In his 18 years at food writer for the Observer, Nigel Slater has quietly and unassumingly let trends, celebrity chef-hood and tub-thumping campaigns pass him by. He just cooks simple, good food at home. And now the world has come around to his way of thinking.
His cookbook writing is not prolific, but is interspersed with charming memoir-essays about food in his life, and the lives of Britons.
"There is something quietly civilizing about sharing a meal with other people. The simple act of making someone something to eat, even a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, has a many-layered meaning," he says. "It suggests an act of protection and caring, of generosity and intimacy. It is in itself a sign of respect."
In Tender Volume I: A cook and his vegetable patch, Nigel extended his love affair from the kitchen to the kitchen garden, writing gentle almost-poems to runner beans or coaxing the flavour out of a head of fennel. In Tender Volume II: A cook's guide to the fruit garden, we head into the tree tops to explore flavours and tastes of the orchard. Each chapter explores the mood - not just the taste - of a fruit. He rolls the lovely old-fashioned names of the fruit (pears called Winter Nelis or Doyenne du Comice, apples called Blenheim Orange or Court Pendu Plat), and gives tasting notes for each like a fine wine. Who knew apples had top notes of raspberry or nutmeg or hazelnuts? More than 200 recipes range from apple with black pudding or pheasant to this unusual, wickedly good way of combining apples and toast for a pudding or breakfast - a lazy person's tarte tartin.
Early autumn apples on hot toast
You could feel it: something wonderful was happening. The air had a cider-like note, part sweet, part rotten. Shoppers hugged knobbly brown paper bags to their chest. I felt the need to hurry in case I missed something.
Around the corner, outside the cheese shop, customers jostled around a stack of open wooden crates. The first of the autumn's apples had arrived.
A sucker for a russet, I buy them by the bagful. Any will do: Egremont, Ashmead's Kernel or St Edmund's Pippin. Rosemary Russet is a treat and a half. The aniseed notes of its flesh flatter a lump of Gloucester or a jagged crumb of Caerphilly. Heat will sometimes bring out a hidden waft of orange. I roll them over and over in my hand too, rubbing their scabby roughness with my thumb.
I arrived home with a mixed bag of early russets, some deeply craggy early Cox's, two-mouthful Worcesters and a handful of the regrettably named Scrumptious.
After I had crunched enough, I sliced yet more of them up, keeping their skins intact, and let them soften in a pan with enough butter and sugar to give them a thin coating of caramel. Then I tipped them on to fresh toast and spooned unpasteurised yellow cream over them.
Makes 2 rounds of toast
4 small dessert apples
a little lemon juice
2 lightly heaped Tbs caster sugar
a handful of raisins or sultanas
a knifepoint of ground cinnamon
2 slices of toast, made from brioche, nut and raisin bread or a milk loaf
1 Quarter the apples, core them, but leave the skin on. Slice the apples thickly, then toss them with a little lemon juice. It will stop their flesh browning and balance the sugar you are going to add.
2 Melt the butter in a shallow pan. Before it froths, stir in the sugar and leave to bubble for a minute or two. Introduce the apples, letting them cook for five minutes or so over a moderate heat till soft. Stir in the raisins or sultanas and cinnamon.
3 Have the toast ready. I like it to be hot and lightly crisp. As soon as the apples are soft and lightly coated in caramel, tip them over the toast. A tub of cream, thick and yellow, would be quite wonderful here.
* Recipe extracted from Tender Volume II: A cook's guide to the fruit garden by Nigel Slater, $59.99. Published by Fourth Estate, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.
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