God Bless the Red Cross

I wasn’t expecting his reaction and it hit me like a blow to the head.

During the Arab-Israeli war, we were hastened unceremoniously from Egypt, (where I’d been teaching at a mission school), onto a German freighter, one of the last vessels to leave the country with fleeing, or expelled foreigners. The ship had pulled away from the dock in Alexandria and took three days to get to Cyprus. Since it was a freighter, and we refugees were sleeping in the holds that usually stored their freight, the cuisine on board was sparse. In fact it was sandwiches three times a day. But it was that dark German bread that really tastes good. However, after sandwiches nine times in a row and nothing else, the charm began to wear off.

We didn’t do much talking during those three days, each of us wrapped in our own bereavements and fears as we stared at horizonless water. I had noticed that one man in shorts and a faded shirt had been escorted by police up the gang way and shoved brutally into the ship. He had no shoe laces, and only carried a small wooden box. It turned out that he was the only Englishman on board, and since he had been hitch-hiking around the country, was presumed to be a spy and was taken from prison and thrust onto this ship with us. He had absolutely nothing but this box. Out of politeness no one asked what was in it.

We arrived in Cyprus in the dark, ten or eleven o’clock. And there, waiting for us, without a word of English but with a huge casserole, was a team of Red Cross workers. Ohhhh that casserole! I cannot remember at all what was in it, but the warmth, the nourishment, the surprise enchanted us magnificently. With no common language we did our best to express heartfelt delight and thanks to these beautiful people.

The next stage was a plane to carry us over the Alps to Rome. It was a strange vehicle, because the seats were lined up on either side of the plane. At about two a.m. we all took a seat, two rows facing each other across the fusilage. From the back of the plane a Red Cross worker handed the edge of a blanket to the person beside her, who handed it to the person beside him who handed….you get the idea. It turned out that this blanket extended the whole length of the plane, one on each side. Once all was in place, the vehicle took off with “I-think-I-can” effort. It sounded like a John Deere tractor in the sky, that whooped and dropped and rose over the air currents from the mountainous terrain below. No one dared to be sick. When grey cold daylight filtered in through the windows, we thought we could hold on. At about 6 a.m. we landed in Rome. There, loving and caring, was the Red Cross, once again. Towels, soap, toothbrushes, breakfast with hot coffee and cognac were oohed and ahhhed over, they seemed like the most precious things anyone could give us. How did they know what exactly we would need to restore us? We once again gestured and bowed our thanks to these lovely people whom we could not understand.

Then back into the plane headed for Munich. Here, the Red Cross and the German press were waiting. As we staggered out, summer-clad, into the cold, rainy morning, sleep-starved, disheveled and bewildered, each of us was greeted with a hug and soothing incomprehensible words from the Red Cross workers. It was such a beautiful thing to do. To this day my heart is warm with their memory.

We refugees were soon sorted into nationalities. The Germans were in one group, getting Red Cross help, received by relatives, and telling their stories to the press.

An elegant stretch limousine with liveried chauffeur turned up at the docks to take the single Englishman away to his embassy.

We, the three Americans, had no one. Eventually, with a bit of difficulty (we had no money to pay for a call) the US Consulate was contacted. They then referred us to the US military. “We heard you were coming,” they said. Two hours later, maybe three, we were picked up and taken to accommodation at the military base. The freedom of fear was exhilarating. It is surprising how exhausting it is to live in constant terror. Americans! My own people! I was on home ground!

Only I wasn’t. The place was buzzing with military testosterone – each young soldier eager to “get out there” and shoot the Egyptians, people I loved and who had loved me, people whose beauty was embedded in their very ancient sophisticated culture. . The burly commanding officer wanted to interview us individually. After taking details, it was then that his response struck me like a blow. He threw down his pen and said, “You Gentiles should stay at home and MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!!!!!”

I was stunned into silence. I’d been so beautifully cared for all the way here by people with whom I couldn’t communicate, but who served and nourished me nevertheless. And ;now this sudden  unexpected attack.  This was the first – and only – time in my life that someone challenged my faith. I think of  the refugees today who at last make it to our shores, I wonder how they cope?

The recipe for this blog just has to be a casserole. This is probably the easiest and most favourite in our family, with happy taste memories that weave into our own traditions. It is unfortunately called

Shipwreck

“Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon,” says the Dalai Lama, and this dish is made for play.

Peel and slice vegetables: potatoes, carrots, onions, celery* peppers, and zucchini. Add them in layers to a buttered casserole dish, with tinned chopped tomatoes, and 400 gms (1 lb) minced (ground) beef. Somewhere in the middle of the dish add 2 – 4 tablespoons raw rice and continue layering. Season each with salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and/or tarragon (or both in alternate layers.) Add a half a cup of boiling water, seal well by placing foil between the dish and the lid.

Place in a low oven, 150C or 300 F and check it for juiciness after two hours. If drying out, add more boiling water or 1 cup of cream. Cook for 20 minutes more while you prepare buttered seasoned bread crumbs with parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes more, without lid, until bread crumbs are browned. Depending on the size and depth of your casserole dish, it may not take the full three hours to cook.

Whew! This took longer to write than it did to prepare!

*Note on celery. Our family enjoys it better if the stringy back is shaved off with a potato peeler.

 

Children’s Shipwreck. A mother writes that her  family (including three children) eat “every scrap of this”: Use a can of condensed tomato soup and boiling water instead of cream. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Vegetabless: onions, potatoes, uncooked rice, celery, carrots.

Vegetarian Shipwreck.  Don’t use the meat, of course. Start and end with slices of fresh tomatoes. An ancient Gourmet Magazine suggests lathering two tablespoons of melted butter on each layer, but I have found that a bit too rich….either that or I was heavy-handed with the butter.

Happy 5th Birthday to this blog!  Thanks to all you wonderful faithful readers!  Have a look at past posts.

Judy

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A Community of Displaced People

Alexandria, Egypt.  Summer, 1966, during the Six Day War.

4.am. We arose silently, dressed, gathered our meagre belongings and went outside. The police, also silent, led us into their waiting cars, the engines idling softly, ready to move.. Then quietly, quietly, they drove off. They suggested that we duck down if we saw anyone on the streets. The fear – theirs and ours –was palpable. We could almost smell it. A few days back they’d already rescued (at great danger to their own lives) an Arabic-speaking American who was almost lynched as he tried to mingle in this tense fear-ridden, American-hating city. And, a few days before that, “Israeli” (= American) bombs showered Alexandria. I’d been holed up in a blackened shelter, standing room only, as “my” bombs tried to kill us. One kind woman in the darkness attempted to convince the others that I was German, not American. “Hmmm” had been their only answer.

But today, with luck, we might be going to safety on a German freighter …IF we could get to the port. Unaware of how long this war would take, all the foreigners had left before us on any plane that would take them. Then no more planes dared to come into the airports.    This was our only, and last chance.  These police had been protecting us, the enemy, from their own people. It would be so easy for the angry crowds to turn on them, too. They would be glad to get rid of us and complete their duty as human shield against the enraged mobs, goaded by summer heat and American betrayal. Then they – and we – loosened our rigid terror as customs officers and coast guard took us over, glad to be their prisoners now. Our Police Protectors rapidly dissolved into the dawn as they hastily drove away. The customs officers politely relieved us of our cameras (oh no! all my pictures up Mt Sinai! Me on a camel!)  and any other “surveillance” equipment, assuring us that all would be returned when we came back to Egypt (yeah right). We were led onto the massive freighter. There were three huge gaping chasms on this ship meant for iron ore, or some other great galumphing bulk. One chasm was for single women, one for men, and one for families.

We climbed down the metal ladder bolted to the chasm’s wall, and found a bit of floor to claim as our own, then struggled up  again, and went on deck.  And waited, waited, waited, wondering if we would be taken back on land for some trite reason. Word started spreading that the very ill American with the perforated ulcer, whizzed here straight from the hospital, wasn’t going to make it, this his last chance to get away from the fighting.

Finally the huge freighter pulled away from shore. I said goodbye to the land I loved, my students, my friendships, my incredible experiences – but now displaced, going nowhere, in light sandals, a thin skirt, sleeveless top, and a suitcase. .

For well over five decades this episode was solidly locked away in my memory…

Until one day, as I walked down a Welsh street in Wales, I was attracted to a table with books whose title leapt out and embedded itself into my own past: Displaced Dishes that found their way to Samos Refugee Camp. It is an enchanting book! Thirty different recipes – vegetarian, vegan, and meat dishes alike, with beautiful colourful photos and simple recipes, donated by refugees now in Samos, Greece.  The stories behind these recipes are not told but implied. Just reading the fragment of introduction accompanying each dish makes a deep impression and shows the wide array of people and countries represented in the refugee camps across Europe, demonstrating the vast scale of modern displacement. You can read more in the introduction to the book. And what touches my heart the most is that each dish is of a cherished homeland no longer attainable, and in many cases no longer in existence. I am therefore filled with great respect, even love, for the people whose recipes I follow in my own huge kitchen of safety and opulence.  May I never forget them.

Whatever your tastes are, get yourselves a copy of this book….for bedtime reading or to try a few unusual combinations of everyday ingredients. 100% of the profits go straight into services for those who live in the Refugee Camp in Samos. Better yet, why not pop over to Samos and do a bit of volunteering yourself!

ISBN 978-1-5272-3212-9  Contact info@displaceddishes.com

Molokkia

Contributed by Shayma from Kuwait. We used to eat a version of this on Wednesday lunchtimes in the Egyptian school where I taught. It is made with a plant that is hard to find in Europe, so Shayma uses spinach instead. It is a beautiful colourful side dish, a hearty accompaniment to grilled meat, fish, or beans. Vegans can enjoy it, too, if you substitute the butter in the spinach for non animal oil. It’s served in three layers, and I wish my photos were as lovely as the one in the book.

  1. The roast vegetables. Hot oven (200C or 400 F). In a large mixing bowl stir together 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons ground coriander, and 2 teaspoons salt until they make a paste. Add 2 aubergines (eggplants) sliced 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick, 2 red peppers sliced 1 cm thick, and 2 red onions sliced likewise. Mix well to coat them oil with the oil.  Divide the mixed vegetables evenly between two roasting pans and roast for about 30 minutes, until aubergine is tender and golden brown, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through cooking.
  2. Cook Rice according to your preferred way.
  3. Saute spinach (with stems, I notice from the photo) in melted butter/oil with 1 bayleaf,  and 1 cinnamon stick until coated with oil. Add 8 ozs (1 cup) vegetable stock. Cook for two minutes.

Build your presentation!  Pile  rice into a large serving bowl. Top with spinach, and then the vegetables. Eat hot.

Note: This would taste good with Hamid’s (from Iran) spiked rosemary bread. It is an old recipe from Bukhara in Uzbekistan. I’d never made bread with ras el hanout before. Just managed to snap a picture before it disappeared into us!

 

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Hot Cross Buns — and an Unexpected Visitor

Getting ready

Well, it certainly wasn’t what I thought would happen. I had offered to help my daughter Joy with her annual Hot Cross Bun Bash on the Good Friday before Easter.

This involved a 6.30 a.m. start making the dough so that it would rise at staged times, enabling preparing, shaping, baking and glazing to take place at staged times during the two hour session. Soon the house was filled with the scent of spice and orange and lemon peel. The car was packed with all the essentials, with bowls of rising dough at various stages and away we went to the local church, heaving the ancient medieval door open, loaded with boxes and bowls and a lot of excitement…..

The Visitor

…….only to discover that a temporarily trapped bird was flying back and forth, high, higher, higher into the rafters, never realizing that his way to freedom was to swoop down low, lower, lower through the  door into the blazing sunlight.  Many days and many attempts to free him into the open air had still been unsuccessful.

And here they come!

But we had people arriving soon, so we set up anyway, ready and eager to see who came. With its emphasis on children, I expected noise, spills, flour, jubilant mess everywhere, mayhem,  tears, voluble triumphs, and a lot of scampering around in the non-pewed sanctuary, as children always do to claim the space for their own.

But that’s not what happened. Something in the mood of the day gave a sweet gentleness to the atmosphere. The painting table, led by Bob, priest-and-artist, re-enforced the Easter story as he sat creating a picture of the empty tomb, and adults and children alike were totally wrapped up in their own work.

Some children brought in greens from the churchyard.  They told the story to each other as they made an Easter garden on a pile of sawdust and shavings, near the altar, putting the figures in last. Once completed, the bird came to visit and helped himself to morsels of Easter. He must have been exhausted and hungry.

Even the Easter egg hunt was happily cheerful, but not very voluble, in their triumphs  of discovery.

New friendships over HCBs

At the other end of the building,  the church started to fill with the scent of baking buns, while adults and children shaped and claimed their own on baking paper, ready for the next batch to go into the oven.

  

Two women who had brought their children, sat apart with their  coffee and buns, talking and laughing, mentioning how grateful they were for this time of peace before they returned to chaotic households and festive preparations.

  

Visitors who wandered in to see this unusual church were greeted with freshly buttered  buns and hot drinks, and became part of the food that built us all into a gently  warm  community. Everyone was welcomed, stranger and friend drawn together by eating together. All were fed.

Even the bird.

Orange and Whisky Marmelade

A favourite blog reader suggested that I use this as the recipe of the month. And there is a connection: when Joy glazed the buns after baking, she used a dilution of homemade marmalade without fruit pieces and hot water. When I make it, I have to snatch handfuls of time now and then.  That’s why I’ve divided the process into several steps.

A note about jars: The most tedious part of making jams and pickles is cleaning labels off donated jars. If you are a generous donor, the good community-spirited thing to do is to remove the labels before handing them over. Sticky Stuff or your local equivalent is a must for every household, as it clears off far more than jar labels.

 

Step One

Wash and remove the stems of 900 gms (2 lbs) oranges (about 5 of them) and one lemon.  Place in a pressure cooker. Add 1.2 litres ( 2 pints 40 ozs, 5 cups, ) water, bring to pressure, and steam for 30 minutes. Cool.

 

Step Two.

   

Put the fruit into a strainer and carefully pour any stewing water into a deep jam-making pan. The fruit will probably crack open by themselves, and the insides usually fall out of the skins. With scissors, cut the skins into shreds and plop them into the jam pan, too. Now press the fruit pulp through the strainer, ensuring that all of the seeds are cleared of their slitheriness (it’s pectin and will make the jam set.) You may wish to wash the fruit clean with a slosh or two of boiling water.

Step Three.

Add 1.5 kg (3lb 6 ozs  7 ½ cups) sugar. Check that all the sugar has dissolved completely in the fruit and juice before you start cooking.

 Step Four

Wash, and drain 5 – 7 jars. Place upside down in an oven on VERY LOW heat.

Bring the fruit-sugar mixture to boil, stirring now and then. It should come to 105 degrees C (220 F) . You can use a thermometer, or try the wrinkle test, where a teaspoon of sauce on a cold plate will wrinkle when pushed gently with the side of your  finger.

 

Remove from heat. If the jam is scummy, stir in a knob of butter which will clear it instantly.  Add 4 tablespoons good quality whisky and stir well.

Remove the jars from the oven one by one without burning yourself, and ladle in the marmalade, near to the rim. Add a disk of jam paper. Cool. Add lids.

Optional Step 5 (You may be able to skip this step).

When cold, wash each jar under the tap to remove the jam you’ve sloppily ladled onto the sides, onto the counter, and onto the floor.

 

Step 6

Label the jars. But remember, the smaller the label the better, because you’re only going to have to scrub it off the next time you use the jar.

ALTERNATIVE SUGGESTION. Just do your favourite marmalade recipe and add whiskey to taste before putting into the jars.

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March

 

  

March

Storm.  On a recent morning walk, a passenger jet prepared to land on my head. It didn’t. And it wasn’t. It was only the wild wild wind thrashing the trees– spraying the raindrops into showers of rainbows in the surprising, intermittent sunshine. The fierce roar was intense. Sometimes I was hustled along, by gulping gusts that hurtled me forward too fast for my legs. Other times it was as if I were marking time, hardly inching forward at all as the blasts came straight at me. The miles of thickly edged daffodils on the roadside, an occasional blooming magnolia against a turbulent sky were whipped into the wind’s exuberant dance.

It was in this frenzy that I came across pink-hatted diminutive Maggie whacked against a stone barn. “Isn’t it a blessing that the rain has stopped”, she shouted as she righted herself. “Er, yes,” I shouted back, surprised that there wasn’t the usual weather-grumble that normally followed. I was going to point out that we might have been blown to Kingdom Come, but apparently Herefordshire folk don’t notice a bit of breeze.   Archie her small dog couldn’t have been more fluffed up in a tumble dryer, but he too was unperturbed while investigating a strangely scented stone.

This wild tempest went on for days. Then, suddenly the wind-wailing, the tree-thrashing stopped. Quietly, the sky turned blue, the joyous birdsong was loud and beautiful. Earth, exhausted and dripping, had given birth to Spring.

And into this Spring the blessed welcome of visitors – friends we’ve known for years, with whom we’ve shared and grown through joys, successes, and failures. Isn’t it amazing to know people with whom we can pick up just where we left off before, and go right on laughing! These are the friends who by their very arrival in this new house have anchored our identity from Past to Present, and made it home. For this, and all the others yet to come,  we are everlastingly grateful.

       

 

Gluten Free Dairy-free Crumble

I made up this recipe for one guest with a restricted diet. Gluten- and dairy- eaters were tucking into seconds, so I guess it was a success.

If you use this amount for a tray-bake (13” x 9” 32 x 23 cm ) pan, the fruit below will bubble up, peeking through the lumps, making it cozily attractive. For our dinner we didn’t need that much fruit and used the whole crumble recipe in a smaller baking dish, making the fruit invisible, but lots of crumble per serving.

Measurements aren’t exact, but give plenty of room for playing. Find a cup that holds about 8 ozs (250 ml, a scant half pint) and use it for the cup measurements in this month’s recipe:  In a bowl pour 2 cups gluten free (rolled) oats ¾ cup brown sugar, ½ teaspoons salt, and 1 tablespoon (or more) chopped crystalised (candied) ginger. Mix well. In a small bowl mash 1 ripe banana, and add 6 tablespoons oil (not olive), ½ teaspoon vanilla, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Add some dried fruits to the topping – we used snipped dates, dried cherries, and raisins. When thoroughly combined, add to the oat mixture until blended.

In your baking dish, prepare fruit up to about a thumb joint from the top. We used apples, pears, and a tin (can) of sliced peaches in juice. Berries would be pretty. If the fruit is especially tart, sprinkle on a few spoons of sugar. Mix thoroughly, then sprinkle on the above crumble topping. Pop into a moderate oven and bake about 30 minutes until lightly brown and bubbly.

Dairy eaters add cream or ice cream or thick yogurt.

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Keeping A Journal

Me: [Ending a telephone conversation]: It will be so good to see you.  I thought I’d make fish pie.”

Prospective visitor: “Yes.  You made that the last time we came.”

Me: I did?

PV: Uh-huh. It was good. (vaguely) It was good.

A storage of memories

Keeping a journal will prevent YOU from having such a conversation. I never thought of doing so until good friends presented me with a “Guest Book”, padded and elegant, a ribbon bookmark, and even a diagram page for a seating plan for eighteen guests – a crowd I’d never seat at once, because I learned early in life that any number over 8 becomes a buffet dinner.  That was in 1985, and it’s fascinating to read today, revelling in the length of time we’ve been friends with some of them.  Thank you, Anne and Hugh.

Invitation.

At the point of invitation, I always encourage people to tell me what their food preferences are. From this I have learned a lot about allergies, and even what lurks in perfectly innocent foods – eg yeast in stock cubes.  I don’t care how lengthy the list of banned substances is, as long as I know in advance.   Stravinsky said that the more limited you are the more creative you can become.  Some guests are reluctant to tell me, thinking that they are being a nuisance, but with a little persuasion they will say.  This has worked well in the years we have had guests, except for….

Two notable exceptions.

Guest One watched me make a Salmon en Croute with mushroom stuffing in honour of her (absent) partner’s birthday, only to divulge at serving time that she was allergic to seafood.

Guest two. Direct Quote. “I’m quite omnivorous and easy to please.  I can eat anything.”  Apparently, “anything” did NOT include chicken, coffee, tomatoes, wheat, cow dairy, alcohol, fizzy drinks, gluten, and only a teensy smattering of beef, pork, pasta, bread, and butter.  That took some hippity-hopping of menu change, but we eventually settled on lots of vegetables, beans and fish – also a penchant for eating leftovers for breakfast.  We had a good time together.

Doesn’t Always come out as expected.

If you do keep a journal, write down how the food turned out and how it was received. I recently came across an entry from 1987 when our girls were in their early teens, and Robin (of the brownies – see November 2014 blog) and her daughter Alexandra came to visit.  Looking back, the chosen menu was ambitious, but set together well because nearly all could be prepared ahead of time. These days I wouldn’t have included three items using lemon AND tomatoes on the same menu but hey, I was young then and  had to learn.  We ate: tuna pate and crackers, Chicken Frances, French peas in a rice ring, swede (rutabaga) with lemon, baked tomatoes, and lemon meringue pie.

I will always cherish the notes from it. “A million visitors arrived just as we were serving up! Robin mentioned that the lettuce in the peas was the height of nouvelle cuisine.  Unfortunately, the effect was somewhat marred by the pink tinge on the rice ring, indicating traces of the jelly that had occupied the mould previous to the rice – an observation commented upon loudly by the rest of the family.”

 Bakewell Something

This is a magically quick do-ahead dessert served warm or, if you must, cold, but the almond flavour is rich when warm. The only difficulty is in its name.  Bakewell is a place in Derbyshire, England.  The dessert is called Bakewell Pudding there.  But others call it a tart because of its crusty bottom.  The Dairy Book of British Food reports that the original recipe is still a secret.  This one is definitely not  – see tweaks and additions.

(Reminder: in England, desserts are sometimes referred as “puddings” unless they’re talking about “Yorkshires” of course – see Sept 2016 blog. )

Roll out thawed puff pastry on a floured surface and use it to line a pie pan.

Trim and design the edges of the crust so that it doesn’t slither downwards while it bakes. Some people make a fancy frill.  Some fiercely fork the crust to the pan’s edge.

 

 

Brush the base of the pan with 4 large spoons of red jam.*

 

 

 

Now make a filling.  In a medium sized bowl, beat three eggs.  Add and beat into them 4 oz (100 grams, 1 cup packed) of ground almonds, 4 ozs (100 grams, ½ cup) of caster (fine) sugar, 2 oz (50 grams 2 fat tablespoons) soft butter, and ½ teaspoon almond essence or flavouring.

 

Pour the filling over the jam. Spread evenly. Bake on a lower shelf in the oven at 180 degrees C (350 F) for 30 minutes or until filling is set. If it wobbles in the middle, pop it into the oven for five more minutes.  Serve warm or cold with fresh cream, or if you must, custard.

 

 

*Tweaks and Additions. Jam has a high sugar content for some of our guests,, so we used orange and cranberry curd instead.  And – because it’s February, George Washington’s birthday, I threw in a handful of dried cherries as well.

Leftover pastry? Why not make cheese straws? ( See October 2014 blog.)

 

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Hooray for the Glorious Peanut!

In celebration of Peanut Butter Day, January 24th.

 

Even my mother’s feet showed distress as she pitti-pitti-patted down the stairs, “Poor Georgina! I’ve put her into a terrible mess and don’t know how to get her out!” she threw over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen, and retrieved – of course — her jar of peanuts.  My mother couldn’t survive without peanuts, whether she was writing a children’s story or not.  Read her sad – to- happy account of what happened on the ship taking us back home as exchange prisoners from a Japanese internment camp in China,  while she was on the brink of giving birth.   (The Chinese Ginger Jars, by Myra Scovel.  Available online new or second hand.)

I, like my mother, find solace in peanuts. I’ve always loved them. As a teenager during my school days in India when things got tough, or dreary, or (for me most frequently) the absolutely ghastly definitely end of the world and I will DIE, I would take a  walk through the bazaar hearing the scoop-scoop-scoop of husked peanuts being roasted in sand over a charcoal brazier right there on the streets.  The scent would draw me to them.   A newspaper bag would be filled with their warmth, and I would delight in the rough husk, the sound as they cracked open, revealing large red-skinned beans (they are not nuts) perfectly roasted, and ooo! so delicious! Life was almost worth living again.

 

on gloomy days, a toasted peanut butter sandwich is comforting!

 

Arriving in England as a bride, the “Jungle Fresh” peanuts were naked, damp like the weather, and held none of the exotic-ness of those in the newspaper bags in India. And why call them “Jungle” fresh?  A peanut never saw a jungle in its life, having grown underground in long rows of bushes in the heat of Georgia. Or somewhere else in the world, like China.

 

Which brings me to peanut butter – sometimes greeted with a sneer and curled lip by the non cogniscenti.  (I pity them, I really do.)  Or such a sublime love that, not trusting the natives, they would never travel from home without a jar of their favourite spread.

Iron boost — add raisins to your peanut butter cracker

But when it comes to peanut butter no one can extol its virtues like my brother Tom. He inherited so much of Mom’s peanut-loving DNA that he has to hold back on double helpings. Despite the wide varieties available in his home in California (fluffernutter – mixed with marshmallow, striped with grape jelly, mixed with honey and cream, mixed with berries etc.) he sticks to the Traditional. Here is an excerpt from one of his letters:

 

“Mankind’s two greatest creations in my humble estimation are (1) the bed and (2) peanut butter. Indeed, George Washington Carver, the agronomist who invented so many uses for the peanut should be honoured among the pantheons of great scientists.  Move over Einstein, you never gave us a single thing we could eat!  I buy the nutty type with no sugar, so you have to mix in the oil which has floated to the top of the jar with the paste of ground peanuts below.  Having just had peanut butter on my toast for breakfast, in a fastidious attempt to break my addiction, I’ll not have it on my bagel for lunch.  (I try to control my craving to one helping a day.)

“And yes, Judy, peanut oil was used to run vehicles in China since it was more available than gasoline in many areas. Naturally it produced little power but thick black smoke and a bad smell, which I remember because I couldn’t believe that something that tasted so good could stink so horribly!  Peanut oil was replaced in most areas by charcoal burners that looked like large water heaters strapped on to the back of buses and trucks whose incomplete combustion of gases was fed into the engine to make the vehicle chug along.  Ah, the experiences American kids have missed growing up nowadays!”

 

Happy Peanut Butter Day!

 

West African Groundnut Stew

“Do you ever eat peanut butter with meat?” I asked my Ghanaian dentist before he plunged equipment into my mouth. His usually-mute assistant grunted involuntarily.  “Yes,” he replied, “I make soup with peanut butter and smoked turkey and my daughters love it.  The girls are always asking me to make it for them.”

Here’s a similar taste to that soup, adapted from my crumbling Food Aid Cookbook (1986) edited by Delia Smith. It’s a dawdle to fling together into a slow cooker before you dash out to enjoy your day.  Also works well on a stove top or in a very slow oven.

 

Make this in a heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid. I used a slow cooker,  The meat needs to cook in its own juices.  Saute  2 chopped onions until tender.  Place in the casserole/slow cooker.  De-seed 3 mild chillis and chop finely.  Mix with 6 tablespoons smooth peanut butter  1 inch (2.5 cm) grated fresh ginger or 1 heaped teaspoon dried ginger, a pinch of mixed herbs, 1 lb sliced carrots, and a 14 oz tin (can) of chopped tomatoes.  Mix well.  Place 1 lb (450 gms) cubed beef in the pot.  Add the tomato-carrot-peanut butter mixture.  Once again, mix well.  Cover, and cook very slowly for 1 ½ hours (4 – 6 hours in lowest setting of a slow cooker).  If you don’t peek and release steam, there will be enough moisture to keep everything well juicy and the flavours will “hold hands”.

Serve with rice steamed with a drained can of black-eyed peas. (I think we used coconut rice in these photos.)

 

 

 

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