I am The Red Queen

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

The Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass

It is peculiar how, through life, particular quotes can re-surface in different contexts. For me, none more strikingly so than that by Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen. It has been a while since I have thought about her.

My first encounter was inevitably in childhood and the wonderous world of fantastically surreal drama of Carroll’s book which left me quite frankly bewildered but intrigued – and with a fleeting fascination for mirrors and chess.

Last time I thought about her she unexpectedly appeared when I studied co-evolutionary theory as a zoology undergraduate. Although The Red Queen Hypothesis explains two different evolutionary phenomena: the advantage of sexual reproduction between individuals (micorevolutionary) and the constant evolutionary arms race between competing species (macroevolutionary). Either way, the central premise is that continuing adaptation is needed in order for a species to maintain its relative fitness amongst the systems it is co-evolving with. Matt Ridley’s work of popular science on the subject ‘The Red Queen’, is a book guaranteed to generate a storming debate and is a thought-provoking read for scientists and non-scientists alike.

Gardening here always does seem to be an arms race of a non-evolutionary sort – given the constant battle to outwit predators preying on my vulnerable produce.  However, my thoughts returned to The Red Queen over the last couple of months, and specifically to the running-to-stand-still aspect of her being, which has been my experience of late.

I’m sure the experience of frenetic activity is the same between August and October for anyone growing produce.  This is for me exacerbated by full-time work, the start of the migratory fish season and ripening of fruit and berries to forage – not to mention producing a stack of canapes for an open day for The Man Named Sous to welcome customers and friends to his new workshop! The open day was a success. Sadly there wasn’t much food left over to indulge in! Recipe for the canape below can be found here

Broad bean and pea puree with frizzled chorizo on a seeded cracker

As usual, I have written nothing down, but at least used my iPhone to catalogue food-related events.  I had the inevitable glut of veg – kilos of tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, peas, broad beans and carrots, too many cauliflowers but not enough pak choi, my first raspberries (exciting!) and a forest of herbs. Fishing yielded well with plenty brown trout and mackerel. A mainland forage for rowan and an exceptional bramble crop on Uist put lots of jelly on the boil.

Chutneys and relishes ensued – beetroot relish, piccalilli, rhubarb relish, veg ale chutney.  Courgettes and cucumbers were eaten fresh by the kilo in various guises from bread (courgette) to salads, the rest preserved by light pickling using numerous different experimental recipes from spicy to sweet. It is a delight to say that in my third tomato-growing year, and due to our exceptional summer, for the first time, I did not have to resort to green tomato chutney.  So lots of roasted tomatoes sauces in the freezer to look forward to over the winter.

Herbs too were exceptional.  I decided to stick to growing about 15 this year, mostly the usual suspects I find it impossible to live without. Basil contributed to fresh pesto.  Its numerous forms included the classic recipe plus variations with rocket, parsley and nasturtiums. Although coriander has to be cropped quickly as it bolts as soon as your back is turned, I did manage a steady supply by sowing weekly over the summer and it is a must for curries and mexican dishes. A trout wouldn’t be the same without dill and the fresh brownies and dill will be sadly missed over the winter. For me the most versatile of all is parsley.  Fortunately I can usually keep a year round supply growing.  Just as well, I add it to almost everything. It also made a significant contribution to my vegetable bouillon recipe.

So, while I have put plenty food in the store cupboard and freezer, not much progress has been made on completing the fruit cage or dry stone wall.  No excuses now however.

I could go on ad infinitum, so it is perhaps fortunate that my apple and marmalade cake needs to come out of the oven….


Broad bean and pea puree with frizzled chorizo on a seeded cracker

The ratio of peas to beans can be changed according to what’s available, or use just one or the other.  The amount of horseradish is up to you, depending on how much heat you like, so keep tasting as you add!

Ingredients

250g each of peas and broad beans, cooked; broad beans shelled

100g creme fraiche

3-5 tblsp fresh grated horseradish, to taste

couple of mint sprigs

chorizo, cut into chunks 1cm x 2cm approx

salt and pepper

To make:

Simmer peas/beans in boiling water for 5 mins and plunge in ice cold water to retain colour.  Shell the broad beans (it is worth the effort and produces a more refined texture), blitz in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients except the chorizo.  Taste and adjust seasoning/horseradish as required. Pass the mixture through a chinois or sieve (unless you want a coarse puree). Put mixture in the fridge as piping is easier if it is cooler and hence firmer.

Put the chorizo pieces in a dry frying pan on a medium heat and fry until the fat runs out and the pieces crisp and blacken at the edges.  Drain on kitchen towel and cool.

Fill a piping bag and using a 1cm plain nozzle pipe a small amount of the mixture onto the cracker. Top with the chorizo and any other garnish you like.  I used chives, mint would be an obvious choice.

Two seed crackers

Replace the seeds with your favourites, or to complement the topping. I often use caraway, but my home grown seed is a bit to potent and overpowers this delicate puree, so linseed and poppy seed were added.

Ingredients

250g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 tblsp linseeds

2 tblsp poppy seeds

60g chilled salted butter, cut into small cubes

125ml cold water

pepper

To make:

Oven: 180 oC

Sift flour, baking powder and salt, add seeds and pepper to taste. Rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Gradually mix in the cold water with a flat-bladed knife until the mixture comes together. Gather the dough into a ball, do not knead or overhandle it.

Roll the dough between 2 sheets of cling film until it is 2mm thick – get it as thin as you can.  You may need to divide the dough and roll it in batches.  Don’t be tempted to use parchment or silicone instead of clingfilm – I found this mixture sticks to both. Cutter size is up to you.  I find for canapes 4 or 5 cm is about right, any bigger and the canape is more than a mouthful. This makes about 30 crackers. Put on a baking tray and prick with a fork.

Bake for about 25 minutes until just golden. Store in an airtight container. If you don’t need to make a big batch, the dough can be frozen and used at a later date.

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