Gareth Jones is In Search of Taste
Gareth has an incredible network of people who follow his every move. His whole family – and most of his friends — share his fervor for food. His dedication to an honest cuisine is matched by few. He is the epitome of what the French call “passionné”: unfaltering in his eternal search for the best quality ingredients at a fair price; willing to go to distant places and lose countless hours of sleep to find the perfect products. Whether it’s cooking and scrubbing pans with a Nonna in a hidden corner of Italy or crossing the Channel on a Sunday morning to buy fresh shellfish in Boulogne – to be served up fresh on his lunch table in London — his devotion to his “cause” is virtually boundless.
But Gareth’s blood can run hot when it comes to food and his vision of it. He is lucid about what he likes and what he doesn’t like and his sense of ethics and justice make him look on this world like the Egyptian goddess Ma’at with her scales of justice, weighing the “hearts” of products to decide whether they are balanced and good enough to go to his version of food heaven.
Gareth Jones’s tastes were not formed overnight. He grew up on a farm in Wales, in the middle of fragrant orchards and gardens. The surrounding woods and pastures were his playground. He is a man of the earth. The scents, tastes and sensory experiences of these days gone by make up an essential part of who he is and how he relates to the world, in particular to food: rustic yet refined, never losing sight of his roots.
Gareth lives through his senses. Proust may put some to sleep, but no one better describes the degree to which all the senses awaken when recalling taste http://www.theramblingepicure.com/full-sensory-taste-and-proust/. As Scott Horton http://harpers.org/blog/2009/06/proust-memory-and-the-foods-of-childhood/ points out, Proust explored this long before neurogastronomy even existed, and so did Gareth Jones, in the woods and fields and pastures of his happy hunting ground called Wales.
When from the distant past nothing remains, after the beings have died, after the things are destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, yet more vital, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of everything else; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the immense architecture of memory.
Yet again I had recalled the taste of a bit of madeleine dunked in a linden-flower tea which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long await the discovery of why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old gray house on the street where her room was found, arose like a theatrical tableau…
–Marcel Proust, Du côté de chez Swann (1913) in: À la recherche du temps perdu vol. 1, p. 47
Gareth is a living temple of Proust’s perception of the sensory experience that is life, with food as its altar. His devotion is boundless, and he surrounds himself with writers who share his zeal and dedication. There’s no better recipe for editing a food magazine.
Yet, there’s a lot of country gentleman mixed into his formula, which takes him a long way from Proust’s decadence. Thus the term he coined, “Blue Collar Gastronomy,” inspired by a visit to the Leclerc supermarket in Boulogne-Outreau – “often frequented by working class people the majority of whom are below average education and a town where unemployment is in the high teens if not +20%,” says Jones. As he was filling his trolley, he noted how intelligently and carefully the locals were filling theirs. You might never have known it was a poor, run-down, even sad, place if you looked at the contents, fit for a minor Roman feast.
The smells and tastes of the world have indeed been poised for a long time in Jones’s mind, but time has not been lost. His life has been a fine weave of the senses and food, which makes for dishes that have real taste, that are authentic and lacking all pretentions. He is a master at finding the crème-de-la-crème for even the simplest food purchase, even a chicken carcass for making soup and broth. In the words of Pete Seeger, “Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” And this is what Gareth Jones has understood and mastered.
From the archives
In my article, Bénichon Mustard, A Fribourg Specialty to Welcome the Cows Coming Home a few days ago, I talked about the brioche-like saffron bread cuchaule which is traditionally eaten with Bénichon mustard during the Bénichon fall fair in Fribourg, Switzerland.
I translated this recipe from the Delimoon site from the French and adapted it.
Photo courtesy of Moja Kuchnia with authorization.
Saffron Culture: A Pictorial Cycle on Santorini, Part II
Mistress of the Animals – Did She Make Powerful Medicine with Saffron?
by Elatia Harris
Part Two in a series of articles on aspects of saffron. Photos of wall paintings from the excavated areas of Thera (also called Santorini), are taken from a magnificent site that has expired off the Internet, www.therafoundation.org. Other photos credited where possible. Part One examines the origins of saffron culture in Western Asia, with an overview of the saffron-dominated fresco cycle on Santorini, dating to the 17th century B.C.E. The present article looks at saffron in cultic rituals.
Mistress of the Animals
It is hard not to look at the goddess on the saffron cushion. Though her state of preservation is less than optimal, she is the focal point of the cycle. In 1996, the archaeologist Paul Rehak undertook a gendered reading of the Xeste 3 fresco cycle – one that pointed up many subtleties in both the organization of society on Thera and the medicinal use of saffron, by and for women. In his monograph, “Myth, Medicine and Matriarchy: Reconstructing a Female Homosocial Environment in the Thera Frescoes,” he raises as well the issue whether the Xeste 3 frescoes were painted by women, for women – a possibility worth considering.
Necklaces with a duck and a dragonfly motif hang in an arc from the throat of the main image. Her blue and white costume is richly embroidered with a saffron crocus motif, the easily recognizable silhouette of the wild-growing C. cartwrightianus that is everywhere represented in Xeste 3 – clinging to rocks, garlanding its gatherers, piled into baskets, and patterning the creamy white field on which all the images are painted.
To us, perhaps the most compelling aspect of the goddess is not her regalia, but her expression.
Head turned in profile, her eye is starry with interest, her lips parted as if in speech with the blue monkey to her right offering a handful of saffron. A gryphon flanks her left, present only in paw and wing. She may command girls to gather saffron and bring her tribute, but her companions are animals, on the same platform as herself. We do not know her name on Thera, but she is known to us anyhow. This is the Mistress of the Animals — potnia theron — one of the oldest goddesses of ancient times. And this is not her first or last iteration. As we enter historical times, she often takes the form of Aphrodite.
Elatia Harris is a writer and consulting editor in Cambridge, Mass. She is most often at work on books and articles about food, wine and travel. Contact her at elatiaharrisATgmailDOTcom or via text at 617-599-7159.
Truffles in Black and White: Part One: The Truffles of Alba, or Italian White Gold
The Truffles of Italy’s Piedmont
In the vaulted cellars at Tartufi Morra, the longest-established truffle dealership in Alba, a town of 30,000 in Piedmont 60 kilometers by road south of Turin, manager Alessandro Bonino fielded telephone orders while sorting white truffles still clotted with soil. “Truffles are hypogeous fungi,” Bonino said, waving his left hand, “meaning mushrooms that grow underground.” Of the 60 known species, 25 grow in Italy. Tartufi bianchi d’Alba—white Alba truffles—are the rarest, most aromatic and, the businesslike Bonino confirmed, by far the most expensive.
“White truffles only grow wild and only in a limited geographical area,” Bonino explained to me. “That’s why they’re so scarce and costly, and also why the statistics on them aren’t reliable—how do you tabulate them when their surrounded by secrecy?”
Alba’s Centro Nazionale Studi Tartufi (CNST), a government-funded research agency, estimates average Italian truffle production per year for all edible species at 400 tons, including about 40 tons of premium tartufo nero (Tuber melanosporum), the black truffles of northern and central Italy, half of which are farmed. In an exceptionally good year the southwest of France also produces about 40 tons of nearly identical melanosporum, the northeast of Spain 20 tons, in both cases 80 to 90 percent farmed. Harvests for the last decade or more for Italian, French and Spanish melanosporum have been small, with wholesale prices ranging between 650-1,200 euros per kilo.
By comparison white truffles occur only near Alba and in other parts of Piedmont, and, in far smaller quantities, in the Acqualagna area of the Marches, the province of Savona on the Italian Riviera, and in Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary. In an average year about 2 tons are found overall, though, as Bonino noted, statistics are notoriously unreliable. Wholesale prices in the 2010-2011 season range from an astonishing 3,000 to 4,000 euros per kilogram, about the same as Sevruga caviar.
As with caviar, demand far outstrips supply for prized white and black truffles. Bonino sells both.
Black and white truffles are not as different as apples and oranges, according to Bonino and others in the business. Comparing them is tricky. “All truffles are mushrooms. Preference is strictly personal, a question of taste, budget and use.”
White Alba truffles are actually pale to straw yellow. They look and feel like small, warty potatoes. Their scientific name is Tuber magnatum pico. Though unwieldy the name is widely used in commerce to avoid confusion with other pale-colored species.
The white truffle season runs from late September to mid-February. Except during the war years 1939-1945, in the second half of October since 1929 Alba has hosted the Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo (International Truffle Fair). The fair lasts two weeks, drawing tens of thousands of visitors. It has helped make white truffles synonymous with the town and the surrounding Langhe, a region of tuck ‘n’ roll hills where most white truffles are found.
As is typical, during a November visit to the Piedmont I experienced cold, damp weather. Wearing a woolen sweater the trim, middle-aged Bonino led me through the Tartufi Morra cellar to a room where an assistant in a blue lab coat hand-brushed white truffles, rinsed them under cold, running water and placed them on a drainboard. Bonino demonstrated how to gauge the firmness of a truffle, pinching one between forefinger and thumb. “When ripe, truffles white or black are as firm as tennis balls,” he said. “Too hard and they’re unripe. Too soft and they’re overripe.”
The smell and flavor of a ripe, healthy white truffle evokes mild garlic, honey, hay and fresh mushrooms. Scents of ammonia, humus or mold indicate rot.
“For security and conservation the bulk of our truffles are cellared,” Bonino added. “With all truffles the soil stays on until we prepare them for shipping. They’re 80 percent water. Soil preserves humidity.” Unbrushed, unwashed truffles last 7 to 10 days in a cool, dark room. Brushed and washed, they should be used within a few days. “Diamonds are forever, truffles are for now,” Bonino quipped, nostrils flaring.
Upstairs in the retail shop a few fresh white truffles covered by a moist cloth were in a refrigerated case. Canned or bottled whole truffles, truffled purées, pâtés, chocolates and olive oil filled shelves. Such transportable, long-lasting products appeal to many consumers, especially tourists, and allow truffle sellers to work year-round. Natural truffle essence, derived from fresh truffles, is the Holy Grail of researchers and retailers but has yet to be perfected. Most top-end shops like Tartufi Morra do not sell artificial truffle flavoring, an ersatz substitute scorned by serious Piedmontese chefs and food lovers.
Outside in the medieval tangle of streets, truffle scents wafted from restaurants and food shops. The enjoyment of white truffles is primarily an olfactory experience. During white truffle season Alba is a delight to the nose, and the scent is free for the taking.
Formerly plentiful and cheap, since at least the 1300s truffles, particularly white truffles, have been prized in Piedmontese cuisine. Scarcity and cost have not thinned the ranks of cultish truffle lovers. The half-dozen chefs in and near Alba I met during my 5-day visit concurred that white truffles lose potency and flavor when cooked and therefore should be eaten raw.
At Villa Tiboldi, a restaurant and B&B where I stayed, near Canale, equidistant from Alba and Turin, chef Stefano Pagagnini dressed fresh tagliolini with melted butter, set a digital scale on my table, weighed a white truffle then quickly shaved approximately 10 grams off it onto the pasta. “The heat releases the raw truffle’s scent,” he explained. “Smell is most of the experience. Simple food like pasta is best because it doesn’t overwhelm the truffle.”
Pagagnini was right. The luscious simplicity of the dish exalted the truffle’s aroma, which subtly evoked garlic, honeysuckle and mushroom. Flavors and aromas melded. I was unable to separate them. Even when I lifted a truffle shaving off the pasta and tasted it alone the sensations came almost entirely through my nose.
The photos in this series of articles on truffles were taken by Alison Harris. You can see the entire set as a slide show in Food Art: Behind the Scenes of the Noble Truffle, food photography by Alison Harris.
Next segment: truffle hunters.
See also: David Downie: Truffles in Black and White: Part Two, Truffle Hunting in Piedmont, David Downie: Truffles in Black and White: Part Three: the Truffle Heartland of Southwest France, The Truffle-hunting Pig of Lalbenque
Swiss Food: Raisinée: The History and the Recipe
The French Vaudois word raisinée refers to a syrup made of the must of apples and pears. It was originally cooked in grape juice, thus the name — raisin means grape in French. Often called vin cuit, or “cooked wine”, it is in the form of a dark brown, viscous liquid. In still other parts of Switzerland, another concoction similar in consistency to jam and using the same ingredients is called cougnarde and probably dates back to at least the Middle Ages. Raisinée was used as a sweetener in many regions in Europe, and the tradition has lingered in Switzerland, especially in the cantons of Vaud, Fribourg and Neuchâtel. Today, it is mainly used for cakes and pies, and is not fermented, so it not technically a wine.
In the 17th century, raisinée meant a thick fruit jam, generally made of apples and pears, and slow-cooked in concentrated grape juice. According to the Encyclopédie d’Yverdon, published in the 1770s, raisinée was made from the must of very ripe green grapes cooked until reduced by two thirds, then kept in barrels. Drinking it was said to give energy to people of a frail nature.
Raisinée is no longer drunk as a cooked or fortified wine, although in the 18th century one finds recipes for fruit must syrup made from apples and pears (dropping the use of grape juice) and used to replace sugar. Like today, the apple and pear juice was cooked until thick, until a drop on a plate didn’t run anymore. During periods of scarcity and hardship — for example, during and after World War II when sugar was low or not available — it was and still is used as a sweetener.
Cantons like Fribourg and the Vaud have kept up the tradition more than elsewhere, partially because they have a history of orchards. Recipes had been maintained and they were brought back to life in the 1980s.
Traditions similar to this were to be found in Mesopotamia and Ancient Rome.
Use apples and pears not suitable for eating. The fruit shouldn’t be overly ripe. You should be able to crush it and press it, but it mustn’t turn into a purée. The juice is filtered to get rid of hard bits. It is then decanted overnight (no more).
Unlike industrial fruit concentrates, the juice is not clarified. It is simply brought to a boil in a large copper kettle over a wood fire. Try to use up any bits of wood not suitable for a regular fire. A coil-type steam burner can be used to prevent risk of overheating, especially when making large quantities.
Elatia Harris’s Top 10 Books 2013, on Cooking, Food History & Food Politics
by Elatia Harris
For this list to be coherent, I have to have actually read and truly admired the books on it. Check! If they are cookbooks, I have to have cooked from them with great results. Check! I want to hear what your entries would be – it was a great year for books about food and cooking, and I’ve had to leave many good ones out.
1. Cuisine and Empire, by Rachel Laudan
20,000 years of the great movements of history, written with the kitchen at the center. If you want to take a very long view, and think hard about power – getting it, keeping it, getting it back – then the intimate and often surprising relationship between food and power, in Laudan’s telling, will astonish you. The historical counterpart to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, this is a supremely important book that is a great pleasure to read. Don’t be afraid of its bigness, for it’s a truly manageable length. Read it fast, think about it forever.
2. Three Squares, by Abigail Carroll
How did the American Diet evolve? We’re not eating like they did at Plimouth Plantation, or like Thomas Jefferson ate – what ARE we eating like? For a fresh view of what’s uniquely American about our foodways, this book is a treasure.
3. Foodopoly, by Wenonah Hauter
The activist Wenonah Hauter has written Foodopoly to take on, and urge readers to take on, the dark side of our food systems, and it’s a very dark side indeed. Can there be reclamation? Can the trend towards domination by fewer and bigger companies ever be reversed? “Yes, but…” Hauter tells us, and then she tells us what that would take.
4. Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman
The author is a labor organizer who believes that the maltreatment of food service workers need not be the ugly secret of the US restaurant industry. But right now, it is. What would have to happen, for food service workers to be paid a living wage and given paid sick days? One in every twelve people in the USA works in food service – how should they be treated? In its way, this is a companion volume to Foodopoly, asking all the right questions, answering not a few.
5. Raising Dough, by Elizabeth U
A guide to using other people’s money to finance your socially responsible food business, this is a hard-headed book for mostly young idealists. Brilliantly thorough, if you are on a mission but lack for practical knowledge of the business world. Especially valuable are the ideas for working around a financier’s natural unwillingness to lend money to anyone hoping to do good.
6. Arribes: Everything Else is Noise, by Zev Robinson
Film maker and painter Zev Robinson could turn Arribes, a DVD, into a commanding book, so I’m counting it in. Arribes is a rural area in northwestern Spain where people are 80% self-sufficient. One of those places where life is both simple and difficult – and movingly sustainable. Robinson’s eye for Spanish classical painting serves beautifully here. If by magic Zurbaran and Murillo could see Arribes, they would recognize their own lineages instantly and with pleasure.
7. Mushroom, by Cynthia D. Bertelsen
Confused about the world history of mushrooms? Wondering about foraging for them or choosing them or storing them? And what about a few recipes? Culinary historian Cynthia D. Bertelsen has solved all your problems in this tiny, indispensible book, a delight from beginning to end. You will read it in a snowy evening, you will consult it forever after. And if you’re still not satisfied with the mushrooms in your life, you’ll have instructions for growing your own.
8. Celebraciones Mexicanas, by Andrea Lawson Gray and Adriana Almazan Lahl
Andrea Gray and Adriana Lahl have a winner in this charmingly beautiful cookbook that focuses on the food of Mexico’s festivals. As well as recipes, there is abundant material about history and folklore, much of it highly visual and appealing to children – it’s a perfect family gift. Professional cooks as well as writers, Gray and Lahl know their way around the Mexican kitchen. It’s a labor-intensive cuisine, and the streamlining here is as intelligent as any I have ever seen – no false notes, some truly helpful simplifications. If you want the best ever recipe for Nogada Sauce, one of the signature paradisal items in Like Water for Chocolate, buy the book and turn to page 257.
9. Spice and Kosher, by Dr. Essie Sassoon, Bala Menon, and Kenny Salem
The Jewish community in Cochin, in the South Indian state of Kerala, was intensely lively for 2000 years. It has dwindled now to a few souls, but its culinary traditions belong to the world, many having partaken of, and been absorbed into, mainstream Indian cooking. Knowing that, soon, the cuisine will have outlived its people, the three authors, all originally Jews of Cochin, wrote this excellent cookbook — full of fascinating history, good recipes and directions for good practice — as a testament.
10. Paris to the Pyrenees, by David Downie, with photos by Alison Harris
Travel and food writer nonpareil, David Downie, mounts an interior and a physical struggle against middle age and fading health by walking 750 miles across France – the famous Way of St. James. Well, it’s no saunter. Even the companionship of his wife, the wonderful photographer Alison Harris, whose photos here are a revelation, cannot inure him to the hardships of the pilgrimage route. Readers will ponder how much in this volume is deeply spiritual – to my reading, seeking something you cannot define, yet seeking it body and soul, is a spiritual journey. One that is intermitted, David Downie being David Downie, by some of the most gorgeous repasts I’ve heard tell of.
Here are all the facts you need to know about how your body uses the calories from junk food in comparison to those from real food. This article is a fascinating read, and a keeper! See Precision Nutrition.
Here’s an excerpt:
- Real food regulates appetite – so you don’t overeat
- Real food controls blood sugar/insulin – so you can avoid energy swings and diabetes
- Real food provides the best nutrition – so you can remain healthy for life
- Real food has a sane amount of energy – so that you can’t accidentally overeat
- Real food has a longstanding relationship with our body – so that our bodies know what to do with it
SandeeA is a top-notch food photographer and she runs the popular blog La Receta de la Felicidad, where you can find many of the recipes appearing in these photos.