Catholic Tastes Alice Thomas Ellis
SOMEONE WAS speaking on the radio about the discovery of the continuing existence of the coelacanth: it seems a lady was in a fish market when she saw one being carried by on somebody's shoulder and instantly recognised it. This is amazing and deserves the fullest credit for keen observations. 1 have passed people in Marks and Spencer who I last saw at Christmas and failed to recognise them and the coelacanth hadn't been seen around for millions of years. A prehistoric fish — the gwyniad — arrived in the lake just over the mountains from us but it looks to me like any other old fish and I would certainly not be able to distinguish it from its fellows in a fish market. I've never cooked one and am told it's rather unrewarding, having more than the usual complement of bones. Anyway it wouldn't feel quite right to cook a prehistoric fish. One would not, after alt, hasten to Loch Ness, if the monster emerged, in order to acquire a slice for dinner. But I'm all for cooking pike: they prey on fluffy ducklings and being cooked serves them right. They too are unusually bony, and. should you have one to hoard and be wondering what to do with it, your best course is to poach it, pick off the flesh, pummel it to a pulp with batter and mace and pot it. More people should eat pike.
The rain stopped a few days ago to be replaced by mist, but the sun made a brief appearance at the weekend and a hollyhock produced two blossoms. There are three hollyhocks outside the front door that have remained obstinately in bud all summer tightly clenched fat green buds that carried on stubbornly even as they were borne higher up the lengthening stem. It was maddening. I didn't talk to them much or play them music, just muttered at them on a note of reproof: "I must say I'm disappointed in you," sort of thing. I even considered giving them a blast with a hair dryer. When one finally consented to flower the result was not, as might have been expected, a shy and maidenly blush pink, but a bold and puky purple.
Two of the apple trees pulled themselves together. made a last minute effort and produced a really respectable crop in time for the Jewish New Year. I have a friend who gives me Christmas and Easter presents and I give her things for Channakah and make her something with apples and honey which is traditional for Rosh Hashanah. It makes more sense to bake eating apples rather than big, sour green ones. Take off the peel except for a narrow band round the middle, pour honey in the hole where the core was and bake them till they're soft and exuding a little juicy foam. Eliza Acton in 1855 offered a recipe for baked apple pudding that she says is "appropriate to the Jewish table". You need 6ozs of breadcrumbs, 32 ozs of pounded sugar and a pinch of salt mixed all together. Take a pound of russet or other good baking apples "pare them and then take them off the cores in quarters without cutting the fruit asunder as they will then, from the form given them, lie more compactly in the dish". What? Anyway, you put them in a deep tart dish with 4 ozs of sugar and the juice and grated rind of a lemon. "Cover with the breadcrumbs and bake in a somewhat quick oven for rather more than three quarters of an hour. An ounce or more of ratifias crushed to powder may be added to the crust or stewed over the pudding before it is served when they are considered an improvement! Serve with almond cream." I must try it.