Talking Food with… Tiffani Angus

In my Talking Food series I’ll be featuring short interviews with authors, chefs, cooks, historians and food writers about their experiences of food, from memories to favourite recipes.

Today I’d like to introduce author and lecturer Tiffani Angus, whose debut speculative historical novel Threading the Labyrinth is published July 13th by Unsung Stories:

Cover image for Threading the Labyrinth by Tiffani Angus

If Robert Macfarlane wrote a ghost story this would be it. Haunting, delicate and multilayered, Angus channels her own humane understanding of our relationship with the quiet places of the world, the places hidden away, neglected, but always eager to blossom with the right kind of attention.

– Helen Marshall, award-winning author of The Migration and Gifts for the One Who Comes After

Headshot of author Tiffani Angus

An American ex-pat, Tiffani Angus is a Senior Lecturer in Publishing and the course leader for the MA Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK, as well as the General Director of the Anglia Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy. A Clarion (2009) graduate, she has published short fiction in several genres in a variety of anthologies. Threading the Labyrinth, in its original form, was part of her PhD dissertation, paired with an analysis of time and space in fantasy gardens. Her research into gardening history and women’s bodies in apocalyptic fiction feed into her fiction. You can follow Tiffani online, on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.

LM: Threading the Labyrinth takes places across different time periods and focuses on the heart and history of a whole garden, including the kitchen garden. Can you tell us some of the ways the kitchen garden changes across the centuries in the book? (without giving away too much!)

TA: Kitchen gardens are one of my favourite! I have a soft spot for geometric, formal gardens and kitchen gardens have to be tidy and organised, which makes me happy. Plus, they’ve got a constant specific function beyond just being pretty, which makes them different from pleasure gardens that change according to the fashion of the day. After the Civil War, pleasure gardens were considered frivolous and growing fruit and veg the moral choice; there was even an attempt to make growing fruit trees mandatory for all landowners. My kitchen garden is special because the house for the head gardener is built right into the kitchen wall; in Threading the Labyrinth, the walled garden and the kitchen garden both feature, and this house is the setting for several scenes in the novel as a place where some threads of history intersect.

walled garden Audley End
Walled garden at Audley End

The kitchen garden (as well as the central walled garden) in Threading, which I envisioned as existing in some form for hundreds of years before the beginning of the book (since part of the house was originally an abbey, which would have grown food for the resident nuns), would have changed across the centuries mostly in what it grew; as the empire expanded new foods such as tomatoes, potatoes, and aubergines were brought back and, after some time, became garden staples. Kitchen gardens are also where garden technology advanced, with cold frames and hot frames leading to greenhouses with their own heating systems where plants from other countries — both flowers (especially for carpet bedding) and food, such as pineapples — could be grown in England’s rainy climate. In the eighteenth century, with the rising popularity of the landscape garden in England, anything considered unsightly was often moved—this includes kitchen gardens and even villages! The kitchen garden is under threat of this at one point in Threading but luckily fate intervenes.

 LM: Are there any particularly intriguing examples of kitchen or herb gardens you encountered in your research? 

illustrating arched doorway

TA: I travelled to see gardens all over the country during my research; it was the best part of it. And I always gravitated toward the walled gardens, be they walled pleasure gardens or kitchen gardens. My favourites are Kentwell Hall, Blickling Hall, Audley End, Ickworth, and Glastonbury, where a monk’s herb garden has been recreated. Kentwell Hall is especially wonderful; it has a huge walled kitchen garden complete with gnarled old apple trees, espaliered fruit trees that are hundreds of years old, a potager and herb garden, and a gothic-arch-shaped door; Blickling Hall’s kitchen garden is amazing for its sheer size; Audley End’s kitchen garden is especially charming; and at Ickworth, there is a brick house built into the brick wall, which was a bit of an inspiration for Threading of course. One of the best things about going to some of the historic houses around the country that have extensive kitchen gardens is getting to see the historic kitchens; I get almost as excited about the kitchens as I do the gardens!

 LM: You grew up in the desert in the American southwest before coming to the UK to study for a PhD, and have spoken before about a fascination from a young age with English landscapes and gardens. Are there any idealised versions of food that you encountered first in fiction, before trying them in reality? (E.g. when I was a kid, I was always bemused and fascinated by the “shrimp paste” and “chocolate creams” of Enid Blyton books…)

TA: When I was a kid I, like so many other Americans, always wondered what Turkish Delight, from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, tasted like. I was not impressed when I finally had it! I can’t remember where I first read about clotted cream, but in my head I imagined it was something like cottage cheese (I think the word ‘clotted’ made me think of chunks!). When I finally got to have it HOLY COW where was this all my life? I also remember stories often having children eating toast—which I seem to remember they called toasted bread sometimes, which sounded quaint to my American ears—and marmalade; I mean, marmalade exists in the US but it isn’t something I ever really ate, and toast has always been a food group in my life so I suppose I felt that I at least had something in common with British kids!

LM: Do you have any favourite food-related scenes in fiction?

cover image for Gail Carriger's Soulless book

TA: I love how talks, and battles, often tend to happen over a tea cart in Gail Carriger’s Soulless series; I mean, shouldn’t everything happen over a tea cart full of cakes and scones? Life would be much more enjoyable! And one of my favorite books is Douglas Coupland’s microserfs; when I think of it I often remember the scene were the group are trying to get Michael to eat after he’s locked himself in his office so they slide whatever two-dimensional foods they can under his door, from cheese slices to Pop-tarts. I like reading about people cooking, and one of the ways that food gets used in books I like to read is the creation of magical spells, especially those that use herbs and other plants.

LM: Time for some quickfire questions! First, coffee or tea?

TA: Tea. Well, iced tea (American, sorry!). If I drink hot tea, you know I am getting sick or I’m out having an afternoon or cream tea. Coffee smells amazing (I even have coffee candles!) but tastes like poo.

LM: Ha ha, we will have to agree to disagree, says the coffee addict. Chocolate or cheese?

TA: CHOCOLATE! Although for health/weight reasons I am on a chocolate moratorium right now until July 1. So June is cheese 😊

LM: Breakfast or dinner?

TA: Breakfast. I even love having breakfast for dinner!

LM: Favourite beverage to relax with?

TA: G&T (I love the citrus or fruit flavored ones) or a spicy, bold red wine.

LM: If you cook, what’s your favourite thing to make?

TA: I love to bake—cookies, brownies, etc.

LM: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

Nicholas Culpeper image
Nicholas Culpeper

TA: I have been working on a novel that I started before I started the PhD, and I am about 75K along on it. It’s about an apocalypse, of all things, which will be a hard sell right now (but it’s not a pandemic, so there’s that). It’s about how women deal with the end of things as they were and the beginning of something new, so I’m excited about that aspect of it. Living through this pandemic and observing how people act has really started to inform some of the novel, and I’ve made a few tweaks to it as a result. In my head I think of it as Little House at the end of the world. After that I am considering a research-heavy novel about Nicholas Culpeper (author of the first herbal for the populace) or, more challenging, his wife about whom little is known.

Thanks so much to Tiffani for joining me. Threading the Labyrinth is out NOW as an ebook, available for pre-order from 23rd June, and officially published on 13th July by Unsung Stories. You can find it at: Hive| Amazon| Waterstones | Goodreads

And if you like speculative fiction, you should definitely check out FIYAH; a quarterly speculative fiction magazine that features stories by and about Black people of the African Diaspora. An annual subscription is just $15.

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The Secret Slang of Paris’ Butchers

One of my favourite things about writing historical fiction is the research. To me, it’s like detective work: inevitably, I end up taking deep dives into a particular subject. (I just spent two days reading about the changing judicial system and socio-economic make-up of the Paris police force at the start of the Second Empire and will probably end up writing “he was a policeman”). Research is an essential part of the writing process for me, not least because I often get my best ideas for plot and character (not to mention future novels) while researching.

This month I ended up taking a fascinating detour into argot – French slang – and particularly types of vernacular native to Paris. And so I discovered louchébem; the secret slang of Paris butchers.

Louchébem is just one form of the many types of argot that have existed in Paris; it is a variant form of a slang called largonji, and similar to javanais and verlan, in which individual words are disguised by using a set of rules. For example, in javanais, [av] is inserted after every consonant followed by a vowel: “bonjour” thus becomes “bavonjavour”. Louchébem substutites [l] for the consonant at the start of the word: the original consonant is them re-attached at the end of the word, followed by an em/ème suffix. “Boucher” (butcher) thus becomes “louchébem”.


Les Halles centrales de Paris, construites sous le règne de Napoléon III. 1862, Baltard, Callet

In Les Misérables (1862) Victor Hugo called argot “the language of the dark” and “the language of misery”, and like all slang, louchébem had its ties to the underworld. Originating some-time during the mid-nineteeth century, some sources claim that louchébem was invented by inmates at Brest prison, though it was mostly spoken in the stalls, alleyways, bars and cafes around Les Halles: the enormous food market that was the setting for Émile Zola’s 1873 novel Le Ventre de Paris “The Belly of Paris”.

Les Halles itself was a liminal place, by turns seedy, glamorous, luxurious and cutthroat, where societal lines were necessarily blurred; among the plenty was great poverty, and prostitution thrived in the surrounding streets. It was in this tight-knit world of commerce in all its forms that louchébem thrived. A cross between a type of cant and jargon, designed to be unintelligible to outsiders while using the specialised vocabulary of a profession, it was spoken almost exclusively by the city’s butchers, but due to close proximity, many of the other vendors and workers understood it well. For example, the “larçonguesse” (garçons) in the “listrobems” (bistrots) that surrounded Les Halles were known to speak louchébem to the butchers who came in after their shifts, carrying their “lobékesse” (gobbets) of meat for the chefs to cook.

Postcard showing Les Halles, 1900.

Louchébem was spoken among the butchers and vendors of Les Halles until the 1950s, and was used by members of the Parisian Resistance during the Nazi Occupation. Apparently, although not as widely known these days, it is still spoken by some workers in the meat industry. Some of the words have even crossed into common use in French, for example the word “loufoque” (“crazy”).

Anyway, here’s a short glossary of louchébem, to get you started:

Lonjourbem, ça va lienbem?” = Bonjour, ça va bien? = Hello, how are you?

larlépem” = parlé = talk

lijonpem” = “pigeon”

lardonpem” = pardon = excuse me?

lerchem” = cher = expensive

lortefeuillepem” = portefeuille = wallet

A lotvem” = à votre santé = to your health / cheers!

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Look Smart: Vintage & Eco Friendly Suits

June, 1928: “As soon as I lifted the tissue paper, I knew I had chosen well, for here it was: a suit of pale flannel, as unobtrusive as fine leather. A jacket with notched lapels, a single-breast waistcoat, wider cut trousers that hugged the waist. It all fit better than a dream, and when I looked into the mirror, I could scarcely believe what I saw. The pale brown of the suit contrasted with my black hair, the deep red of the tie was a splash of colour, just a hint of excitement. There was a straw hat to go with the suit, trimmed with a brown band. When I put it on, I had to blink hard to stop tears from falling on that perfect cloth. No one would have recognized me as the person I was before, the scruffy, frightened kitchen girl of the Hostería del Potro. Here was my new face. Here was freedom.” – from An Echo of Scandal

Ever since writing about suits in the 1920s-set An Echo of Scandal, I’ve been more than a little obsessed with them: I’m not talking about uncomfortable businesswear that you can’t wait to take off the minute you get in the door, I mean classic suits, the kind that – in decades past – were meant to be worn every day, smart yet comfortable in hard-wearing fabrics that look equally good while teaching a class or slouched at a bar.

So I started to search online. How hard could it be to find interesting and affordable suits for women, I thought? Well, as someone who’s a petite/short 5ft 2″, takes a larger size trousers than top and has a limited budget (read: full-time novelist) pretty tricky, it turned out. A lot of the suits and co-ords in high street shops are either too corporate-looking or completely the wrong cut, often in polyester or other synthetic fabrics, which I’m not much of a fan of. Add to this the fact that for the last few years, I’ve been trying to cut down drastically on the amount of brand new clothes I buy, and I found myself in a bit of a quandry.

Luckily the internet is a wonderful place, and after many hours trawling I’ve found a few reliable places that are helping me feed my suit obsession. The following listings range from online vintage stores to brands that use sustainable practices. Since the whole point of a suit is that it’s meant to last a long time, I’ve steered away from synthetics and towards fabrics like wool, linen and corduroy where possible.

L: Here’s me at the launch for An Echo of Scandal, wearing the two-piece vintage wool suit I got for a steal for £40 on Etsy last year. I had the waistcoat altered to fit at the brilliant Jokoto Tailoring in Bristol, who did a fantastic job.

P.s. I have no affiliation with any of these companies; this is purely a selection of places I’ve either shopped at or browsed for my own clothes! I’ll update this as and when I discover anything new.

Vintage

Dautrefois Clothing

This online store is run by the amazing Raluca. She has a great eye for classy, smart vintage pieces, and frequently sells trousers, suits, blouses, shirts and blazers. All clothes arrive beautifully wrapped in plastic-free packaging. I bought a fantastic green three-piece combo from there last year.

Instragram: @d.autrefois

Truffle Pig Traders

This eEbay shop sells good quality vintage men’s suits at bargain prices. Mostly male tailoring, but could be an excellent place to look for a blazer or jacket. (Incidentally, I asked the tailor who altered my waistcoat for me, and she said it is definitely possible to alter men’s suits for a better fit). Worth a look!

Vintage Vixen

A long established, US-based Etsy shop, I’ve never bought from them before, but have been eyeing this brown 1970s corduroy suit for months. They usually have a good selection of suits, jackets and blazers, not to mention thousands of other items, with frequent sales.

Narrations LDN

A curated, minimalist vintage/retro shop. Last time I checked they had quite a few options when it came to suit trousers and blazers for decent prices.

Celestial Youth

One for people who love trawling Depop! if you look on my Pinterest, you’ll see several amazing outfits from this store, curated by Alex in L.A. Worldwide shipping, and some amazing trousers.

New Clothes

Admise Paris

Made in Paris, Admise was founded on a philosophy of timeless suits for women in a number of different styles of cut. They’re on the pricier end of things, but they do have sales, so worth keeping an eye on if you are in the market for treating yourself. Clean lines and classic colours, you can mix and match jackets and trousers to get the style you want, e.g. peg leg or wide leg trousers with boxy, loose or fitted jackets.

43 RUE DE LA FOLIE MÉRICOURT – 75011 PARIS

Lucy and Yak

Buy one thing and become obsessed. Lucy and Yak are known for their hyper-comfortable dungarees and boilersuits, as well as for having excellent eco-friendly and sustainable credentials. It’s their organic cotton wide-leg jeans I want to talk about here though. I’m short, and had never found a pair of high-waisted jeans that suited me. Until Lucy and Yak. They’re brilliant, with a flattering nipped-in waist and wide to tapered leg; sort of a 1930s cut. They’re made from sturdy organic cotton twill and you can order them to waist and leg measurements. Honestly, I live in mine.

‘Addison’ High Waisted Organic Cotton Twill Jeans in Black – £55.00

Toast

Yes, Toast are not cheap, but they do have trousers that I lust after, usually in great quality, hard-wearing fabrics. It’s worth keeping a beady eye on their sales. (Thanks to my friend Lidia for the tip off on this one!) They’re also trying when it comes to their environmental impact; they run repair workshops across the UK, their paper packaging is fully recyclable and they’ve committed to eliminating all single-use plastic from their supply chain by 2022. I’ve been eyeing these olive cotton linen trousers for a while now.

Jude Cotton Linen Trousers in Olive – £165

For more suit inspiration check out my Pinterest.

Cardamom & Coconut Cake

Is there anything more comforting than the smell of freshly ground cardamom? Maybe a freshly baked cake or pastry, where the buttery baked smell combines with hot sugar and fresh, floral, spicy sweetness?

Niki Segnit, author of the one of my most-referenced food books, The Flavour Thesaurus, says that cardamom and coconut, especially in Indian rice puddings and barfi is so delicious that it is “not to be trusted”, tricking you into eating far more than you should… That’s an easy thing to do with this cake, which goes as well with coffee at elevenses as it does with tea late afternoon. Just have to bake another one!

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp coconut cream (instructions on this later)

For the coconut filling:

  • 3 tbsp coconut cream
  • 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar

For the syrup:

  • 3 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence (or vanilla bean paste)
  • 5 cardamom pods

Method:

  1. To make coconut cream, put a can of full-fat coconut milk in fridge for a few hours. DO NOT SHAKE IT. When you open it, the cream should have risen to the top.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease and line a 23cm, 9 inch deep cake tin.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add in the eggs one at a time, along with a tablespoon of the flour with each and beat well. Repeat with rest of the eggs, beating well in between. 
  5. Using a pestle and mortar, bash the cardamom pods to split them open, then scrape out the seeds. Discard the husks and grind the seeds into powder. (Or you could bash the pods with a rolling pin or similar and grind the seeds in a clean coffee or spice grinder). 
  6. Add to the mixture, along with the tablespoon of coconut cream and stir to combine. 
  7. Add the remaining flour in thirds, folding in lightly in between.
  8. Dollop into the tin, smooth over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden and risen, and a skewer inserted comes out clean. 

The filling:

  1. Scoop the coconut cream into a clean bowl.
  2. Add the icing sugar and desiccated coconut and mix together. 
  3. Cover and place in the fridge until ready to use.

The syrup:

  1. Bash the cardamom pods open and grind in the same way as before. 
  2. Place in a small saucepan, along with the caster sugar, vanilla and 5 tablespoons of hot water. 
  3. Bring to a simmer and reduce over a medium heat until the consistency thickens. BE CAREFUL because hot sugar is HOT. 
  4. When the cake is out of the oven, prick holes all over the surface with a skewer and spoon on the sugar syrup so that it all soaks in. Leave for a few minutes before turning out of the tin and leaving to cool on a wire rack. 
  5. When completely cool, carefully cut the cake in two. 
  6. Spoon the coconut filling onto the bottom half, spreading out to the edge, then sandwich the other half back on top. 
  7. Decorate with icing sugar and try not to eat too many slices at once…

This recipe was first featured on the Domestic Sluttery newsletter.

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Breakfast Martini Cake

It’s orange season! And I love it. My local greengrocer is selling HUGE navel oranges 4 for £1, blood oranges (my favourite) are back, and jars of marmalade are appearing in my vicinity with startling regularity.

Sadly, I’m not a marmalade fan. Something about the combination of sugar and bitterness just doesn’t work for me, which is weird, because I love other bitter flavours. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t love orange and marmalade in stuff, including cocktails.

A classic Breakfast Martini involves marmalade, dry gin, triple sec and lemon juice. Someone once tried to make me one with just vodka and marmalade stirred in a glass, which I won’t recommend. But this cake combines tangy orange, sweet marmalade, buttery sponge and yes, some generous slugs of gin and Cointreau.

Breakfast Martini Cake

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 220g self-raising flour
  • 25ml milk (or milk alternative)
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • Segments of 1 orange
  • 2 tbsp marmalade (preferably thick cut)

For the martini topping:

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 2 tbsp gin
  • 3 tbsp Cointreau (you could replace with orange juice if you like)
  • 2 tbsp marmalade
  • Lemon zest, to decorate

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Grease and line a 20cm, 9 inch deep cake tin.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. 
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, along with tablespoon of the flour with each to stop the mixture from splitting.
  4. Gently fold in the remaining flour until it is just incorporated and no streaks are showing.
  5. Stir in the milk and the orange zest.
  6. Sprinkle the muscovado sugar over the bottom of the prepared tin.
  7. Spread the marmalade over the top, then layer the orange segments in a pattern, whatever you feel like.
  8. Dollop the batter over the top, smooth over and bake for around 30-35 minutes, or until it’s golden and risen, and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  9. Cool in the tin for a few minutes before flipping onto a plate and peeling off the paper.

The syrup:

  1. Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan and stir together.
  2. Bring to a simmer and reduce for 10 minutes or so over a medium heat, until the consistency thickens.
  3. Whilst the cake is still warm, prick holes all over the surface with a skewer and spoon over the sticky, boozy syrup so that it soaks in.
  4. Decorate lemon zest, make yourself a real breakfast martini to drink with it.

This recipe was first featured on Domestic Sluttery.

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At the Sauce Podcast

I was delighted to be a guest on episode 35 of At the Sauce; a brilliant food and drink themed podcast based here in Bristol. It was a joy to talk to Alex and Karis, especially knowing they’d recently interviewed one of my favourite food writers, Bee Wilson.

Check out the episode below. You can find other episodes with guests ranging from chefs to producers to other writers over at At the Sauce and you can also support their work via their Patreon. Thanks Alex and Karis!

It’s a heck of a newsletter this month, with a seasonal recipe perfect for Burns Night, news, a short story and more. Click below to sign up.

Short Story: The Unravelling of Walter Sinos

Getting 2020 off to a pretty flying start, I’m delighted to say that literary journal Short Fiction chose my short story, “The Unravelling of Walter Sinos” for their January Feature.

“He was unremarkable, an elderly man in a greatcoat worn to skeleton threads, and a pair of leather shoes that creaked with newness. He wore woollen gloves with the fingertips cut off, threads trailing like capillaries, leaking life. His eyes were yellowed, the irises a shock of blue. When he spoke, it was as if every word were being plucked from a box that was almost empty.”


“The Unravelling of Walter Sinos” is a rather strange piece, and one that I agonised over a bit; it’s quite different in style to my usual writing. Also – though this sounds like a cliche – it started out as a dream. I actually dreamed almost the entire thing, including the name “Walter Sinos” and saw the process of his unravelling. It didn’t fade on waking either, and so I felt I had no choice but to try and capture in words the sensations that had seemed so evident and crystalline and strange when I was dreaming.

I finished this short story back in August last year and wasn’t at all sure what to do with it. Genre-wise it sits somewhere between literary and magical realism; not genre enough for SFF magazines, perhaps too speculative for mainstream literary ones. So – after a few rejections – I am delighted that it found a home with Short Fiction. Overall, I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in capturing Mr Sinos’s unravelling, but I’m glad I tried.

There are passages in the short story that attempt to describe the sound of Walter Sinos’ work, which – to my mind – is on the musique concrète end of things. Obviously, this made it particularly challenging to describe. Luckily, I have a resident sound designer on hand to help (thanks Nick), who recommended a few books and resources that were incredibly useful as I attempted to describe the soundscape of Sinos’ world.

The one I used most was Ocean of Sound by David Toop: ambient sound and radical listening in the age of communication. It’s described as a sonic history of ambient music, stretching from the 1889 Paris Exposition to the present. I highly recommend it, especially the new edition which has a foreword by Michel Faber.

Another big inspiration, and another recommendation was the music of Iannis Xenakis; the Greek-French composer who fought with the resistance in Athens during WWII and was subsequently blinded in the left eye when shrapnel exploded in his face during an armed conflict. He was later forced to flee to France after the right-wing government sentenced him to death for his part in the resistance activities.

For years I was tormented by guilt at having left the country for which I’d fought. I left my friends — some were in prison, others were dead, some managed to escape. I felt I was in debt to them and that I had to repay that debt. And I felt I had a mission. I had to do something important to regain the right to live. It wasn’t just a question of music — it was something much more significant.” – Iannis Xenakis

His pictoral scores are like nothing I’ve ever seen; the music itself is deeply unsettling, nerve-shaking. It was – and still is – ground-breaking work that asks demanding questions of what it is to experience music.

You can read “The Unravelling of Walter Sinos” for free over on the Short Fiction site, and while you’re there, please do consider donating a little their way, so they can continue to run the journal as they have been since 2006.

Blackberry, Bay and Hazelnut Galette

I’ve been obsessed with blackberry and bay ever since reading about it in Bee Wilson’s wonderful article about jam for the Financial Times. There, she wrote about London Borough of Jam in Hackey, where owner Lillie O’Brien makes a blackberry and bay jam that is “dark, rich and full of back-to-school autumnal promise”. It was only then I remembered that I had read about blackberry and bay as a flavour combination before, in Olivia Potts’ Vintage Chef column. (She makes blackberry and bay jam filled doughtnuts. Aaaaah).

The joy of a galette is that they are super easy to make, and even easier to stick in the oven and forget about for half an hour. The bay leaf adds a subtle flavour; a kind of grown-up, botanical muskiness to the jammy berries.

It’s also incredibly easy to make this recipe vegan, as most ready-made pastry uses vegetable fat. Just replace the egg-glaze with nut or oat milk.

Ingredients:

  • 1 packet of ready-made shortcrust pastry
  • 100g whole or blanched hazelnuts
  • 400g blackberries, defrosted if frozen
  • 1 large cooking apple
  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 6 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 egg or 2 tbsp of milk, to glaze
  • clotted cream, to serve

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Take the pastry out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
  3. Place the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan and toast over a low heat for around 3-4 minutes. Keep your eye on them; they burn easily.
  4. If they still have their skins, tip into a clean tea towel and rub vigorously to remove. It doesn’t matter if some stay on.
  5. Use a hand blender or spice grinder to grind the nuts (I like to leave a few chunky bits) and set aside.
  6. Peel, core and roughly slice the apple. Place into a bowl with 200g of the blackberries, 4 tbsp of the muscovado sugar and the mixed spice. Toss together and set aside.
  7. Place the remaining blackberries in a pan, along with 3 tbsp of water, the caster sugar and the bay leaves. Place over a low heat, stirring regularly for around 8-10 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and blackberries have broken down to form a compote-like texture. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  8. To assemble the galette, roll the pastry on a floured surface into circle slightly larger than a dinner plate. Transfer to the baking tray.
  9. Scatter all but 1 tbsp of the hazelnuts across the pastry, stopping about an inch from the edge, then scatter over 1 tbsp of muscovado sugar.
  10. Heap the apples and blackberries into the middle of the pastry.
  11. Take the bay leaves out of the compote, then spoon it over the mound of fruit.
  12. Fold the edges of the galette into the centre, leaving a hole in the middle.
  13. Brush the pastry with beaten egg or milk, then scatter with the remaining hazelnuts and sugar.
  14. Bake in the oven for around 40-45 minutes, until the pastry is golden-brown and the fruit is bubbling.
  15. Serve straight away, with a large scoop of clotted cream.

This recipe first appeared in the November edition of my newsletter. Head over here to subscribe for exclusive recipes, news, photos, sneak previews of books, and more.

Talking Food With… Katy Moran

In my Talking Food series I’ll be featuring short interviews with authors, chefs, cooks, historians and food writers about their experiences of food, from memories to favourite recipes.

Today, I’d like to introduce as my guest author Katy Moran. Katy is a former book editor who now lives in Shropshire with her husband and three children. Her first novel Bloodline was published in 2008 and was an epic adventure set amongst the warring kingdoms of the Dark Ages. After a series of successful Young Adult Novels, Katy has turned her attention to adult fiction. Her debut adult novel False Lights has been described as ‘Georgette Heyer meets William Boyd’ and as having ‘… a marvellously dark and compelling anti-hero and a truly gutsy heroine… a terrific read’. Katy’s latest novel, Wicked by Design, was published in September.

And if you follow either of us on Twitter, you’ll know that Katy and I were allies this summer in the fight against the never-ending courgette hoards.

LM: Hi Katy! Your latest book, Wicked by Design, is set in an alternate Napoleonic era. Do historical recipes and/or food history have a place in your research? 

KM: Yes, I think that because my books are set in an alternative Napoleonic universe, details like period recipes and the food that people ate have an important role in grounding readers in the world and making them believe in it. In Wicked by Design, I seem to focus in on details of what people are eating or drinking at moments of extreme stress. There is a moment in St Petersburg when one of my heroes, Crow, is really falling to pieces at the supper table under the combined effect of grief, opium and too much brandy. Somehow, zeroing in on the details of the creamed spinach tart and beef olives that everyone else is eating throws his state of disintegration into contrast. (There is a recipe for beef olives in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, published in 1747). Crow’s state and behaviour at this moment were also partly inspired by the music video for Johnny Cash’s cover of hurt, which features him surrounded by a feast; opulent but somehow repellent platters of rich food. 

LM: Any favourite examples of food in fiction?

KM: Yes, I always remember Sylvia Green’s tiny ham rolls that she ate on the train north to Willoughby Chase, and the awful contrast with her unnerving travelling companion’s rich confectionery oozing with violet icing. Actually, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken was one of the inspirations behind my alternative timeline: ‘This book is set during a period of history that never happened’.

LM: Can you share a little about your research process? Are there any tips, tricks or strange practices you find yourself following?

KM: I work in a second-hand bookshop and much of my research is driven by books I stumble on while filing new stock in the history section, so my advice would be to visit a shop like the one I work in, that has a varied and esoteric selection of books. It’s one of the best ways to get yourself out of a plot hole, too. I always find answers that I’d never have come up with by approaching the problem head on.

LM: What is it that draws you to the Cornish coast as a setting? Can you share a favourite historical fact or piece of folklore from the region?

Hell Bay, Bryher

KM: For one of the companion novels to Wicked by Design, I needed a setting in close proximity to an island. My husband’s father was born on Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly, so that’s why one of my heroines, Hester, was brought up on the island of Bryher, and that’s how I arrived at the more general Cornish setting, too.

LM: Some quickfire questions! First, coffee or tea?

KM: Coffee!

Chocolate or cheese?

KM: Chocolate.

Breakfast or dinner?

KM: Dinner.

What’s your favourite beverage to relax with?

KM: A Gin & Tonic.

If you cook, what’s your favourite thing to make?

KM: I love baking and anything that involves the creative use of leftovers or hiding vegetables so that they are undetected by my children. Last night, I made a pie from the remains of a roast chicken and a baked ham, and the stock from the chicken is bubbling away in my kitchen. My kids spent the summer gorging on chocolate cake without a clue it was made with courgettes from the terrifying mountains that kept appearing in the garden. I’m not always this organised, though, and we’ll be having frozen pizza this evening.

LM: Can you tell us what you’re working on right now?

KM: Another novel set in the world of Wicked by Design, but eight years further on.

Thank you Katy! You can find out more about Katy at: https://katymoran.co.uk/ and follow her on Twitter @Katyjamoran.

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Halwa Carrot Cake

I came up with this cake a few years ago for a friend from Pakistan who said he was missing carrot halwa (gajar ka halwa), and who also loves carrot cake. So, for his birthday I decided to try and combine the two… After a few test runs, and a lot of texting my friend Viv to ask about correct consistencies, I ended up with this; a take on a traditional carrot cake mixed with cardamom, saffron, pistachios, golden sultanas and a large helping of sticky, sweet halwa that’s good enough to eat on its own. This is one of favourite recipes, actually, and a perfect comfort food for dark, chilly winter nights. I’d be really interested to hear about other recipes or methods for carrot halwa too!

Ingredients

For the halwa:

  • 8 cardamom pods
  • 40g butter
  • Handful golden sultanas
  • Handful of cashews
  • 250g of carrots (about 4-5), peeled and grated
  • 200ml condensed milk (about half a tin)
  • Pinch of saffron

For the frosting:

  • 250g mascarpone
  • 200g cream cheese
  • 150g icing sugar (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • zest of 1 orange

For the cake:

  • 200g butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 250ml milk
  • 2 free-range eggs, beaten
  • 200g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 350g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • A generous grating of fresh nutmeg or ¼ tsp ground
  • Handful of golden sultanas
  • Handful of pistachios, roughly chopped (save a few for the top)

Method:

  1. First make the halwa. Smash open the cardamom pods, scrape out the seeds and grind them into a powder in a pestle and mortar.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the cardamom. Stir for about a minute until fragrant.
  3. Tip in the sultanas and cashews, followed by the carrot. Stir together well, and gently fry over a medium heat, stirring often, for around 5 minutes or until the carrots are wilted and beginning to tangle together.
  4. Tip in the condensed milk and the saffron. Stir well. Reduce the heat and stir regularly until the mixture turns puddingy and almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 5-10 minutes, depending on your stove. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.
  5. Next make the frosting. Place the mascarpone and cream cheese in a bowl, and sift in the icing sugar. Stir or whisk together. Stir in the lemon juice and orange zest, saving a little zest for decoration. Cover and put in the fridge to firm up.
  6. For the cake, preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3. Line a 23cm cake tin.
  7. Place the butter and sugar together in a pan and stir together over a medium heat until both are melted.
  8. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Then, add a large spoonful of the halwa and the milk and stir to combine. Whisk in the beaten eggs.
  9. Place the grated carrots, flour, bicarb, and nutmeg in a large bowl and mix. Pour in the butter mixture and fold together until no streaks of flour are showing. Stir in the sultanas and pistachios.
  10. Tip into the cake tin and bake for around 40-45 minutes, or until golden and risen and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. If your oven is browning the top too quickly, cover in foil to allow the rest to catch up. Cool on a wire rack.
  11. Assemble by spreading the halwa in a layer across the top of the cake, then spooning over the frosting. Decorate with orange zest and chopped pistachios.

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