Thursday, 11 September 2014

Food with Thought: No 1 … South African ...

Food with Thought ... will be a new series when I perhaps mention some food that is brought to mind, after I have attended an event with a speaker, or when we have a meal included at the speaking event.
c/o Trip Advisor: Langham Hotel,
with bathing cart and pier in distance

Eastbourne seems to be full of these things … garnering happy customers and building those essential relationships for their businesses that we as bloggers, authors, musicians, artists et al know about …

Now who could keep me away from a South African lunch with wine?  The “Pudding and Wine Club Luncheon” at the Langham Hotel, which hosts variety of events, this one concentrating on South Africa with a speaker, representing Boschendal wines.

England is having the most incredible Indian Summer at the moment … we are still in short sleeves and flip-flops or something tidier!  Sitting outside the hotel looking out over the sea, promenaders were all around …

We met up, sat outside in the ‘boiling sun’ (what luxury in September) with an orange juice … til I realised our mistake!  Realised when we took our grumbling tummies in for lunch …

… we’d missed out on the “Boschendal Sparkling Brut” – what was I thinking? … I quickly rectified that … it was delicious!  54% Chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir.

Cue in the clues:  Clean citrus fruit with discreet undertones of biscotti and brioche with creamy mouth feel and a lingering finish.  Well I’m just glad my mouth was untarnished with biscotti and brioche bits! *****+++ stars for me!

Boschendal (Dutch for wood and dale), Cecil Rhodes’ bought this his first commercial fruit estate in 1887, before being sold in the 1960s to Anglo American, the mining giant, but which is now owned by a consortium of investors.

Blanc de Noir Boschendal wine was the wine we often chose … and when my father’s elder brother, who had married a South African, visited the Cape I would fly down and we would frequent their old haunts from the 1920s and 30s … Boschendal being one of them.

Happy memories all round … but back to Eastbourne!  Remember we are known as the retirement town – sad really ... but there’s lots of vibrancy around with interesting goings on … so some of the recipes are toned down a little … as there’s no choice, but guests’ palates are important!!

Forgot about the
photo - there be loin
under the sauce!
Food .. I need food!  How about some “Springbok loin with slithers of courgettes and goat’s cheese – it was good … being called “Springbok Tataki” for any food lovers wishing to know more …

South African game is wonderful – thankfully the Springbok can easily be supported on farms with very low rainfall, and is one of the few antelope species considered to have an expanding population.

This was accompanied by a “Franschoek Pinotage” – pinotage being a red wine grape that is South Africa’s signature variety: it’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut ***** for us!

Cue in the clues:  Hot baking fruits with a sweet juicy mouth feel and integrated French Oak softening the finish

We had brief talks from the Boschendal expert giving us some background to South African wine growing … and from the chef – a young chap who had come down from the cut and thrust of London … I reckon we’re lucky …

I just enjoyed the colourful artistic
branding ... nothing to do with the post!

The chef had selected Springbok loin … interestingly I have a newspaper cutting on Cape of Good Food from March this year … and as described South Africa’s most inventive chef, Luke Dale Roberts thinks Springbok is one of the best meats.  I wonder if he got his idea here …

Once the menu had been decided … then the wine expert could work his magic … hence the red wine with the game starter … 

But it was good!
Next we had “Butter Fish with coconut cream and yellow rice” (gamey South African fish)   … the chef apologised he’d somewhat overdone the turmeric in the traditional Cape Malay yellow rice …

The term ‘Cape Malay’ springs from the Indonesian slaves who over time intermarried with other groups … and who have a particular identity in South Africa. 

While 'Malay' may have originated from the Malayo-Portuguese language that was the lingua franca in Asian ports.  (South Africa began to be settled by the Dutch in the mid 1600s … but Bartholomew Diaz, the Portuguese explorer had rounded the Cape in 1488).

To cheer ourselves up even more … the “Franschoek Chenin Blanc” matched up to the ***** level!

Cue in cluesA delicious medium dry white, full of fresh tropical fruit flavours” …

In South Africa the Chenin Blanc is also known as Steen … but may well have been one of the first vine varieties to be grown in South Africa by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655, or via the Huguenots fleeing France in 1685.

Wine expert now … the vintage we tried for the Chenin Blanc was only bottled this last Spring (here) Autumn in South Africa … so we had a 2014 vintage … (we were only served hotel quality wines ... not available via retailers)

The South African Chenin Blanc is slightly fuller with a higher alcohol content …

Cape Dutch home with vineyards
Vineyards will not process grapes under five years old, and they will carry on producing for at least another 30 years thereafter … as the vine gets older the grapes are richer and fuller in flavour …

… the vines, if they are top quality, could produce for another 30 years after (sixty years of production) … there will be fewer fruits … but the wine will be quality.

We were also encouraged to join in the quiz … simple – but not easy to win!!  Neither of us won a bottle … one table had three winners … something fishy going on?  No I don’t think so … it was very much guess work … we failed!

Add caption

Hungry again?  How about an Amarula Mousse Tart with Cape Gooseberry coulis?

Background to Amarula … the elephants were renowned for getting drunk at fruit falling time … rushing to their favourite tree … leaning and thumping the tree to release their fruits and then guzzling them all up … what happens the fruits ferment and we have drunk elephants … I’ve never seen a drunk elephant!

Those clever elephants led those cleverer humans to their tree … and now the Amarula Spirit lives on: the actual alcoholic beverage was launched in 1983 … its taste is a fruity caramel …

The label ... 

The distiller has made elephants its symbol for the drink, and supports the elephant conservation effort: co-funding the Amarula Elephant Research Programme at the University of Natal, Durban.

Not my favourite … but I wasn’t going to turn down the dessert and I do enjoy Cape Gooseberries, with or without their chocolate bottoms (see petit fours) …

To go with our drunken elephant drink dessert we had the Boschendal Vin D’Or … this was positively delicious … look at the colour …

Cue in clues:  Naturally sweet with a lovely concentration of pineapple, green apple and raw honey flavour with an undertone of vanilla spice. *****++++!!

Another note … on Noble Rot wine … some of the most famous dessert wines are made from grapes mouldy with Botrytis cinerea, which sucks water out of the grape whilst imparting flavours of honey and apricot to the future wine. 

Mouldy Reisling Grapes
The Hungarians are thought to have inadvertently discovered this type of wine … they had mouldy grapes, but they were vinified anyway and then found to be rather good … Noble Rot sets in!

Finished off with Colombian coffee and petit fours … no photo of the coffee … just the petit fours … they were good too …

Chocolate truffles with a Cape
Gooseberry dipped in dark
chocolate  (we also call them Physalis)
So there you have it … an excellent and interesting lunch, and we shared our table with some fun guests … so we talked, laughed, learnt and had a wee tipple or two – and oh yes some South African style cuisine - before wending our way home on another brilliant English Indian Summer’s Day.

Bathing Hut
Our next one - promoting Brazilian food and wines … should be interesting …

Now are you hungry?!  The South African Pudding and Wine Club Luncheon was particularly good … with lots of South African memories …

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday, 8 September 2014

Tina – a blogger fest missing the leading sunflowered lady light ..

Tina brought out the fun in blogging, while being one of the major organisers and administrators of the incredible A-Z Challenge held in April each year.

A Swedish Summer Fest

She emailed, prior to my 2nd challenge in 2012, asking if I’d be one of her “Minions” .. ie a helper for that year’s series … from then on we developed a great friendship … with lots of rapport, ribald stories and informative updates on life in general …

London, England   to   Stockholm, Sweden

Tina’s Swedish roots – she was so proud to be Swedish and have those origins … as we found out in many of her posts and particularly in her A-Z 2013 series on a Swedish immigrant during her first year as an American.  I am linking over to her Z for Zomboni … there are some lovely happy pictures of a young Tina.

Tina's instruction to the Klass:
Learn Swedish

For the 2012 Challenge – she taught Klass: Swedish How to … and as always Tina the teacher, the maths whizz, crept out … thankfully her X post gave us a summary of the A-Z words  she had tried to coax us into learning some Swedish!!

Tjorn - one of the many Swedish islands:
No wonder she had lovely memories

I know all of our thoughts will turn to her parents, and in particular to her husband and her two sons whom she dearly, dearly loved … Tinadescribed her family under her tab Nickname-Translator … so you can check out all her loved ones …

Five of the sunflowers I bought to brighten
up my sitting room - remembering Tina

Tina lived life and will be sorely missed by us all … she was a driving force, with an inspirational twist that had lots of zest to it …

From Sedwick Studio:
A Glass of Chardonnay via a blog
perfect for Tina

I add my sunflowers to all the sunny faces across this blogosphere of ours …

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday, 29 August 2014

Food and logistics of feeding an army in WW1 ...

How did they, what with, and when … feed the British Army of World War One – ever considered it?  This post refers to the Army and its entourages only … and not the Royal Navy, nor Royal Air Force, nor other necessary personnel at home … I can’t really conjecture about those.

John Nash: Over the Top

 I had thought about the food pre war – which would have been basic for most people, but gourmand still for many … as large parties continued to be held at the wealthy and nobles’ estates … as Escoffier’s La Ligue des Gourmands shows us:

The Savoy - Escoffier's
first London hotel -
later he managed the
Carlton and the Ritz

Escoffier (1846 – 1935) was a French chef, restaurateur and culinary writer … and still is a legendary figure among chefs and gourmets.  He founded La Ligue des Gourmands – a dining club for his friends in 1912.

This club spread throughout Europe and attracted thousands of members – it is notable for the Diners d’Epicure – menus that were served simultaneously in many restaurants.  The first was served to 4,000 members in 37 European cities – the last held in July 1914 in 137 cities and to 10,000 diners …

German Submarine zone 1915

… and as you will know: the ‘Great War’ began on 28 July 1914 with Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war with Serbia … Britain entered the war (together with the Commonwealth countries ‘by default’) on 4 August 1914 – after Germany had invaded Belgium on 3rd August 1914.

That first menu included Dodine de Canard au Chambertin, a duck casserole cooked in a dodine – looking that up it appears more to be a method (galantine) – a recipe and some infocan be found here.

A BBC tv programme on Mrs Beeton 2006
I got side-tracked as is my wont …

Really up until the First World War a cook’s life in the UK had been ruled by Mrs Beeton (if you could access some of her work), local seasonal food, and lack of refrigeration …

Women weren’t working but were doing the home chores … most did not have a cook, or scullery maid (or servants galore) … national newspapers had a women’s page with bossy exhortations on what to do and how to cope in those early years of the 20th century.

Fray Bentos label from a tin
The early 1900s saw tinned food, including Heinz baked beans, Bisto gravy and Bird’s custard, introduced as new commodities, while ice closets were being added to the kitchen … also food was being shipped in from distant corners of the world … particularly corned beef from Argentina.

Electricity was not up and running – so much was still done by candlelight and cooking on coal/coke stoves, or braziers etc … electricity really only spread into homes during the 1930s …

Back to WW1 and the logistics of feeding the Army … most of this information comes from Jasper Copping’s article in the Daily Telegraph of 19 May 2013 which references the Guide by Andrew Robertshaw, curator at the Royal Logistic Corps Museum, to the food eaten by British Soldiers of the First World War with recipes for some of the meals.  Check out Amazon for a book – while the article will give you a fuller overview.

Apparently the ration strength of the British Army was 5, 363, 352 people worldwide, including over two million on the western front.  To feed these men the Army Service Corps had allocated 12,000 officers and 320,000 men …. as a side note: this was the size of the entire British Army sent to the continent at the outbreak of war.

The food was pretty good considering all things and very likely better than they had at home … but … the diet was high in protein, leading to ‘erh’ problems – with men suffering from boils and becoming, in the army euphemism “bunged up” – the amount of meat was reduced!

The men were paid in local currency and were able to buy additional food when not at home … an option not available to many back in Blighty – they simply went hungry.  Food parcels were sent from home – via a very efficient postal system.

Eric Henry Kennington: Signaller off duty (1916)
 Everyone had the same rations … the horses were fed first (I guess not the same food!), then the ranks, and then the officers – even though only a fraction of the men were ever in the trenches at any one time … there were also the administrative camps logistically keeping the wheels turning …

… the logistics would have included: field hospitals, staff quarters, railways, roads, communications systems, the postal system home, stores – food, clothing, spares and munitions … etc etc

Foods on offer included – bully beef, with another tinned staple from Scotland “Maconochie”: a pork and beans meal … curry was standard fare or used to spice up the stews … cooks were encouraged to forage for nettles, sweet docks, wild mushrooms and marigold flowers with which to season dishes.

There was no official vegetarian option, although provision was made for Indian personnel, which included mixed spices, Dhal and Attar … vegetarians received additional sugar or milk, instead of milk; while other variations were produced for the Chinese, Egyptian and Fijian ‘volunteers’.

Toast and Dripping
Cooks were careful to avoid all waste … leftovers were sold as swill to local farmers, while dripping was saved for use in the manufacture of explosives.

As the front lines extended and grew, food was prepared nearer and nearer to trenches with many cooks being killed …

Some of the dishes in the article:  Brown Stew; Potato Pie; Sea Pie (a suet crusted meat pie – why called sea pie: I’ve no idea!); Curried Cod; Milk Biscuit Pudding – feeds 100 men.

Egg and chips would have been available from the French countryside - provisions for those off duty (as such) …

Trench Cake – came from Elizabeth Craig’s Economical Cookery book (not our Elizabeth!) … flour, marge, vinegar, milk, brown sugar, currants, cocoa, baking soda, nutmeg, ginger, grated lemon rind … make up and post across …

Other staples at home:  Butter Beans; Braised Lettuce; Potted Shrimp Curry; Gooseberry Fool, garden or foraged fruits and vegetables … fish sausages made from leftover fish and rice

Bee on blackberry flowers
Cakes were made without eggs and were very dry – to eat dripping would have been smeared on, dunked in a cup of tea – often their only evening meal.  Blackberry leaf tea was popular …

Basic foodstuffs, such as butter, milk, sugar, meat were in short supply, while wheat flour was so hard to get hold of, that people resorted to making bread with ground-up turnips (swedes).

Rations weren’t introduced in World War One til late in the War (1918) … there was a huge black market, so if you had money you could eat – if you were poor, you didn’t.

Otto Dix: The Ravens (Dawn)

It’s incredible how little people survived on – and they wouldn’t have understood nutrition (vitamins were just beginning to be found) … so we weren’t too healthy …

Robert Graves recalled that his wedding cake was covered with what looked like icing but, due to sugar shortages, was actually a plaster cast!! Ingenious cooks were creative for the effect … apparently when it was lifted off the cake, “a sigh of disappointment arose from the guests”!

An early Ice Closet
So much changed during the 19th century and thrust forward when the War came along … the population had more than doubled since 1851 … which was difficult enough, but many weren’t healthy anyway … and then by 1916 imports of food had virtually ceased, because of the German blockades, so the nation was thrown back on its own devices.

We have come a long way … and I’ve seen huge changes in the last half century after the 2nd world war … mostly I enjoyed school food so I can’t relate to the being bored and my mother was an exceptional cook, as to what was on offer in the trenches it must have been tricky at times .. but the range and nutritional value of what the troops ate was remarkably good.

I’m just glad I live in today’s age … and can enjoy my range of food choices … and eat fresh foods  … now what shall I have for dinner?  … that thought seems almost sacrilegious ….

Note:  I will be writing about WW1 from various angles and will spread the posts … there won’t be a series as such.

The Daily Telegraph article referred to above ... is here, with recipes and all ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday, 25 August 2014

Fierce Viking Chick – RIP

A Viking Ship has taken our blogging A-Z supremo, Tina Downey, to far-away shores … she will be sorely missed by many … as we are already seeing from the tributes around the blogosphere.

My heart goes out to her family, her parents, her extended family and her local friends …

She will live on … she will inspire us … as she was a live wire, a lady who loved the joie-de-vivre …

Animal prow-head of a Viking Ship

We will remember her – of that I am sure - as an amazing lady.

May we all take a moment to remember her and reflect on the many things she did for us, or the laughs she gave us … I shall miss that Fierce Viking Chick – as she called herself …

Tina's header for her blog

Life is Good – Tina’s Blog

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Urban Meadows, Hoovering Thunderstorms, Exuberant Nature ...

Wildlife has come alive this year … the previous seven years have been dismal for plants and wildlife … so while we ponder in amazement at the fact our seawater temperatures were as high as those in Califiornia … 68.7 degF (20.4C) off Devon.

Godrevy Lighthouse in St Ives Bay - could have
done with that temperature when I was growing up!

We had that mild but drenching winter, the wettest in 250 years, which has helped our wildlife, but threatened our coasts and vulnerable landscapes, which are recovering …

All sorts - phytopia (phytoplankton)

Microscopic plants, the phytoplankton and the large plants like kelp enjoy the warmer sea temperatures – as too jelly fish … and a magical display was put on by dolphins in St Ives Bay … near Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse at Godrevy on the northern edge of the Bay.  We used to swim there as kids … and we never saw dolphins!

The warm seas have brought leatherback turtles into our waters to feast off the jelly fish … and humpback whales have been sighted in the Irish Sea cruising north towards Scotland – the whales and basking sharks follow their food, plankton and small fish which migrate as waters warm.

Dolphin sighting off beach at Gwithian, St Ives Bay

It’s been bliss for butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies … I’ve seen them down here this year … 

... bumblebees, moths and hoverflies are also doing well … while wasps are a necessary evil as they devour aphids and caterpillars (but they are not doing so well, after the cold springs of 2012 and 2013 – probably resulting in the death of queens): but I might have spoken too early!

Norfolk Hawker Dragonfly
Biting insects are around … mosquitoes seem to be more prevalent … I’ve seen clouds of midges, clegs (horsefly) and other species of flies are certainly abounding now … but these bode well for the migrating insectivorous birds …

A tick - notice it's got 8 legs
I can attest to the biting insects – some 
young friends went off to the New Forest for a wedding – it was an outdoor wedding, laid back and relaxed … but outdoors and camping!  

Fifteen of the party had to go to hospital with tick bites – that need to be treated with a great deal of respect and removed properly … lime disease can be a consequence.

Green Woodpecker

Creepy crawlies, slithery slugs, alarming ants are all marching and eating their way to fatness – before a seagull, pigeon or jackdaw round here (and if we’re lucky a green woodpecker) pecks them up … or swoop upwards as the flying ants swarm …

It’s great having a good summer at last, but we need a very cold winter too (though last year suited me fine – warm!), because it kills off the species we don’t need and which aren’t used to the cold, before they interbreed with our native species.

Bursting Brambles from the hedgerows
Grapes, cherries and strawberries are abundant and profuse at farm shops or vineyards … the hedgerows are falling over themselves with insect life, plant and grass flowerings, brambles full of blackberries … apples, plums, pears are all overflowing with fruits …

Grasses:  Browntop Bent, Red Fescue,
Crested Dogstail, Meadow Fescue, Smooth
Stalk Meadow Grass, Yorkshire Fog - while
the tall rye grass will grow too
c/o Lovely

The changeable weather, is not unusual, the jet stream will draw insects and birds from the south, the strong thunderstorms will hoover all in their paths and noisily dump strange insects into our midsts … the increased competition for food forces the insects to disperse in search of new supplies …

Hedgehog enjoying the bounty of insect life

The meadows are in full flower and abuzz with insects, fruit is abundant and ripening, and birds are feasting on the bounty … while the fields look to give farmers a good harvest.

Swallowtail (Papilio Machaon)
- trailing edges of the hind
wings resemble swallow tails

So from the south coast of England … on a Bank Holiday weekend … before Autumn arrives completely … I shall leave you with the scattering of photos and annotations through the post … encourage birds, bees and butterflies et al to flourish …

… and a note – please do not kill flora or fauna with nerve-agent pesticides known as neonicotinoids …

Happy weekend to one and all: nature needs us to protect it …

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories