This morning i woke up to that very particular muffled silence you get when it has started to snow. Only when it snows can you hear silence, and as i watched the snow softly fall on the Edinburgh rooftops i was reminded of one of my favourite poems by the wonderful Irish export (no, it’s not Oscar Wilde) Louis MacNeice:
“The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.
And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.”
Couldn’t have put it better myself, Louis dear. Isn’t that lovely? I think so anyway. So, feeling the old drunkenness of things being various, as i often do, i decided to root around in the freezer and make some good old London Particular for a snowy afternoon, to lift the spirits, fill the belly, and feed the mind…..
London Particular is the sort of fare you’d find in every grotty London eatery in the 19th century. Many a Dicken’s novel speaks of the peculiar delights of contemporary fare such as “roasted fouls”, “pease pottage”, “London Particular” and “turtle soup”, all washed down, of course, with a hearty mug of ale. If these achingly cold days in the run up to Christmas aren’t the time of year for this sort of nostalgic filling fare, then i don’t know when is. This is also the only time of year when reading Dickens is appropriate, the particular grey Victorian world he describes is the perfect December fare to make you truly appreciate an English winter-from the comfort of your sitting room, preferably with tea and a fire, and perhaps a dog. My London Particular is different in using fresh green peas (the frozen type) instead of dried split ones, which was traditional, but i am using the stock from a boiled ham hock (cheap cheap cheap like Mrs.Flyte’s budgies-yes that was a Dickens in-joke) so it’s fairly authentic too.
Here’s how to do it:
Get yourself a ham hock (or bacon knuckle) or a whole joint of ham if you’re in the money
Boil it gently in cold water with 10 peppercorns, 2 sticks of celery, a carrot, a halved onion, a clove of garlic and two bay leaves. Depending on the size it ahould take up to an hour or more (consult google for size advice)
Separately fry one slice onion and a sliced garlic clove in some butter until soft (about 20 mins) Add some frozen peas, about half a bag, then use the stock from your boiled ham to cover the pot just above the peas. Cook for about 10 minutes, then blend with a liquidiser. Add a dash of cream/creme fraiche (if liked) and season with pepper and freshly grated nutmeg (you probably wont need salt due to salty ham stock). Flake your cooked ham on top and serve.
Quinces are in season now, and they are elusive little beggars, but treated properly they can surpass the apple, blackberry and rhubarb in a fruity pud. The trick is (as usual) to cook them long and slow. Peel them, core them and then slice them into segments. Make a sugar syrup of about 150g caster sugar and half a pint of water. Bring this to the boil, then add the quince segments, simmer on a low heat (or put in the oven at 140) for about 2 hours. You are aiming for a burnished red colour. When this is achieved, test the syrup for sweetness. If still sour, add more sugar and warm the whole lot until it dissolves. Now you have your poached quinces. Keep them and use however you fancy. I used my crumble recipe (see earlier post) replacing some of the flour with a handful of toasted almonds which i whizzed up and added to the mix for a little something different. Any nuts would work (just make sure you toast them first-on a tray in the oven at 160 until golden and smelling great-keep watch though they burn quick!).
Here it is, serve with cream. Deliciously fragrant and fruity: