JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Saturday, April 21, 2007

HotM: a cure for depression

I'm not very good at pudding, dessert, call it what you will. It's a hit or miss affair in this house, usually forgotten in the rush to get dinner on the table. There's always fruit, often a square of dark chocolate. And this is the reason I haven't done much posting this week: I wanted to post some more pudding ideas for the second Heart of the Matter event, but found myself strangely devoid of them ... so no posts, & not much "proper" cooking either.

I'm reading a wonderful book at the moment, Honey from a Weed, by Patience Gray. This morning it struck me that PG wasn't keen on pudding either. In a hefty book (380pps), there's only one chapter on puddings, entitled A few sweets. Seven, actually. The few conserves are all savoury (several ways of preserving tomatoes, lots of ways to conserve a variety of vegetables in oil). There's a lovely chapter on jams which I'll definitely be using later this summer - figs, peaches, green walnuts. But overall this is not a book for the sweet-toothed.

I'm always easily distracted, and this week's distraction from pudding posts was finding PG's reference to Virgil's sauce for cauliflower. It's a sort of mayonnaise, with garlic, anchovies, capers, breadcrumbs. PG claims that "even Provencal cooks" agree that Virgil invented aioli. This seems to me so incredible that I spent several hours looking into it, with huge lack of success, partly because in the US there's a brand of barbecue sauce called Virgil's sauce which clutters up any search, no matter how cleverly worded.

"The origin of aioli is often attributed to Virgil, even by Provencal cooks. According to the story, one day, having lost his appetite, he was advised to restore it by crushing some cloves of garlic and mixing the resulting paste with breadcrumbs. It had the desired effect, as anyone in a similar condition can prove - providing they have a pestle and mortar. Pounding fragrant things - particularly garlic, basil, parsley - is a tremendous antidote to depression. But it applies also to juniper berries, coriander seeds and the grilled fruits of the chilli pepper. Pounding these things produces an alteration in one's being - from sighing with fatigue to inhaling with pleasure. The cheering effects of herbs and alliums cannot be too often reiterated. Virgil's appetite was probably improved equally by pounding garlic as by eating it."

Well, the Virgil bit seems to me to be fanciful, but the rest, the pounding, seems to me to be true. The very best cup of coffee I ever had was in the Eritrean highlands (where coffee originated), pounded in a mortar with a wooden pestle by a nomad woman with the most enormous smile, even though we were in a war zone and her life was undoubtedly materially affected by the war.

I once read that the two most intimidating cookery terms are bain marie and pestle and mortar. Well, a bain marie is just a dish of water, and a pestle and mortar is what we gave up using when we got food processors. The only thing I use mine for is crushing pepper and other spices, when I want them to be chunky. Clearly it's time to make Virgil sauce in the traditional manner. Watch this space.

We've come a long way from pudding. I've been sent lots of wonderful ideas which I'll post next week in the round-up. Please send more ... as you can see, my family and friends are deprived (and many of them kindly bring their own when they come - notably Anna, who made four of the best-ever tarts for Easter: lemon, almond with prune, chocolate with pear, and white chocolate with raspberries).

The Heart of the Matter deadline is this Sunday, 22nd April - send them to joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk, with the permalink for the round-up next week, which you'll find here, and also at the Heart of the Matter website.

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