Friday, October 29, 2021


 My understanding is, (I mean I read it in a book) that it was the 

somewhat evil Portuguese empire that introduced the potato to 

the west coast of India in the 17th century.  But then it was the 

far more thoroughly evil British empire that introduced it to the 

rest of India in the 18thcentury, hoping to replace rice in the 

Indian diet.


The results seem in fact not to have been all that evil.  India now produces about 50 million tonnes of potatoes a year, second only to China in world production. But India still also produces about 90 million tonnes of rice. You might think that amounted to a balanced diet.


And it has occurred to me that much of the Indian food I like best involves potato in some form: potato samosa, vada pav, Bombay aloo, sag aloo, aloo chat, and so on.


At the weekend, being in Bristol, and finding the truck from Gopal’s Curry Shack to be close at hand, I had the masala dosa, described on the chalk board as ‘a rice and lentil crepe with a spiced potato filling.  Served with coconut chutney and coconut dal.’  It was great.


I suppose a crepe is similar to, but significantly different from a paratha, and it’s certainly similar to a pancake. 


In fact most Sundays as I was growing up, my mum served up pancakes with the roast.  It was the same stuff you’d use for Yorkshire pudding, but fried in a pan rather than baked in the oven, because my dad preferred them that way. There were also mashed potatoes on the plate (rarely roasties) so inevitably you sometimes found yourself eating pancake and potato together.  However this being my mum’s cooking there would never be any spices other than salt and pepper, but that only whetted my appetite for things to come.


As soon as I had any independence I’d go up to the chip shop and have chips with curry sauce.  Fusion, n’est ce pas?












Thursday, October 21, 2021


Maybe you saw some headlines, such as the one in the Evening Standard:


And below it a story about mushroom foragers who’d been collecting fungi in large  quantities from Epping Forest, then selling them to fancy London restaurants and markets.

The legality, or otherwise, of this was pretty straightforward.  Foraging is generally legal on public land in the UK, but only if it’s for personal consumption and if you don’t collect more than 1.7kg. 


But the professional foragers of Epping Forest were taking much more than that, and they’ve now been stopped.  Some of them have been given fines, and foraging has been completely banned in the forest.  There are wardens to enforce it apparently.


Of course John Cage made a significant income from selling foraged mushrooms to fancy New York restaurants, but there was only one of him.

As for that headline, you could argue about whether mushrooms have anything to do with the ‘green lungs’ of London or anywhere else.  Obviously mushrooms are not green because they don’t contain chlorophyll and in most circumstances they ‘breathe’ much the way that  animals and humans do - oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.  You might also note that significant amounts of Epping Forest are not in London.


         When I’m out walking I’m always fascinated by mushrooms growing wild and often I take a picture or two and when I get home I try to identify the specimen. I find this incredibly difficult, and I would never dream of eating something I’d foraged.  There’s a reason for this.


I used to share a flat with a man who was a hospital administrator in London.  One day, he told me, a family of four pitched up in A & E at the hospital complaining of stomach pains.  They’d been out foraging wild mushrooms, eaten them, and then come down with terrible stomach pains.  The hospital was eventually able to sort them out – a process that involved giving all four of them liver transplants.  A cautionary tale.  


According to that Evening Standard article there are over 1,500 varieties of mushroom in Epping Forest. I hope those foraging lads knew what they’re doing.


Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Personally I have never judged anybody for what they eat in bed.

Monday, October 18, 2021


Mr Price is in the house

If you live in Manningtree, as I currently do, and even if you don’t, you may well be aware that this was a centre of operations for the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, played in the movie by Vincent Price. 


There are so many reasons to love Vincent Price, for his acting primarily, but also for his art collecting and his gourmet skills, including authoring a few cook books, usually with his second wife Mary:


These are well known but only recently did I find this wonderful series of adds with Price as a spokesman for, would you, believe Angostura bitters


And you know, Pink Gin is really just a martini without the vermouth.  The two editions I have of the Savoy Cocktail Book both instruct you to use a shaker and strain the cocktail into a conical martini glass but last night, to do honour to Vincent, I made one on the rocks.


However, regardless of how much I honour the man, I resisted the urge to cook hot dogs cooked in Angustura.  You have to draw the line somewhere.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


 ‘No worst, there is none.’ 

That’s the opening of Gerard Manley Hopkins' sonnet, referring to depression, spiritual 

crisis, weltschmerz, and so on.


But it’s a phrase I often think of while eating a sub-standard sandwich.  By which I mean I’d never say ‘This is the worst sandwich ever’ because you know there’s always likely to be a worse one just around the corner.


I was in the tearoom at the Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead, Essex – as a matter of fact Hopkins was an Essex lad too, born in Statford when it was still in the county.


After a circuit of the Chatto grounds we headed for the tea room and my eye fell on an egg mayonnaise sandwich, which I bought.  It was only when I got to the table, inside the artisanal polytunnel, that I noticed the bread was gluten free.


I'm no bigot and this didn’t bother me until I tasted it, at which point it bothered me a lot.  The 'bread' was like a cross between cotton wool and dry cardboard, insubstantial yet thoroughly unpleasant.  Why would anybody make a thing like this and call it bread?  It wasn’t fooling anybody.


If you like bread you’re not going to like 'gluten-free bread' just as if you like alcohol you’re not going to like 'alcohol-free gin.' Making some gluten-free substance that scarcely resembles bread at all, is no solution.


‘My cries heave, herds-long’ as Gerard said.


The egg mayonnaise inside was perfectly fine though, so the sandwich could have been a lot worse.


Friday, October 1, 2021


It was Apple Day in Wormingford, Essex.


You had to get some apples – take them along to the Community Education Centre in Wormingford where you, or somebody, cut them into quarters, then they went through a coarse chopper, 

then into a big old press which liquidized them, and then eventually you had a bottle or two apple juice.  Best to take your own bottles.


The word was that you only had 24 hours to drink the juice before it went off  so a little cocktail-making was obviously required.


To be honest with you, apple juice and whisky (seen above) wasn’t all that great a combination - you could taste both the apple juice and the whisky but they never really combined and melded, a bit like Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler in the movie The Bounty Hunter.

And then we tried apple juice with vodka which of course was just fine because most things are OK when they’ve got vodka in them. 


I think I shall call this the Nick and Kylie – as in Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue – the ingredients are both OK, you’re not quite sure what they’re doing together, but the end result is a winner.

(Pics are mostly by Luna Woodyear-Smith, except for the ones that obviously aren't)