"I’ve spent over half my life in America. When I was a student, I had no money whatsoever and would always go to this shop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and buy stuff that was way out of date. I spent an enormous amount of time eating things out of packets. Cottage cheese with pineapple was an obsession. Peanuts are a hugely positive form of food. Travelling around the Deep South it was so much easier to stop at a petrol station and buy a bag of peanuts than to go into some awful fast food place. American fast food is disgusting – the very notion of fast food is an anathema. The point of food is to enjoy company and so if you need fast food, you just buy some peanuts. But if you’re sharing food you take a good long time over it, that’s the point.
The game is over. Country-dwellers will not mourn the loss from their plates, they are attuned to the gentle music of the seasons’ rhythms, the onward march of nature and March’s early, hesitant notes of spring. If city dwellers realized that cutting country corners involves, at the season’s end, untrained surgery, nipping and tugging out game birds breasts, discarding legs and wings to avoid the misery of flying feathers and torn skin, and wrenching out clusters of guts high with hanging, they’d doubtless be shocked. But that is the way with farmers whose braces of birds have already graced the table to the point at which a delicacy has lost its cache and the deep-freeze is still stocked with a flock. The skinless breast which I have abjured for ever as the root of much lazy cooking evil is upon us.
Dark days dishes. The time has come round again. The West-country word ‘dimpse’ is so onomatopoeically apt at this time of year, when the light leaks away so early, so abruptly, and all we can do to counter light-lustrelessness is cook hearty, gutsy, bright, light citrussy dishes and pretend. Pretend that we are in the scented orange grove that fills the kitchen when we make Seville orange marmalade or a steamed pudding dripping with an ointment of lemon, orange or lime-curd. And pretend good intention after the excesses and overkill of Christmas despite the fact that we tend to fail resolutions well before we admit we are defeated, that we have cheated.
I won’t eat puddings in January, I’ll give up drink, I won’t eat cream.
Modern mid-life man has dreams. He has fantasies. For some it is still the perfect car but for an increasing number it’s the perfect porker – they lust over Readers’ Piglets rather than Meno-Porsche Monthly. My other half, Foodie, is a confirmed porco-phile and shows absolutely no enthusiasm for cars until we move from central London to deep Dorset at which point he develops a sudden, late-entry need to motor.
You can almost see my courgettes grow. Maybe not quite as impressively as the 9 inches a day I was once told an asparagus spear can push aside soil and stone to launch itself on to your plate, but enough to make me head for the garden through the summer and way into autumn, right up to the first opportunistic killer of a frost, with a sense of pride, anticipation and always, despite its continuously generous-natured bounty and reliability, surprise.