earth’s surface are considerably more constrained than making supper in one’s kitchen of an evening…which is what I was doing yesterday. Breadcrumbs have become a favourite ingredient of mine not only because they transform simple dishes but also because there is always good bread to use up. Last night their job was to get under the skin of a gargantuan tomato and, with its cohorts of parmesan,oil, parsley and seasoning, transform it into a glorious supper, for one, to be eaten whilst watching a show that, at this time of year, I religiously follow….”Long summer evening in the garden with the sun going down”..if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it highly. There’s a small blackened roasting tin that has been with us for as long as I can remember which seemed perfectly suited to not only cook my supper but also to act as serving dish and plate combined which is reminiscent of the fucking horrible thing of which I was speaking earlier..but, owing to the simplicity of the one single indentation which wisely had not been modeled on any one particular ingredient and, more importantly, contained the most amazing roast tomato stuffed with mozzarella and breadcrumbs and all it’s olive oil juices and stickiness …it was not that thing and it looked good on my table in the garden as I watched the show and ate and drunk until it was night.
The weather here has been very hot indeed and so, today, when finding it too hot , I followed Harry S. Truman’s maxim and got out of the kitchen. At that moment, it occurred to me how wonderful it would be to have a summer kitchen. A very short time later it occurred to me that the idea was infinitely preferable to the fact. For a simple man the act of conception is too diverting to allow for thoughts of consequence but, clearly I had not had enough to drink, as I quickly saw the flaws in the dream. The structure, however rudimentary, would take up a large part of our very small garden and, being purpose built, would be unsuitable for anything but cooking so would stand empty for most of the year save for Molly and his prey. Much as Molly enjoys a roast chicken, I don’t think he’s up to cooking his own yet. However, whilst the dream held sway, I got as far as carrying, to the proposed site, a selection of ingredients that I planned to use today and tomorrow. I photographed them and carried them back into the kitchen where it was very much cooler than I remembered.
When I first came here, some 15 years ago, I was still shooting with film which had to be processed in the nearest professional E6 laboratory….which was a two hour drive away. With the processing time and the drive back, the day was gone. The magic of digital photography has allowed me to carry on producing pictures, from the heart of the French countryside, and Photoshop has given me the magic of the darkroom without the gloom and the chemicals. Because of these wonders I have amassed a great quantity of pictures but, up to now, had not found an efficient and attractive way to share them with people and to offer them for sale in a professional way. In recent years, through my son Sam Stowell, I came to hear of the Print Space in London and, on researching them, was very impressed with what I saw.They have now opened The Hub, which acts as a gallery where photographers, such as myself, can show and sell their work. Print Space produces the prints, be they giclé or C-Type, on a wonderful range of papers (including Hahnemuhle) and, if you so choose, offers a multiplicity of framing options and sorts out delivery…a total package.
Currently, I have only organised one gallery of seascapes but I am busy putting together a variety of different galleries which will feature those things that make my life such a pleasure..food, photography and France.
The long awaited day has at last arrived. The tomatoes that I purchased this morning taste of tomato rather than water. It is a moment that I relish each summer and my celebration today will be for the coeur de boeuf rather than the tearing down of Marianne’s blouse as the mob tore down the walls of the Bastille, which, if it achieved nothing else, predated the first topless beach in St Tropez by 150 years, give or take a decade, and may well have inspired Rudi Geinrich. I have also noticed that in some imagery Marianne appears to be wearing a ripe, red tomato on her head which shows the French compulsion to eat well, even when they are revolting, whilst confirming that Marianne had wisely gone shopping for the first good tomatoes of the season even though she had a pressing engagement involving the freeing of the downtrodden later in the day. History has shown that revolution must be the least successful of all political shifts. France remains a country run by the rich and privileged few and although America claims to be the land of the Free it lives by the maxim of everybody having a price which precludes the thought of anyone, let alone lunch, being free. Leaving revolution to the revolting it should be noted that we have not yet arrived at the tomato season in its full pomp but, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is not the beginning of the end but it is certainly the end of the beginning .
Big, fresh, sexy tomatoes are unquestionably summer food. Being so full of their own flavour they need very little addition, if any, but conversely relish so many: well considered combination of ingredients such as anchovies, olives, breadcrumbs,parsley, Parmesan, goat cheese, olive oil and garlic raise the already delectable to the sublime. For some reason I can’t attribute the following recipe to any single person and, on reflection, it’s not so much a recipe as an instinctive treatment of this seductive fruit.The nomenclature “beef heart” becomes evident on cutting one them in half: the open face of the tomato bears little resemblance to a fruit or vegetable, rather a chunk of blood red meat. Once cut in half, dig out a chunk of the soft flesh so that a hollow is left in each half of the tomato. Prepare a stuffing of fresh breadcrumbs and herbs: I strip the crust from yesterday’s baguette and crumble the bread into the Magimix with the addition of chopped flat parsley, grated parmesan, the chopped tomato that I previously removed, seasoning and some olive oil to lubricate the mixture. Process to oily breadcrumbs, stuff the tomatoes to overflowing and put them in an iron pan which, at a later point, will be going into the oven. I start the softening of the tomatoes on the hob and, when the good smells start emanating from the pan, I put the pan in a hot oven for about 45 minutes or until everything feels right. If the breadcrumbs start to burn, put some silver foil over them and carry on cooking. This simple dish is a revelation only needing good bread and a well dressed salad to make a perfect supper….several glasses of wine are optional to some but essential to me.