May 09, 2006

Dear friends, I meant what I said about not shamelessly poaching from the archives anymore, but the writing is not going well tonight, even by my own gritchy, slow-brained standards.  In the end I decided that I had a choice:  I  could post a subpar piece of navelgazing cobbled to a few recipes and a sheepish comment that today is my brother's birthday, and even though I will be late with both his birthday card and his birthday present, I have been thinking about him all day long.   (Have I mentioned that my brother is a superb fellow, and I think the world of him?)  Or I could revisit a little valentine, originally posted on April 15, 2004, to one of my favorite novels, which I am rereading right now, and which is leaving me quietly and happily teary-eyed.

Regular text will resume shortly -- after all, dear friends, I have promised a cheese pie recipe.

I call it a Fisher King moment. Not long ago in this very space, I mused at how it could be possible for me, a die-hard Terry Gilliam fan, one who has seen Brazil about 15 times, one who has lost count of how many times she has seen Jabberwocky, who still brags about the time she and Lloyd went to see 12 Monkeys at the Ziegfeld, not knowing that what turned out to be the Blizzard of 1996 was raging on the other side of the exit door, to have waited 13 years to see The Fisher King. I didn't do it on purpose; it wasn't as though I were trying to avoid the movie. Everyone I knew who had seen it not only loved it, but they all made the same comment: "Every time I see that scene in Grand Central, I think of you." And yet, somehow, I missed its theatrical run, I kept missing it on HBO, I never rented it once we got our VCR. Then Lloyd picked it up on DVD, I watched it, I adored it, and I thought, where was I during all this time? How did I let this get away from me?

I had another Fisher King moment on Tuesday. A few weeks ago, on an egg-research-book-buying trip to Kitchen Arts and Letters, I picked up Bobby Freeman's wonderful book about Welsh cookery, First Catch Your Peacock (Y Lolfa Press, 1996). This book is worth a post all its own, as it is such delightful, charming reading and the research and recipes are solid, but tonight I just have to share the following passage, which she said was the only written record of a dish for which she'd only been able to find verbal confirmation. It is a quote from Richard Llewellyn's 1939 novel, How Green Was My Valley:

Out to the back to mix the potch, then. All the vegetables were boiled slowly in their jackets, never allowed to bubble in boiling, for then the goodness is from them, and they are full of water, and a squash, tasteless to the mouth, without good smell, an offence to the eye, and an insult to the belly. Firm in the hand, skin them clean, and put them in a dish and mash with a heavy fork, with melted butter and the bruisings of mint, potatoes, swedes, carrots, parsnips, turnips and their tops, then chop small purple onions very fine, with a little head of parsley, and pick the leaves of small watercress from the stems, and mix together. The potch will be a creamy colour with something of pink, having a smell to tempt you to eat there and then, but wait until it has been in the hot oven for five minutes with a cover, so that the vegetables can mix in warm comfort together and become friendly, and the mint can go about his work, and for the cress to show his cunning, and for the goodness all about to soften the raw, ungentle nature of the onion.

Dear friends, it makes my heart trill to read this, and my fingers tingle as I type it. Not only is it one of the most glorious pieces of food writing I have ever read, but it is practically a textbook on vegetable cookery in one paragraph. I can see that creamy pink; can smell the mint, onion and watercress; I marvel at the elegance of both the cooking technique and the description of it, at the love, honor and respect contained in here for the plain-yet-grand traditions of Welsh home cookery. I consider the vegetables becoming friendly together, snug in their warm comfort in the oven, and I am in love. All this in a book that has been sitting quietly on a shelf somewhere all my life. This is a novel written seven years before my mother was born. It was made into a film in 1941, directed by John Ford and widely considered to be one of his best films. How did I miss this? How did I get to be 36 years old without having read this book?

I went to Coliseum on Wednesday morning. There it was, sitting on the shelf as though it were waiting for me. I picked it up, opened it to Chapter One.

I am going to pack my two shirts with my other socks and my best suit in the little blue cloth my mother used to tie round her hair when she did the house, and I am going from the Valley.

This cloth is much too good to pack things in and I would keep it in my pocket only there is nothing else in the house that will serve, and the lace straw basket is over at Mr. Tom Harries', over the mountain. If I went to to Tossall the Shop for a cardboard box I would have to tell him why I wanted it, then everybody would know I was going. That is not what I want, so it is the old blue cloth, and I have promised it a good wash and iron when I have settled down, wherever that is going to be.

Where was I during all this time? How did I let it get away from me? I don't know, but I do know this: I have it now, and I will never let it go.

Posted by Bakerina at 09:48 PM in valentines • (0) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
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