Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Poor Crab Concentration

Don't mess with The Crab Brothers
Is there anything more tricky than getting the meat out of a cooked crab? In terms of food prep I mean. Peeling grapes, artichokes or broad beans maybe? I've spoken about broad beans before, the little emerald bastids. What about skimming chicken stock though? All that negotiating amongst onions and carrots along the surface of a barely bubbling pot, with slotted spoon to lift the scum, can be a royal pain. Or de-veining prawns? Now that is a right kick in the pants. Once, after suffering the woes of a shaky paring knife, I quickly came to the conclusion that friends coming for dinner could bloody well enjoy their Goan tiger prawn curry with intestinal tracts intact.

Crab though is quite possibly the zenith of fiddly-fartnackery in the kitchen. Early on Saturday morning I visited Billingsgate fish market with a bloke in the know *taps nose* and returned with a whole host of deceased marine life, bundled into black rubbish sacks. Including three rather stern looking boiled crabs. Crabs always look cross to me. Except when you pop their claws and legs off. Then they look like over-baked empanadas with beady eyes.

So, after returning home and having a nice cup of tea, I set to the task of cracking them apart and hammering to pieces with the back of a cleaver to extract their sweet juicy white flesh and dubious looking but still tasty brown gunk. Crab sandwiches for lunch were on the agenda and I am glad that I started at 10AM because by the time the young food urchins of the household came wandering in, rubbing their tummies at noon; well, I had just about finished.

Two hours is a long time to commit to any activity, yet when it comes to crab, I do become a bit of a stickler. Every little morsel should be accounted for. Eyeballs focus sharply down the empty channel of a hairy leg. Skewers probe nooks and crannies, picking gently, forensically. Slivers and flakes of meat drop into a metal bowl. A heaped, briny, pilaf mountain begins to form. And the tongue, as always when I am concentrating really hard, lolls out from the side of my mouth, like a wet pink sock.

This last inclination is quite interesting actually. Ever since I was a little boy, I have always used my tongue to get me through difficult tasks. Writing, drawing, doing my shoelaces up, right up to this day. According to one noodling friend, it's quite natural. Your tongue is in fact a conduit for brain-power. Stick it out like an aerial and marvel as it absorbs the throbbing alpha waves emitting from your skull.

The one thing that gets me though is this. When I finish prepping crab and dress it with mayo, a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper and slather some of the fine, grainy pate on some heavily buttered brown bread and finally take a bite, why do I always find a piece of shell?

There must be something wrong with my tongue.

Crab intact/Crab destroyed
Crab pilaf and young boy with crab remnants
Crab sandwich

Thursday, 24 October 2013

World Tripe Day: An interview with Sir Norman Wrassle

Today is World Tripe Day and I must admit, I have only just recently cottoned on to this marvelous campaign that seeks to promote the inherent beauty of tripe. Tripe is a quality ingredient and is understated in this country and does not get the recognition it deserves and it should. Personally, I will never forget the day Mum brought back some fresh tripe from the market for our Labrador 'Lucky'. The smell was unforgivable and unforgettable in equal measure and my faithful hound always used to wolf it down with great aplomb.

He died too young that dog and I still miss him but if it wasn't for my dear companion,  I don't think I would ever have tried tripe. And that would have been a crime because there is nothing better than the soft, velvet texture of a feathery, honeycombed stomach that has been left boiling in a stock pot for 56 hours.

Anyway, this whole colonic drive has been orchestrated by none other than the Tripe Marketing Board and in an effort to help spread the word, I decided to get in touch with Sir Norman Wrassel, the inspirational and enigmatic chairman of the TMB (Tripe Marketing Board for short) for an exclusive interview.

Contacting Sir Norman was tricky at first. I kept getting through to a taxi firm in Burnley. But eventually I got through to the man himself and had a brief chat as he went for a double birdie on the golf course at Lytham.

The transcript of the interview is as follows. Although it might not be entirely accurate as there was quite a gale blowing at the time and we couldn't hear each other very well.
Sir Norman Wrassle
Hello Sir Norman, thank you for taking the time out to talk to me, you must be very busy at the moment.

It's fine, it's fine but it's raining pitchforks and hammer handles out here and I've left my galoshes in the Bentley so if you don't mind getting a move on.

OK, great, so where were you born and did you have a pleasant upbringing?

I was born in Wigan in 1940. It was a mixed marriage. My father was a carnivore and my mother was a vegetarian. They both worked in the local tripe factory. My father went on to become a meatball salesman. As a result, I have always been torn between tripe and meatballs. But one thing is certain. I’ll never become a vegetarian. I’ve always been loyal to meat.

It was a traditional working class childhood. Times were hard but no one complained. Apart from my parents.

I remember on one occasion during the War, some German planes on a bombing raid flew over our street. They must have thought it had already been bombed because they turned back

Tell me, what sparked your very first interest in tripe?

Tripe is in my blood. Generations of Wrassles have worked in the tripe industry. In fact, there’s very little blood in my veins. It’s mainly liquid tripe. I’m speaking figuratively, of course. But tripe was a very important part of my diet. You must remember that I grew up during the War when many foods were rationed. But there were plentiful supplies of tripe. In fact I ate little else apart from tripe and meatballs. Not together, of course. Tripe was for weekdays and meatballs were a special treat for Sundays and Bank Holidays.

My mother used to leave me outside the tripe factory in a pram whilst she went to work. When we went home she would have raw tripe hidden in her clothes. Bits of tripe which had been discarded or had been left over. We were always followed by packs of dogs. When she got home she’d start to clean and prepare it. It’s called tripe dressing. One week later it would be ready to eat. I think it was the preparation which turned her into a vegetarian.

And where were you educated and can you give me a brief overview of your career in trade and commerce? I mean, have you always worked in tripe?

I didn’t have much of an education. I bunked off school as much as I could and by the age of six I was grafting on Wigan market at weekends selling pickled cucumbers. I left school at 14 and went full time. I spotted a gap in the market so I opened a second stall. At the age of 18 I was seriously injured when I fell off the back of a lorry. That’s how I got into surgical appliances which is how I made my first fortune.

So what was the driving force behind setting up the Tripe Marketing Board? And how is the campaign going? Can you give me any real figures for rising or dipping sales in tripe?

I didn’t set up the Tripe Marketing Board. It was set up by the government back in the 1970s in order to promote sales of tripe. I have been its chairman since 1997. We’re good at promoting tripe but you can’t force it down people’s throats. That’s no longer part of our strategy. But despite our best efforts, sales of tripe continue to decline. According to our latest research, sales of tripe are at their lowest ever levels at around 0.0002g per person per year. But we look on this as a positive. Because if lots of tripe was being sold there’d be no need for the Tripe Marketing Board and I’d be out of a job!

And we can't be having that now can we Sir Norman! I see that you have many celebrities on board including Jessica Ennis (a gold-medal winning athlete and star of a TV advert for Santander), Norman Whiteside (former Manchester United and Northern Ireland footballer) and Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson (Paralympic gold medallist who incidentally follows you on Twitter), all self confessed lovers of tripe. Do you have any other famous fans waiting in the wings?

David Lloyd has outed himself as being partial to a bit of elder. We know of lots more celebrities who are partial to tripe but they’re afraid to admit it in public because they think it will damage their reputation. That’s because tripe has an old fashioned image and that’s why we’re trying to give it a makeover and make it sexy. I know that at least two of the stars of The Only Way Is Essex are partial to tripe and we understand from our colleagues at US Tripe that Miley Cyrus is a big fan of tripe, too. But that’s strictly off the record.
Former tripe dressers
I reckon you should get Great British Bake Off winner Frances Quinn involved, as there are persistent rumours on Twitter that she continually used desiccated tripe as one of her secret ingredients to win Mary Berry over.

I’m afraid I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. Sorry.

OK, well ......are there any plans to publish a cookery book proper? I know there are some recipes on your website. Lancashire Calamari is a certainly smash hit in our house on a Tuesday night. Actually, whenever I ask "What night is it tonight kids?" they always cheer back "TRIPE NIGHT!"...........um, what's your favourite tripe recipe by the way?

We did have plans but I’m afraid my autobiography got in the way. It’s provisionally called A Life Of Tripe and I’ve nearly finished writing it. It spills the beans on what life is really like in the tripe industry. It covers everything from my childhood in the back streets of Wigan to my meteoric rise to successful businessman and chairman of the TMB. It definitely pulls no punches and will be well worth reading. My favourite recipe is definitely old fashioned stewed tripe and onions.
Dog tripe
Here's an idea, have you thought about pitching the BBC about formulating a new(ish) cookery show format called the Great British Tripe Off?

Did you say Jewish cookery show? No. We have no plans to do that. Tripe is for everybody.

It definitely is. Whatever happened to Tripe Hut, your chain of fast food restaurants?

Tripe Hut was a franchise which operated back in the early 70s for about two weeks. It was privately owned and had nothing to do with the Tripe Marketing Board. The history of Tripe Hut is told in a chapter called ‘Tripe - Food Of The Gods’ in a very good book entitled Forgotten Lancashire And Parts Of Cheshire And The Wirral by Dr Derek J Ripley which I can recommend highly.

More importantly, whatever happened to Timothy Tripe, the mascot of the Tripe Hut chain of fast food restaurants who was attacked by a Jack Russell whilst promoting tripe in Wigan in 1979?

Are you referring to the mascot or the person who wore the mascot costume? The man who wore the costume was traumatised by the attack and became a vegan. I believe the costume was recycled and became Marvin the Moose, the mascot of Cambridge United FC.

The Tripe Girls
You have a 10 step programme for people who suffer from reticulumophobia* which advises people to look at pictures of tripe. And then advises them to try and touch pictures of tripe. And then advises them to buy tripe in cling flim (but not touching). And then advises people to have a stiff drink before touching the tripe in cling film. To finally opening the cling film and physically touching the tripe. Do you have a good success rate through this method and what is the worst case of reticulumophobia* you've encountered?

I’m afraid I can’t claim credit for the programme. It’s the brainchild of Dr. BF Skynyrd of the Department of Psychology, Philosophy and Home Economics at the University of Wigan. You’ll have to contact him. A summary of his research is published in The Tripe Marketing Board 2014 Diary as How To Overcome Your Fear of Tripe In 10 Easy Steps.

And finally, where do we go from here with tripe?

Tripe is what you make it. I’m sure you will understand that I am extremely busy preparing for the inaugural celebration of World Tripe Day tomorrow and will have to leave it there as I have an appointment for a manicure and full body massage in Blackpool in 20 minutes.

Thank you Sir Norman, it was a pleasure talking to you.
Love life. Love tripe
And there you have it. A somewhat illuminating and rigorous interview, I am sure you will agree. Right up there with Frost and Nixon, getting to the heart of the matter and hopefully debunking some myths about tripe.

However, if you would like some more information regarding this glorious, effervescent offal, I would urge you to go out and buy the Tripe Marketing Board's Diary for 2014. Which not only contains a whole range of tips, recipes and some very interesting facts about the tripe industry but by doing so, you will be helping the Snowdon Trust who will benefit enormously in the run up to Christmas. It may well help finance further activity by the TMB (Tripe Marketing Board) as well.

So it's down to you folks, the future of tripe is in your hands.

*I patented this phobia by the way, a fear of tripe in 1995 and I am still waiting to hear back from the Oxford English Dictionary for its insertion into the nation's lexicon.

Disgruntled after being mis-sold pluck disguised as tripe by The Ginger Pig. A predatory and illegal activity that the TMB (Tripe Marketing Board) is keen to stamp out

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Open Food Surgery (Or Ask Dr FU)

I had a bit of a whinge on Twitter the other day, bemoaning the fact that I felt down in the doldrums about this little blog of mine. Now before you all pull out your smallest of violins, let me just say that this is not a new thing. I have had plenty of lulls and pauses in the past and I regularly spend days gormless at the laptop, staring at a blank Word document (Word? Shock! Horror!) whilst my writing mojo goes waltzing off on another sabbatical. It normally comes back bruised, penniless and reeking of alcohol with no idea where of it has been. Actually, I only just got the call this morning that I need to go and collect it from the local police station.

So I hope to climb back on the horse soon with lots of food related stories to share. Tales involving tons of Comté cheese, delicious and handsome offal pies and the woe of tearing a hamstring whilst out running in the woods, pretending to hunt badgers and weasels for a short film.

In the meantime, by way of a reboot or the kick starting of new project to get things moving again, I would like to introduce the Open Food Surgery, an idea that has been ruminating in the back of my mind for some time now. To explain simply, all I need from people are their most pressing questions about food or drink. The sort of things that puzzle and keep you awake at night.

For instance, what should you do with that smidgen of butter that is left over on the knife after spreading on toast? You know, that smidgen peppered with tiny black crumbs. (Stick it in your mouth when no-one is looking) Can you resurrect a Hungarian pork goulash after inadvertently sprinkling a tablespoon of cayenne pepper in the pot, when you should have used smoked paprika? (Yes, just about but your children will still cry after eating it) Or is it really worth trying to make marrow rum if you have a glut of marrows from down the allotment?

I answered that last question about six weeks ago and filmed it, which sort of inspired me get this new idea off the ground. And yes, all answers will relayed back on this blog via the magic of YouTube. As one eminent blogger has already said "Oh, are you showboating about the place on screen again" and there is an element of truth in that but I just want to give this project a go for a laugh really.

Of course the rest is down to you. I need the questions, however daft or obscure to get this off the ground.

So please, do fire away.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Too Early For A Christmas Sandwich?

Turn away now if the mere mention of Christmas in October sends a excruciating frisson of rage pulsating through your veins but yesterday I accidentally hit upon a sanger of such festive jingle bell ball jingling delight and I just simply had to share it with you! (He says, adopting the saccharine tone of some vacant fashion blog)

I have been doing a lot of recipe testing lately.....no, not for a book, for someone else and as such, I have had to deal with lots of leftovers. When I opened the fridge yesterday for lunch, a bowl of sausage meat stuffing containing apricots and other matter was staring me straight in the face; wiggling a suggestive finger, saying why don't you finish me off big boy. So I whipped the contents into a frying pan and shaped it into a patty and whilst it bubbled and sizzled away I started thinking about what else could I cook with it.

As there was also some braised red cabbage left, full of woe and sorrow and some streaky bacon just starting to go on the wane, I started to concoct a plan. Which involved buttering some brown bread and making a majestic sandwich. If you were in any doubt that sandwiches were majestic then you should check out this book.

Anyway, the kitchen suddenly became a hive of activity with smells and sounds that drove the ol' saliva glands into overdrive. The sausage patty, Fort-uitously moist yet crisp was set down first, followed by the spiced cabbage, scalding hot following a two minute ping and then came the bacon, gloriously resurrected and stiff as cardboard. I did begin to falter after that point though and began to dig around for something that would finish the sandwich off, to make it complete. Mustard? Mayo? Salad Cream? Non! None of these would do. Then I spotted a jar of apple sauce, languishing next to last year's runner bean pickle. That would do the job. And it did.

Some people don't like to align themselves with the aggregate church of salt, sweet and savory and this sanger certain ticks those boxes so it might not be for everybody. You might even be staring at the picture right now, thinking "What the fudge?"

I don't care. I know I definitely plan to make this on Boxing Day.

I might even stick some turkey in next time around too.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Farewell to Allotmenteering

We made the sad decision to call time on the allotment this weekend and it wasn't one that was taken lightly. In part, I wish the call had come down to a calamitous event or some unseemly argument. It would have been far better to report that a plague of blackrot had taken my beloved spuds for the third season running and that was the final frigging straw. Or better still, to weave a tale of hoe-waving and fisticuffs over encroaching boundaries and raspberry thievery would have been at least an entertaining end to proceedings. But alas the only enemy in this story is time.

Murmurs of dissent began echoing around my head last year, as well as rueful glances from my dear ol' Dad who shares the growing and digging duties with me. Back in October, we agreed that if we could made a good stab at things for the coming season then the plot would be worth keeping but if not, then it would be our last. And at the start of April, we set off at great guns, along with help from my brother-in-law. In the spring sunshine, we toiled and turned the soil with great aplomb, tidying up the paths and edges and trimming back our fruit bushes. Shirts were slung aside as the sweat poured off our backs and if you were to picture the scene, there's no doubt that for just a second or two, you might think you had landed slap bang in a Coke advert. Before grimacing at the reality of three grimy, beer-bellied men puffing and panting with forks and shovels.

We gamely invested in chicken wire and even though we were told on numerous occasions that the gauge was far too big to protect our vegetables, we still to build cages to protect our brassicas and beans. I tell you, the times I could have gladly told my fellow, older plot holders to stick their advice up their jackies regarding that chicken wire. Even though they were probably right. Anyway, as usual, seeds and seedlings went into the ground, canes were assembled and erected hastily, the rhubarb got a decent dumping of manure and there was a hint of a plan that we might, just might get a shed for the plot. Finally a place to securely store tools, to keep beer cool and to perhaps surreptitiously take a leak in a bucket. Pissing in the nettles at the back was always fraught with danger.

All we could hope for after most of the work was done was that the summer was good, not like the continual down-pouring of 2012 which curiously started when the water companies announced hosepipe bans. And that we could keep up the momentum of frequent visits to water the plants and deal with pugnacious weeds. Conversely, it was the combination of weather, decisions by Essex and Suffolk Water and the prevelent, creeping horror of bindweed wot eventually done us in M'lud.

One of the biggest challenges this season was going to be using the new cistern system that was installed at the allotment, which replaced old standpipes and thus banished the use of hoses. Water is a precious commodity and didn't we soon know it. Spending an hour alone traipsing to and fro to a tank to fill up watering cans is a worthy exercise in both senses but it soon lost its lustre. The distance wasn't far but it was enough and on the way back to our plot, as precious drops spilled to the ground, I would scream out in frustration and then look up at the baking hot sun and scream some more. Largely because I am a ginger and those rays aren't good for the skin. So keeping our precious darlings watered soon became more than a chore.

Then there were the weeds. Now some principled folk who have grand ideas about the marvels of permaculture may be gently tutting at this point, arguing that there is an easier way. That if we could just only grasp some ideas and approach our plot from a different viewpoint, let nature do her thing and try to foster an ecological equilibrium, a few weeds needn't become a problem. In fact, they should be encouraged. Well you try telling that to a committee that staples urgent notes on the main that ALL plots owners are responsible for keeping everything tidy, for fear of not winning 'Best Plot in the Borough' for the third year running. And I am sure that bindweed has no place on this Earth anyway, choking the hell out of everything else on it's path to ultimate domination. It should be destroyed yet it truly is a fierce-some foe and the battle we've had with the bastard stuff has been unrelenting and constant.

The thrill started to wane around mid-August. Juggling work commitments with child-care during the holidays was tough going and whilst it's healthy and fun to have children run around the allotment when they are happy to help out for the first 10 minutes. However, their attention spans soon lead to running riot. Long weekdays would end in exhaustion and weekends became filled up as fast as we could pin stuff on the board. Conversations on the phone with my Dad started to end with - "Have you been down the plot lately?" - and I would simply mumble incoherently before saying goodbye. There just seemed to be no time left to do anything, let alone walk 10 minutes down the road to do a bit. Any bit. And so I like I said, we agreed that it was best to give it up. We've harvested everything that was still alive and I've popped the key to Norfolk Road allotments in the post.

Reading back on this rather introspective blog post, I am wary of the sense of melancholy that it exudes. Looking back at the words, it feels like I am making excuses when actually I just feel quite sad about it all really. It almost feels like we've failed in some way. But, as always, there is a light at the end of the tunnel as I haven't lost the growing bug just yet. Plans are afoot to turn more of the garden over to vegetables and fruit, as we have always grown stuff on the patio. If I can't make time to nip out the back door to indulge in some green fingering every now and then all really will be lost. I have already started collecting huge tubs and troughs to fill with dirt. I even found some railway sleepers, dumped in the field outback which will be great for making raised beds. I nearly gave myself a hernia lifting them though. So the future is bright and orange and green and red and quite possibly purple. Maybe speckled too, as I have always fancied growing borlotti beans.

I might not be able to call myself an allotmenteer anymore but I am sure I will come up with suitable replacement in due course.

Homesteader? That's the term isn't it?

PS The red cabbage photos aren't incidental by the way. We dined on the last of the allotment veg last night. With sausages. Which isn't a bad send off.