A Mellow, Sweet Taste Unfurled

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I was recently in Singapore for six days and it’s taken me more than a week to catch up with life and start blogging again.

Whenever I’m in Singapore I eat dry fishball noodles or mince pork noodles. It tastes much better there than it does here. (I’m sure this declaration will send most Malaysians into a rage, but, on the whole, I prefer Singaporean food to Malaysian food. Or maybe it’s my home state, Johor’s food I remember and love, and Singapore is close enough to Johor for its food to be similar, while KL is a totally different world.)

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When in Singapore I also try to have coffee and kaya toast at Yakun. It’s a chain, but the toast is consistently well made at all its outlets, as far as I can tell. This time round, my best friend Jenny (She’s Singaporean) and I had Saturday breakfast at the Yakun at Fortune Centre on Middle Road. We had kaya and butter toast as well as buttered toast sprinkled with sugar. We drank kopi C kosong, which is sugarless coffee with evaporated milk.

I haven’t had good kaya toast in KL so I look forward to my visits to Yakun in Singapore. I wonder if anyone has described this traditional kopi tiam breakfast (coffee and kaya toast) in a book.Read More »

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Apple-and-Condensed-Milk Sandwiches

chunky coverToday’s delicious excerpts are from The Adventures of Chunky by Leila Berg, with illustrations by George Downs.

The book was first published in 1950, but it was a 1965 Oxford Children’s Library hardback edition that my father rescued (from his school library’s garbage heap) and brought home for me. Unfortunately, I lost that copy, but I managed to replace it in the late 90s.

Chunky’s real name is Joseph but he’s called Chunky because he enjoys food, like chocolate and bread and toffee, in chunks rather than neat slices or squares.

Chunky’s parents are scientists. They are always off experimenting on something or other so Chunky gets left to fend for himself quite a bit. However, he has his best friend Mike, the widow Mrs Spriggs and her niece Tangie to keep him company.

More than thirty years after I had first read this book, I still remembered many of Chunky’s adventures, like the time he taught a pig to be a music conductor, and when he found himself being followed by hordes of stray cats. I also remembered that when Chunky’s parents are off on one of their working trips, they always leave Chunky the most yummy-sounding packed lunches, teas and dinners.

Here are three excerpts describing meals from the book:Read More »

All Piled High on Crisp Brown Toast

The last time I wrote about food in books, I mentioned potted meat in the Famous Five series. Enid Blyton’s various adventuring children eat a lot. The Five Find Outers tend to stick to simple biscuits, chocolate and sandwiches; the four with with Kiki the cockatoo eat a lot of tinned food as they always seem stuck in the middle of nowhere; and the Famous Five have Anne to cook, or else rely on farmers’ wives or handy village shops whose owners are always eager to make mountains of sandwiches for them, and always throw in complimentary snacks.

Five on a Hike Together (my favourite Famous Five adventure) has such a ‘shop-woman’ making cheese, egg, ham and pork sandwiches for the children: Julian requests eight sandwiches for each of them! And she gives them some fruit cake too.

A little less than half way through the book, the Five have breakfast at an inn:

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Illustration of the Five at breakfast, by Betty Maxey

A wonderful smell came creeping into the little dining-room, followed by the inn-woman carrying a large tray. On it was a steaming tureen of porridge, a bowl of golden syrup, a jug of thick cream, and a dish of bacon and eggs, all piled high on crisp brown toast. Little mushrooms were on the same dish.

‘It’s like magic!’ said Anne, staring. ‘Just the very things I longed for.’

‘Toast, marmalade and butter to come, and the coffee and hot milk,’ said the woman, busily setting everything out. ‘And if you want any more bacon and eggs, just ring the bell.’

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How delicious everything sounds, but, as a Malaysian child, I was quite puzzled about the porridge, which the kids eat with cream and golden syrup. I was of course picturing the Chinese rice porridge we have here, which we eat with meat and veg, and not the oaty sort they serve for breakfast in England, and which some eat sweetened.

I did not ever eat porridge when I lived there, but I do now and yes, I do eat it with cream. My favourite English food? Pork pies and cauliflower cheese, and hot sponge-and-custard for pudding.

 

In Sandwiches or Spread on Fingers of Coarse Brown Bread

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I first came across potted meat in one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventure stories. Potted meat sandwiches. What were they? I had no idea and could not Google it, but I imagined buttery white bread filled with something resembling mashed up luncheon meat.

omeIt was only when I read Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine that I found out what potted meat was. My introduction to Ms David was a little book published to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Penguin. I’ll Be With You in the Squeezing of a Lemon (named after a chapter in Omelette) collected excerpts from several of her books. It was also my introduction to food and cookery writing in general — David’s books remain my favourite in the genre.

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine is collection of the writer’s articles that were originally published in The Spectator, Gourmet magazine, Vogue, and The (London) Sunday Times. It contains a recipe for mayonnaise that makes me want to eat mayonnaise, never mind that I actually hate the stuff.

So, anyway, Omelette also features an article called ‘English Potted Meats and Fish Pastes’. By the way, I never did try potted meat when living in England. I can’t remember why I never tried looking for it at delis or supermarkets. Just as well because I would probably have been disappointed. Best I live in blissful ignorance, my imagination, aided by Blyton and David’s descriptions, conjuring the most delicious of sandwich fillings.

Here is David in a sub-section of the potted meat chapter:

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When and How to Serve Potted Foods and Pastes

‘A noble breakfast,’ says George Borrow of the morning meal offered
him at an inn at Bala in North Wales, ‘there was tea and coffee, a goodly
white loaf and butter, there were a couple of eggs and two mutton chops – there was boiled and pickled salmon – fried trout … also potted trout and
potted shrimps …’ A few weeks later he returns in search of more country
delicacies. He is not disappointed. ‘What a breakfast! Pot of hare; ditto of
trout; pot of prepared shrimps; dish of plain shrimps; tin of sardines; beautiful
beef-steak; eggs, muffins, large loaf, and butter, not forgetting capital tea…’

George Borrow was writing of Wild Wales in the eighteen-fifties. When
you come to analyse his splendid breakfasts you find that with slight changes
he might almost be describing a nineteen-sixties, chop-house revival period,
West End restaurant lunch. The potted shrimps, the trout, the steak, the pot of
hare (now the chef’s terrine de lièvre), the mutton chops (now lamb cutlets),
the salmon, now smoked rather than pickled, are very much with us still. The
March of Progress has alas transformed the goodly white bread into that
unique substance, restaurateur’s toast, while tea and coffee are replaced by
gin-and-tonic or a bottle of white wine, and for my part I would say none the
worse for that. Tea with a fish breakfast or coffee with beefsteaks have never
been my own great favourites in the game of what to drink with what.

Here we are then with plenty of ideas for an easy and simple English lunch; potted tongue or game followed by a simple hot egg dish; or smoked salmon paste with butter and brown bread to precede grilled lamb chops, or oven-baked sole, or fillet steak if you are rich. For a high-tea or supper meal spread smoked haddock paste on fingers of hot toast and arrange them in a circle around a dish of scrambled eggs. For cocktail parties, use smoked salmon butter, fresh salmon paste, sardine or tunny fish butter, potted cheese, as fillings for the smallest of small sandwiches. Fish, meat and cheese pastes do not combine successfully with vol-au-vent cases, pastry or biscuits, but in sandwiches or spread on fingers of coarse brown bread they will be greeted as a blessed change from sticky canapés and messy dips. Stir a spoonful or two of potted crab or lobster (minus the butter covering) into fresh cream for eggs en cocotte, into a béchamel sauce to go over poached eggs or a gratin of sole fillets. And as Mrs Johnstone, alias Meg Dods, author of the admirable Housewife’s Manual of 1826 wrote, ‘What is left of the clarified butter (from potted lobster or crab) will be very relishing for sauces’ while ‘any butter from potted tongue or chicken remaining uneaten will afterwards be useful for frying meat and for pastry for pies’.

And here is a recipe:

RILLETTES OR POTTED PORK IN THE FRENCH MANNER

This very famous charcutiers’ or pork butchers’ speciality is native to
Southern Brittany, Anjou and Touraine. It could be described as the French
equivalent of our potted meat – although it is very different in texture and
taste.

2 lb. of a cheap and fat cut of pork such as neck or belly; 1 lb. of back
pork fat; salt; 1 clove of garlic; 2 or 3 sprigs of dried wild thyme on the stalk;
a couple of bay leaves; freshly milled black pepper.

Ask your butcher to remove the rind and the bones from the piece of pork
meat (the bones can be added to stock and the rind will enrich a beef dish for
the next course) and if he will, to cut the back pork fat into cubes.

Rub the meat with salt (about a couple of tablespoonsful) and let it stand
overnight or at least a few hours before cutting it into 1 ½-inch thick strips –
along the grooves left by the bones. Put these strips, and the fat, into an
earthenware or other oven dish. In the centre put the crushed clove of garlic,
the bay leaf and twig of thyme; mill a little black pepper over the meat and
add about half a pint of cold water. Cover the pot. Place it in a very cool
oven, gas no. 1, 290°F., and leave for about 4 hours.

Now place a sieve over a big bowl. Turn meat and fat out into the sieve,
so that all the liquid drips through. With two forks, pull apart the meat and fat
(which should be soft as butter) so that the rillettes are shredded rather than
in a paste/Pack the rillettes lightly into a glazed earthenware or stoneware jar
of about ¾ pint capacity (or into two or three smaller jars). Taste for
seasoning. Pour over the rillettes (taking care to leave the sediment) enough
strained fat to fill the jar. Cool, cover and store in the refrigerator until
needed.

Rillettes should be soft enough to spoon out, so remember to remove the
jar several hours before dinner. Serve with bread or toast, with or without
butter, as you please.

pork rillettes

 

Perhaps I shall attempt to make potted meat from scratch one day. Until then, I will read and imagine and salivate.

Thirsty Thursdays & Hungry Hearts: Her Body Was Magnificent

In my last post I wrote about reading Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye. It contains some rather vivid descriptions of ham, which, like Leonora Penderton, are presented as too much, too rich, too juicy.

‘Susie,’ said Mrs. Penderton, ‘do people have gizzards like chickens do?’

The Captain stood in the doorway and was noticed neither by his wife nor
his servant When she had been relieved of her boots, Mrs. Penderton moved
about the kitchen bare footed. She took a ham from the oven and sprinkled
the top with brown sugar and bread crumbs. She poured herself another
drink, only half a jigger this time, and in a sudden excess of vigor she
performed a little shag dance. The Captain was intensely irritated with his
wife, and she knew it.

‘For God’s sake, Leonora, go up and put on some shoes.’

For an answer Mrs. Penderton hummed a queer little tune to herself and
went past the Captain and into the living room.

Her husband followed close behind her. ‘You look like a slattern going
around the house like this.’

A fire was laid in the grate and Mrs. Penderton bent down to light it. Her
smooth sweet face was very rosy and there were little glistening sweat beads
on her upper lip.

‘The Langdons are coming any minute now and you will sit down to
dinner like this, I suppose?’

‘Sure,’ she said. ‘And why not, you old prissy?’

The Captain said in a cold, taut voice: ‘You disgust me.’

Mrs. Penderton’s answer was a sudden laugh, a laugh both soft and
savage, as though she had received some long expected piece of scandalous
news or had thought of some sly joke. She pulled off her jersey, crushed it
into a ball, and threw it into the corner of the room. Then deliberately she
unbuttoned her breeches and stepped out of them. In a moment she was
standing naked by the hearth. Before the bright gold and orange light of the
fire her body was magnificent. The shoulders were straight so that the collar
bone made a sharp pure line. Between her round breasts there were delicate
blue veins. In a few years her body would be fullblown like a rose with
loosened petals, but now the soft roundness was controlled and disciplined by
sport. Although she stood quite still and placid, there was about her body a
subtle quality of vibration, as though on touching her flesh one would feel the
slow live coursing of the bright blood beneath. While the Captain looked at
her with the stunned indignation of a man who has suffered a slap in the face,
she walked serenely to the vestibule on her way to the stairs. The front door
was open and from the dark night outside a breeze blew in and lifted a loose
strand of her bronze hair.

She was halfway up the steps before the Captain recovered from his
shock. Then he ran trembling after her. ‘I will kill you!’ he said in a strangled
voice. ‘I will do it! I will do it!’ He crouched with his hand to the banister and
one foot on the second step of the stairway as though ready to spring up after
her.

She turned slowly and looked down at him with unconcern for a moment
before she spoke. ‘Son, have you ever been collared and dragged out in the
street and thrashed by a naked woman?’

The Captain stood as she had left him. Then he put his head down on his
outstretched arm and rested his weight against the banister. From his throat
came a rasping sound like a sob, but there were no tears on his face.

The ways ham affects some men …

Leonora Penderton enjoyed her warm bath that evening. She dressed
herself slowly in the clothes she had already laid out on the bed. She wore a
simple gray skirt, a blue Angora sweater, and pearl earrings. She was
downstairs again at seven o’clock and their guests were waiting.

She and the Major found the dinner first rate. To begin with there was a
clear soup. Then with the ham they had rich oily turnip greens, and candied
sweet potatoes that were a transparent amber beneath the light and richly
glazed with sweet sauce. There were rolls and hot spoon bread. Susie passed
the vegetables only once and left the serving dishes on the table between the
Major and Leonora, for those two were great eaters.

I do like a woman who likes to eat.

‘Listen!’ said Leonora, and her fresh rosy face flamed suddenly with
anticipation. ‘I just wish you could see my kitchen now. Here’s the way it will
go. I’m putting in all the leaves in the dining room table and everybody will
just mill around and help themselves. I’m having a couple of Virginia hams, a
huge turkey, fried chicken, sliced cold pork, plenty of barbecued spareribs,
and all sorts of little knickknacks like pickled onions and olives and radishes.
And hot rolls and little cheese biscuits passed around. The punchbowl is in
the corner, and for people who like their liquor straight I’m having on the
sideboard eight quarts of Kentucky Bourbon, five of rye, and five of Scotch.’

Ham sandwich, anyone?