Cookery writers busy themselves creating and revising the culinary zeitgeist at a faster rate than I can digest. My years of going through the annual charade of nodding in agreement, whilst trying not to nod off, as one was briefed on photography for the Christmas edition with those ominous words that ” This year we’re going to do Christmas with a twist”, is happily in the past. Magazine food editors and cookery book publishers have applied more twists to the groaning festive board than those applied, as chinese burns, to the wrists of a groaning Tom Brown by a bored Flashman (it’s worth mentioning that the ever creative Flashman added an extra twist by having a go at cooking Tom’s arse on an open fire, which could also be read as a cri de coeur against 19th century school food, invariably served without a twist (pace Oliver), at Rugby School ). The fact of the matter is that there is but a limited number of foodstuffs that are readily available, and palatable, to those of us who cook, as part of living a life, as opposed to those who have chosen to forage for rarities in the wild or to travel in search of wind dried entrails in the souks of Samarkand. No twist will replace the quality of well cooked, well chosen, ingredients. The corollary of this premise is that a mouth watering twist which has been crafted from exotic words and beautiful pictures, rather than good cooking and good ingredients, will most certainly involve eating a pretty, but unpalatable, silk purse rather than a mundane, but very good, crisp sow’s ear. True to the tradition of “Carry On Cooking” I must admit that it was my nuts that set me to writing this piece. The simple walnut tart that featured in my previous post came about through my noticing and buying a big bag of very good walnuts from Grenoble, for very little money, from a nearby supermarket. There is a real pleasure in cracking open a pile of walnuts and finding that, instead of the contents resembling a dark and desiccated brain from a shrunken head, each and every one reveals and releases an unblemished golden kernel. I get the same buzz on opening a fat bulb of butter yellow garlic with the heel of my hand or on lifting the saucepan lid to see, through the curtain of rising steam,the orange slivers of fat juicy mussel flesh revealed by the gaping black glossy shells. Nothing replaces good, fresh ingredients…nothing.
As a final caveat, I advise you all to steer clear of adventurous cooks. Ask yourself if you would be happy with an adventurous pilot, an adventurous taxi driver or an adventurous dentist…..Captain Cook was adventurous and that didn’t end well.