Week 65: Food
Our water-delivery man last week bemoaned that in summer there was never any rain, it was just heat, heat, heat. The next day it rained, and the next day, and the day after that. He wasn’t completely wrong, though. It was the kind of rain that lasts for seconds and evaporates the instant it hits the ground. If it hadn’t fleetingly drummed on our veranda roof we’d never have known it was there. The only other evidence of the existence of this strange ‘rain’ is that it disturbs the fine patina of dust on a car, turning it into a pattern of muddy splodges and making a merely dusty car into a dirty one that cries out for cleaning.
I love to walk along the riverbed. Every week it changes. The pond I like to think of as ours is hanging on, and still deep and clear enough for a paddle. Round the bend of the river another of the ponds I frequent has dried up completely. All those frogs – where did they go? The answer came in a patch of gloop under an overhang of cane just a few metres further on, its green satiny surface sequinned with bubbles and golden eyes, a kind of Frog Butlin’s that was heaving with the creatures.
A long while ago a friend asked me if we were making Portuguese food at home. We use local ingredients, of course, but we use them in the same recipes we always have done, which, incidentally, are vegetarian. (We’re not exactly vegetarian, but anyway – long story.) We made lunch recently for Portuguese friends from Lisbon on holiday in the Algarve, and the dishes were Lebanese, Mexican and Bulgarian. All good and very well received, but it was only when they asked where the recipes were from that I became aware we haven’t yet adopted a Portuguese dish into our repertoire. Not eating any meat or fish at home is one reason why (vegetarian food isn’t big here). The availability of fantastic and well-priced food to eat out is another. Our local café, for example, has an eternal promotion of 1 coffee + 1 pastel de nata for 1 euro. The cakes here are very good – so is the coffee, something to do with those ties to Brazil, perhaps – and with prices as good as these we would never try to replicate them at home. However, I would like to get under the skin of this cuisine a bit more.
To deal with the glut of plums I have been making compote, following a recipe from my mother-in-law. To every 500g fruit, you add 100g sugar and 10ml vinegar – I’m using pomegranate vinegar, which we found in a shop here. Stone and roughly chop the fruit and macerate with the sugar and vinegar overnight. The next day, cook for 2 hours in a covered pan over a very low heat without stirring. That’s it. Keeps for weeks in the fridge in an airtight container. Divine with yoghurt for breakfast or with almond sorbet for pudding. (For almond sorbet, use 500g nuts, skin on; turn into almond milk by soaking, liquidising and straining, then add a little sugar syrup and churn in an ice-cream maker – almond and plum is a magical partnership.)
Prickly pears are ripening all around us, so I decided to try my hand at prickly pear sorbet. The important thing is not to touch the fruit with your hands because of the spines. I wouldn’t recommend gardening gloves, either. It just means your gloves get embedded with spines and you can never touch them again. So use tongs, and collect the fruit in a bucket. A good way to get rid of the spines from the fruit you’ve picked is to burn them off: a gas ring will do. Then top and tail the fruit, peel off the skin, put the entire insides into a liquidiser, whiz briefly, then strain (to get rid of the seeds). To the resulting pulpy liquid, add sugar syrup and lemon juice and churn in an ice-cream maker. I used about a dozen fruit, and sugar syrup made from 200g sugar dissolved in 350ml water with the juice of 1 lemon. Husband described the taste as between a peach and a banana. For me it’s reminiscent of cantaloupe melon, with a hint of caramel.