In My Kitchen, April, 2020

Some time after I drafted this month’s In My Kitchen post, it occurred to me that this monthly world diary of kitchen activities could form a valuable record, documenting how cooking and food availability changes during a pandemic. It will be interesting to see if some items continue to be hard to source, for example flour, and whether the pandemic is followed by higher prices due to manufacturing interruption and a decline in agricultural output. It would be good if those joining in this platform could note their country and region when writing and perhaps comment on some of these factors too. Thanks Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings for enabling this connection throughout the world. I urge others to join in and to consider taking up blogging during these difficult times.¬†

Francesca, St Andrews, Victoria, Australia.

So much for April fools day. No one expected the unexpected, a pandemic that may end up rivalling all previous plagues, changing the direction of our lives forever. In the meantime, I imagine that there is far more activity in everyone’s kitchen this month. No doubt you, dear reader, will be in lock-down like me or are semi- quarantined. This pandemic is, for many, a time to embrace older values, kindness, sharing, communicating more than usual but from a safe distance, cooking, baking, making music or going slightly mad. The handy phrase ‘cabin fever’ has never been more applicable. On the plus side, it is a reminder for many how much time we waste shopping: this break from consumerism is not such a bad thing. For those who have lost work and income, I hope that you get through this difficult time and are adequately supported by your government.¬† This will not be the case in many countries.¬†

So many quinces. 10 jars of quince jelly later, and still more quince to process..

My shopping list is now tiny: my granddaughter shops for us once a week. I exchange, at a safe distance, a container of home made soup and the money, left on a metaphorical pile of Celtic stones. I feel like a villager from the famous Eyam village, sometimes referred to as the plague village. I’m fortunate to have a productive vegetable garden which supplies most of our fresh vegetables. But it is a labour of love.

These lettuce are grown from seed all year round.

Apparently there’s a rush on vegetable gardening in Victoria: I’ve heard that seedlings are as rare as toilet paper and flour. Plant seeds. They might only take a few weeks longer. Some vegetables are better grown from seed as they don’t transplant well. These include all root vegetables such as radish, carrot, and turnip, while rocket and all lettuce varieties appear within a few days and can be transplanted easily. You don’t need a special garden bed. Sow seed among your flowers and in your regular gardens. Make a drill with a stick, add some fine white sand or very fine soil, add your seeds, cover them lightly with soil or sand and keep moist. Within one week, and voil√†, you’ll have seedlings. Parsley seeds may take a little longer, as it’s said they go to hell and back before germinating.

Packets of seed. It’s time to sow.

Every time I make risotto, I think of my dear friends in Lombardy. Alberto grows beautiful rice in the countryside near Pavia. His mother and Zia and Zio will, no doubt, be safe in the countryside. To date, 10,000 Italians have died from this virus, with most occurring around Lombardy. Make a risotto and offer a thought for this region- all that lovely Carnaroli, Vialone Nano and Arborio is grown in the Po and Ticino river valleys, in the fields near the Lombardian villages that now feature daily in the news. We are all interconnected. 

Risotto con crema di zucchini. Lombardia, sempre nel mio cuore.

My pulses are getting a workout this month. This is not an unusual ingredient in my kitchen, nor has it much to do with the pandemic. I have to admit that while others were hoarding weirdo paper products from supermarkets, I went to BAS foods and bought an ungodly share of lentils, chickpeas and beans. Sono colpevole, I am guilty of hoarding too.

Marcella Hazan’s green pea and potato soup, made from dried split green peas.

The smell of chutney cooking in the kitchen is enormously comforting, reminding me of my matriarchal line and the old Irish-British aromas that would emanate from their kitchens in Autumn. This is a great way to use up less than perfect fruit, all those windfalls and spotted specimens. 

Apple and tomato chutney

The orchard keeps giving throughout the months of Autumn, thanks to some fortuitous planting of heritage varieties nine years ago. The Beurre Bosc pears are the best keepers and star when poached in wine, sugar and saffron. After the pears are cooked,  I remove them and cook down the syrup for a while, producing a pear flavoured sticky wine.

My son enjoys making craft beer and is still able to purchase a freshly made wort, though this may change in the coming weeks. It is a noble pastime which takes place on our back verandah and in our shed. We have our isolation environmental protocols well in place since our lockdown, so he wears gloves and doesn’t enter the house.¬† After the brew is ready, it is kept in a refrigerated keg. Yes, dear reader, we have cold craft beer permanently on tap, and though I feel this situation is a little unfair, I’m not complaining.¬†¬†

Plague pale ale

The following is a thought provoking video link from Italy, subtitled in English.¬† Worth a peep. Meanwhile, if you’re short of interesting ways to cook pulses and beans, check my blog over the coming week as I plan to document my vegetarian adventures more frequently.

Time’s Winged Chariot and Quince Jelly

Time now marches through life like a merciless drill sergeant, or dawdles behind like a whining child depending on how you now find yourself. Days have lost meaning, a weekend for workers fast becoming a redundant notion, as time turns into a series of statistics- the day’s death rate, the increased spread of the covid 19 virus, the daily rise in numbers, the shape of the curve, the waffle and contradictory chatter on the airways clouding all sense and reason. Dear Italia and the people of Lombardy, their statistic is about to become ours. Easter holidays, no longer holy, as longed for days of family gathering will pass without much fanfare. No chocolate eggs, don’t risk the shops. Hot cross buns? Make your own, you have the time now if not the will. Use the ingredients on hand in your pantry. The old Venetian ‘quarantina‘ makes more sense as a measurement of time: forty days, not a fortnight, but perhaps much longer if you’re still living in the land of days and weekends, still congregating at the beach, the river or renting weekend houses, shopping for fun not necessity, still in denial, joining another queue with strangers. Wake up Australia. The time is now.

For those who measure time by the slow drip of quince juice from a jelly bag suspended over a chair, making quince jelly is a seasonal and timeless pastime, resulting in the colour of Autumn’s bounty trapped in a jar. If you manage to score a bag of big gnarly quinces from someone this season, wash your hands after collecting the bag, wash the quinces well, and follow the most simple recipe on the internet you can find. There are only two ingredients required- quinces and sugar. I’m assuming that the toilet roll hoarders haven’t bought all the sugar, but then in my mind there’s a warped correlation between the two.¬†