I went to a party recently where each of the guests had brought along a plate of food to share or a pudding for afters. Nothing unusual there. Some of the puddings were simple, some quite elaborate, and it occurred to me that there was quite a competitive angle to all this bonhomie going on. Hovering beside a fabulous-looking cheesecake, that had obviously taken some time to construct, was the owner of the cheesecake. Not wishing to have her hard work decimated in seconds by the hungry mob she was measuring it out in small wafer-thin slices, assessing the party-goers individually (or so it seemed) to see if they deserved a slice of cake or not.
It could, of course, be partly my fault. Someone, (quite possibly, I think, this rather severe and imposing woman) had left a tray of over-large cupcakes on the side, swirled with cream and with a flake poking out of each one. There was a bottle of strawberry syrup and sprinkles nearby. Assuming, quite naturally, that these were for the children, I was busy dolling them out and decorating them to order by a most appreciative set of small diners. In came dragon-woman with a huge frown. 'Don't you think they're too large for them,' she snapped. I did not, and there didn't seem to be many complaints. Anyway, it was rather too late for that as there were only two left. It did leave me wondering why you would bring a tray of 'child-like' deserts to a party where nearly everyone had children and not expect that the children would want to eat them. I took my sliver of cheesecake and disappeared into a corner whilst dragon-woman hovered nearby brandishing the cake knife.
I'm taking my eldest, James, down to University this weekend (back again to do an MA), and, as I'm packing up biscuits and vitamin C tablets, I feel another moving on and away as my brood drift off on their own life journeys. He is in his element; never happier that when he is in contained and prescribed surroundings. Where others are seeking freedom and anarchy, James is happy to be compliant and organised by others.
I have been given a large bag of damsons by my neighbour which are sitting in the porch with their expiry date ticking away for a few days now. Thank goodness for your recipe 'a pudding for autumn' (page 376), which is essentially a summer pudding made with autumn fruit and a good slug of sloe gin, which, luckily I happen to have sitting on the side for medicinal purposes. The fruit you are using is a mixture of damsons, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, which might go down better with my little fusspots here. Not everyone shares my love for the deeply sour. You leave the stones in until the fruit is cooked, then squeeze them to release. 'If you skip the stoning process you will, I promise, regret it later.' Sounds like you are talking from personal experience here, Nigel? I agree, summer (or autumn) puddings should be undemanding and unctuous, and drizzled in double cream.
You are busy cooking something which is making me drool. It is 'Roast pork and rocket salad with lemon and olives' (page 380). You talk about the merits of the pan juices, 'the treasure in the pan...containing the caramelised meat juices, crusty pan-stickings...the essence of the meat.' Invariably, for me, this becomes the basis of a good gravy; sometimes it is regarded as 'cooks perks'. Today you are doing something different with it . You are using the pan juices to form the base of a warm olive dressing, adding chopped olives, lemon juice and olive oil. It gives a big rustic flavour to pour over thin slices of roast pork. Sometimes we get complacent about our roasts. The pork here has been roasted in a mixture of garlic and rosemary and seasoned well. The robust flavours balance each other nicely, and for a windy autumnal day this seems just the thing; perhaps with some celeriac mash to serve or some crusty bread. I am not a great fan of roast pork generally but I can see that the amalgam of strong flavours here will make a dish to remember and I am keen to try it.