29 November 2004
I have been preserving, this weekend. Partly the ongoing, never-ending struggle to preserve my career: Iíve just written a rough synopsis for the young-adult fantasy, and my US agent is coming to London next week (the way I tell it, it sounds wonderfully as though she is coming to London to see me, and for no observable purpose else), so I fired that down to her hotel, to give us something to talk about over lunch.
And felt madly loose-endish since, entirely unable to settle to any other work, so I started preserving mushrooms.
Thing is, about this time last year, when I was building up to all my Xmas cooking, I read an article about an Italian tradition, a Xmas Eve meatless feast with 33 courses, one for every year of Christís life. Too fabulous for words (almost literally so: I canít find either the original article or any other reference on the net. Seven and nine and thirteen courses, yes, but 33? Uh-uh. Maybe I dreamed it, maybe I slipped momentarily into a parallel universe, maybe some dangerous clown has been playing with a time-machine and the concomitant ripples in the continuum have expunged it from history). So I mustíve gone on about it a bit, because my friend Gail-Nina has remembered; and she and I shall be cooking such a feast this Xmas Eve. Every time we talk about it, we talk a lot about how to keep it simple, how much we can prepare in advance, etc.
Hence preserved mushrooms, mushrooms ŗ la grecque I suppose. Iím not sure how these first attempts will turn out, itíll be a week or two before I know, but this is how I made them:
Put a pound or so of good clean button mushrooms in a bowl, add a couple of bay leaves and a sprig of thyme, a few crushed black peppercorns and a scatter of crunchy sea salt, and pour over a glass of white wine and the same quantity of olive oil. Squeeze a couple of lemons over all, and cover. Leave for three or four hours, stirring it up every now and then.
Bring to the boil the same quantities of liquid again in a large pan, and add the contents of the bowl. Simmer for six minutes or so, till the mushrooms are tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool. Dry the mushrooms on kitchen paper and pack into a sterile preserving jar with a couple of fresh bay leaves and some slices of lemon. Leave a half-inch gap at the top, and fill to the top with olive oil. Seal, and leave a week or two.
Then, if youíre parsimonious like me, return to all that lovely liquid you drained off the mushrooms, add a couple of chillies and some more lemon juice and repeat the process with the same quantity of fresh mushrooms.
Iíll report back later, how it all turns out.
© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.