Tuesday, 17 July 2012

July 16th - Legally poached carp and an authentic Staffordshire oatcake

Dear Nigel,

I'm pondering what to make for dinner the other day when my neighbour Terry leans over our adjoining fence and raps me on the knuckles with two wet fish. 'Try these,' he says, 'caught an hour ago.' I look to check they're dead (- carp are notorious for hanging on for hours, if not days) and then lower them so the children can run their fingers over their shiny backs and trace out their shapes.

'Where did you catch them?' I ask. Silly question. Obviously i'm no fisherman. Note to self: never ask a fisherman where he goes to catch his fish. Terry chuckles. He is doing some work for the National Trust, helping to reinstate a wildlife area in a river where the carp are taking over. So he has a licence to kill (like James Bond), if only to reduce the carp population a little. His wife is getting fed up with eating carp.

I turn to my copy of 'Fish' by William Black and Sophie Grigson. Black says '...meet the aquatic rabbit. Prodigious, hardy and fast growing, the carp family are giant minnows that have moved far and wide from their original home waters in China.' He also says that carp are 'highly rated in Chinese cooking...(and) a difficult fish to fillet when very fresh.' Too bloody right. Mine nearly shoot to the other end of the kitchen as i struggle to gut and fillet the little buggers; their slimy coating making them very difficult to handle.

Sophie Grigson gives a couple of great recipes for cooking carp. The first is carp with black sauce which involves plenty of brown ale and crumbled gingerbread would you believe. It seems an odd combination at first until you consider the chinese connection. I decide to use a Ken Hom recipe with fresh root ginger instead, as we are clean out of gingerbread as it happens. The village shop (three miles away) has Yorkshire Parkin but i doubt this would have the same effect.

Our nearest shopping town is Leek as we are this side of the Staffordshire border - the creative county, apparently (probably due to its William Morris connections). I love the run-down honesty of this little town with its ancient, semi-derelict buildings and shops selling 'Antiques' - or a load of old tat as my Mum would put it. Mismatched furniture, badly mended pieces and shabby chic bookcases abound (- in need of a good coat of paint, i hear her say).

Still, i love this town. And one shop i never fail to visit is the tiny Leek Oatcake Shop situated on a backroad and completely unmodified or changed in any way since it first opened in 1964. Like a slice from a living history museum the door of this little corner shop gives way to a huge heated open griddle where oatcakes are constantly cooking and served from early until one o'clock closing time. I buy lunch for four - six oatcakes for 90p.

You have been making Zucchini cakes with dill and feta (page 228). The recipe involves a mixture of grated zucchini (or little courgettes), salad onion and garlic stirred into flour and egg. Feta cheese and dill are then added and dollops of the mixture gently fried. I have not seen this recipe before and my mouth waters as i read. I sense a visit to the grocer coming on - this one is too good to miss.

Next year i too will have a couple of cougette plants in pots near the backdoor - the nearer to be on slug patrol. I haven't decided whether slugs can swim or not but i'm hoping that the flowing stream behind our house will take them somewhere further downstream where they can gorge to their hearts content on someone else's delphiniums.


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