21 Nov 2012

Apple Butter... oh oh, I feel an analogy coming on



I should know better.
 
I'm the one who nipped Tony's analogy-making in the bud when the phrase, 'If I could just make an analogy...', was becoming an unconscious habit rather than an occasional interruption. I'm not against analogies per se. I just don't want to be force fed one in every conversation.
 
But here I am about to serve one up in a jar for you.
 
I think we've done our last picking in the apple orchard. What remained on the trees of the Golden Delicious and the Cox have long dropped. Pecked by pheasants and drenched in rain they have slowly dissolved into the earth around the trees. The Ida Reds are hardier and most of them are still on the bare branches, a remarkable sight last weekend: red apples in bright winter sunshine against a blue sky.
 
We won't manage to pick them all though: we invested in 300 bottles and have chopped, crushed and juiced enough apples to fill 220. The latest picking has yielded enough for the remaining 80. We've worked out that 5lbs of apples produce 1 litre of juice. And while the apples we did get from this lousy season were too few for the commercial juicer to buy from us there were still far too many for us to process with our cottage industry grinder, press and pasteuriser.
 
I've used up 10lb in the last week making apple butter, which has nothing to do with butter as we know it and more to do with peanut butter: i.e. something thick that spreads. But the reality of it is so much more wondrous than the clumpy linguistic-ness of 'spread'. If I believed in angels, and they cooked, then this is what they would fly out of their kitchens with. Fragrant. Delicate. Meltingly smooth. 
 
I'm just going to give you a visual feast and save the analogy for a succint closing statement. 
 
4lbs of chopped apple with 3 cups of apple juice, half a cup of brown sugar, and,
in the muslin bag, the peel of one orange, 3 cinammon sticks and 12 cloves.
This is what you end up with after about three and a half hours of slow cooking.
You take the muslin bag out after the first hour. Keep the lid on and stir every now and again.
The colour is astonishing. The 4lbs of apples made three jars.
I've eaten one.
 
And the analogy? Astonished as I was by the slow transformation of apples and spices into this concentrated result I couldn't help thinking of how Real Port Talbot has evolved over the last year. I started with reams of local history, hundreds of contemporary news stories, scraps of memoir, poems, and several dozen cups of controlled panic. I now have 52,000 words of a MSS, with 13,000 to go, and I can see the end result. The panic has dissolved. I suddenly understand what I'm doing and I'm nearing the end. And breathe.
 
It's difficult to see order when we're in the middle of chaos. Sometimes we just have to trust it will emerge.
 
And one last photo: apple butter on a freshly cooked pancake. Worth any amount of chaos and time spent. Add creme fraiche for perfection.
 
 
 
 
Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about winter sunshine.
  • Write about waste.
  • Write about an angel.
  • Write about a state of controlled panic.
  • Write about trust.
 
 

14 Nov 2012

Out to impress

I was 26 when I met Tony, back in 1985, and had always lived on my own until then. The idea of shopping for a family and planning meals for days ahead was an alien concept. On our first trip to Safeway together, as I pushed the trolley from aisle to aisle hoping for inspiration and he lagged behind, he said, 'So what are you doing, just picking up bits and pieces, shopping for the week? Or what?' 'I don't know!' But having you drifting around my heels like tumbleweed isn't helping, okay?
 
I didn't articulate that last sentence. I'd only moved in with him a week earlier and before that we'd spent nine days in total together. This was a learning process for both of us.
 
I think it's natural to want to impress new loves in our lives: we want to show them (consciously or unconsciously) that we are their best choice, we want to make them happy, we want them to admire us, not be disappointed. I remember making two and three course meals with wine every night – time consuming, expensive and completely impractical when Tony was a full-time professional entertainer at the time, often leaving home at 6pm for a gig in London or Birmingham or on the South Coast.
 
At the first dinner party we gave as a couple there was more glassware on the table than a banquet at the Palace of Versailles: white wine, red wine, water, digestif… Guests were terrified to reach for the salt and pepper in case they set off a crystal domino run.
 
27 years later we’re both, inevitably and gratefully, a lot more relaxed. And making a fuss of each other isn’t an obligation, duty or attempt to impress: it’s a treat for the treat-maker and the treat-receiver. This was my treat for Tony last night:
 
 
Salmon with Chilli Ginger Sauce (there's orange, garlic and soy sauce in there as well). I think the new 'Masterchef, The Professionals' series on BBC2 is having an effect. I made those ‘shaped’ Dauphinoise potatoes too, baked them in fried egg moulds wrapped in a double sheet of tinfoil. 
 
I haven’t tackled a new dish for some time and I’d forgotten how much time cooking involves… thinly slicing those potatoes and making carrot and courgette ribbons with a knife was a bit of a hack. I’m buying a good mandolin at the weekend. 
 
The recipe is a Hairy Dieters one. And I’m breaking all rules by adding a photo, so please go and buy the book. It’s brilliant: real food, great tastes, easy recipes.
 
 

Hungry Writer Prompts
  • Write about a supermarket shopping trip.
  • Write about something you did to impress someone.
  • Write about glass.
  • Write about treating yourself.
  • Write about breaking a rule.

3 Nov 2012

How to disappoint a hungry writer...


I guess the lesson is: Don't believe everything you read. Nothing remotely edible at the old Penrhyn Gate to the Steelworks in Port Talbot. But I bet they did a great bacon bap in their day.

Luckily 12 Cafe in Taibach came to the rescue with Cheese and Potato Pie. The next day Tambini's in Margam fed me a Ron Evan's Mince and Onion Pie and a Custard Slice.

There are stories everywhere I look: this writing under the bridge, the old ruined chapel on Mynydd Margam, and this gravestone in the Holy Cross graveyard in Taibach:


Lost at sea: a phrase that conjures stories, real and imagined, language powerful enough to transport us to the storm-wrapped deck of a ship, the hollow left in a woman's life. Powerful enough to be grateful for the nearness of our own family. 

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about a lie.
Write about a wall.
Write a list of the last 10 things you ate.
Write about standing at a graveside.
Write about what's close to you.