Veggie Entente Cordiale

Friday 23 November 2018 12:36

My friend Markus came with goodies in a bucket from his garden; in amongst them were the first apples: four Melrose (an unlikely choice to find in France as it is an American apple, a cross between the Jonathan and Red Delicious, and the official apple of the state of Ohio) which come from his young orchard of mixed fruit trees. It is a fabulous eater and can be huge - the size of a medium sized melon; great for stuffing as there is still a lot of apple left even when you have cut out the centre and filled it full of dried fruit and dark brown muscovado sugar. Actually one Melrose easily provides a pudding for two and even a second helping for the greedy one (you know who you are!). 

The orchard is just into its fourth year. The trees have lived through the prolonged winter temperatures of two years ago, when the temperature fell to minus 18 degrees and stayed there for nearly two weeks. They survived last summer’s ice storm which shredded every leaf and destroyed every growing fruit, beating them until they lay thick on the ground beneath the trees. And now they have come through weeks of relentless sun without a drop of rain. Yet here, in spite of these setbacks, is the harvest; we have had peaches and plums and now come the apples and pears.  

In his bucket is a tiny close-furled cabbage, two aubergines, two peppers and some beetroot. The last grown from seeds we had brought him from the UK. These are British beetroots and it was with some interest we watched their progress from when they were first planted in this foreign Burgundy soil. Unlike the runner bean experiment now in its second year and about to be called to a halt, the beets love it here. They flourish in this well-drained alluvial river soil, grow fast and big, and are full of flavour.

Sadly the same cannot be said for the runner beans. Every other type of bean grows quite happily - but not the runner. Perhaps the soil is just too well drained or the climate too hot; whatever the cause, they hate it here and just want to get home to the cool of an English allotment. Tam tells Markus how his dad used to fill the trench he had dug with loads of newspaper before planting the beans. It held the damp and that’s what they need - plenty of water. Markus’s trench too was filled with paper but it made no difference. The plants grew fast and looked lovely with plenty of flowers, the beans even formed but there it stopped - in the summer heat and drought they became deformed and stunted and those few that did grow were tough and stringy.

There have been other successes - the purple sprouting broccoli being a case in point. That grows so well it even has two plantings per season; traditionalist that I am though I can’t bring myself to be hugely interested until one’s breath steams in the morning air and starlings come to roost in the wild bamboo near the river. 

Neighbours pause when passing his veggie patch. They peer suspiciously at these foreign upstarts but cannot be persuaded to try them. Their deeply imbedded ‘Frenchness’ will only contemplate food that is known, local grown, and which, each year, at the correct time, they expect to eat. This tenacity is admirable, even enviable, but also annoying. I feel like Eve offering the tainted apple to Adam - ‘Come on, try it - it’s only broccoli’ - but they won’t.

I have had a sort of reverse success in getting Markus to try purslane. Known here as ‘une mauvaise herbe’ (which means ‘nasty weed’ for those learning French); it grows everywhere as soon as the weather warms. Gardeners hate it; it covers the ground in moments, releases thousands of seeds and can survive anything and lives for ever. But it is edible! I have to slap M’s hand when he comes round as he absentmindedly, a long time habit, pulls the purslane out from among my flowers. ‘Leave it alone’, I say, ‘we are having that for lunch.’ 

I bring him seeds of a more domesticated variety from England and eventually persuade him to plant them. He agrees but refuses to put the seeds in the ground, instead, though still obviously reluctant, he plants them in a wooden half-barrel. The purslane grows and thrives, its leaves fleshy yet crisp, luscious and lemony acidic. I make a salad of fattoush where purslane is a traditional ingredient. He loves it. He takes a big bunch with him when he goes to visit his mother in Switzerland. Clearly she is a ‘proper’ cook because she knows and loves it. She is so pleased, telling him how hard it is to find  anywhere nowadays and so expensive too! 

I tell him you should always try to eat your enemies, be they signal crayfish, coypu, ground elder, nettles or purslane - all are delicious when cooked.

I don’t think he quite believes me but at least, between us, we are breaking down veggie barriers and striking great blows for an entente cordiale of the allotment and both agree that the beetroot and purslane salad was very tasty.   

Baked Apple Melrose with a Dried Fruit Stuffing

Try and find the Melrose apple because it is quite special - otherwise you’ll have to settle for apples like the Russet or Cox which are better cored and baked individually. I love Hazar Baba products, particularly their apple tea. I use it to make a great ice cream and a lovely intensely flavoured apple sorbet. (Note to self: remember to put the recipes on this blog sometime). 

for two:

1 large Melrose apple cut into two horizontally   

a mix of chopped semi-dried fruit - sultanas, apricots and figs work well

a handful of lightly toasted pine nuts

2-3 tablespoons dark muscovado sugar

1/4 teaspoon quatre-épices or Chinese 5-spice powder 

50g butter

150ml Hazer Baba apple tea - you will need 2 heaped teaspoons

a handful of toasted almond slivers

a sprinkling of orange flower water if liked

Preheat oven 200c/gas reg.6

Mix up the apple tea, leave to cool.

After cutting the apple into two, dig out the centre cores of both halves and make a space big enough to take a couple of tablespoons or more of the fruit stuffing.  

Chop the semi-dried fruit into equal sized chunks and in a bowl mix with the pine nuts, sugar, spices.

Place the apple in a shallow-sided ovenproof dish.

Dollop the dried fruit mix into the centre of each halved apple.

Pour the cooled apple tea over and around the fruit.

Top each apple half with 25g of butter

Cover the dish with tinfoil and bake in oven for about 30 minutes until the apple is just beginning to soften. Remove tinfoil, baste the apple with the juices and cook uncovered for about another 10 minutes. Check it is cooked by inserting a sharp knife - you should feel little or no resistance.

Remove from oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes or so. 

Serve in dessert dishes with any juice, a sprinkling of orange flower water over each half and a scattering of the toasted almond slivers.

Complete the dessert with a good spoonful of crème fraîche or Greek yogurt beside the apple.

Smoked Mackerel in a Beetroot Salad with a Horseradish Dressing

A quick and easy lunch. While fresh cooked beetroot is always to be preferred, a vacuum pack of plain beetroot (no vinegar) can be stored for ages and tastes fine in this salad.

for four:

5 or 6 medium-sized cooked beetroots peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces

1 crisp apple (Granny Smith) peeled and chopped into same size pieces as the beetroot

centre stalks and leaves of a celery chopped to same size as beetroot and apple

small red onion finely chopped

2 tablespoons parsley finely chopped

salt and pepper

4 sides of smoked mackerel, skin removed and each side split into two pieces

Di’s Dressing

I fat clove of garlic, crushed with

good pinch of Maldon salt

1 dessertspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon of light runny honey - Acacia is good

2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar or equivalent of freshly squeezed lemon

fruity olive oil

plus 2 - 3 teaspoons horseradish cream - any good make

Crush the garlic with the salt using a pestle and mortar, mix in the mustard and honey and add the vinegar. Stir well using the pestle, taste and add enough olive oil until the taste is balanced and the mixture has emulsified. There may be more than you need for one salad so store the rest in a jar - it keeps well.

Prepare the salad ingredients (except the mackerel) and mix together in a salad bowl.  

Put some of the prepared dressing into a small bowl. Add the horseradish cream a tablespoon at a time and taste before adding more. When it is to your liking pour it onto the salad, turning everything over several times and mix well. Finish with a grinding of black pepper.

Finally add the mackerel, either leaving it to one side of the plate or gently flaking it into the salad.  

This tastes really good served with a couple of slices of dark rye bread alongside.

Purslane, Avocado and Mozzarella Salad

A fabulously tasty salad, particularly when all the ingredients are spanking fresh. Have it for lunch or as a starter or even as speedily made accompaniment to a piece of barbecued meat. 

for four:

a couple of good handfuls of purslane leaves

a dozen or more tiny vine grown tomatoes cut in half

Ideally one of those big bright green, smooth skinned avocados which are crisp tasting and juicy, peeled, stoned and cut into chunks

Mozzarella - about 110g per person - a little more if serving the salad alone for lunch

seasoning of Maldon sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Di’s Dressing (see beetroot salad above)

In a salad bowl gently mix the tomato, avocado, and purslane together. Add the salad dressing and mix again. Tear the mozzarella into chunks and turn gently into the salad.

Serve immediately. 

If you would like to know more about the story of purslane why not order: PPC 110 from Prospect Books and read all about it (in English) in my essay ‘Une Mauvaise Herbe’ 




  Pub. Prospect Books, Aug. 2017


  ISBN -13 978-1-909248-51-9  

  240pp, paperback with flaps

  Size: 216 x 138mm

  Price: £12.50 Black & white

Where to find some of my writings:

Petits Propos Culinaire (PPC) is a journal of food studies and food history published by Prospect Books three times a year since 1980. Now edited by Tom Jaine it is a mix of academic study, food history written with a light touch, and slightly quirky essays written by people like me. Amongst its contributors over the years are some of the best food and cookery writers of our time. Such a special publication continues to deserve our support.

PPC 96 August 2012:

      Food on the Move

PPC 99 November 2013:

      Hospital Food - à la française

PPC 101 October 2014:

      The Limejuice Run

PPC 104 December 2015:

      Cabbage Rules

PPC 110 February 2018:

      Une Mauvaise Herbe; Purslane