Monday, June 28, 2010

Winter in Melbourne - Tomatoes and Mushrooms for Comfort

Winter is the time for newspapers and magazines to wheel out articles about comfort food.   What is the local celebrity chef's favourite 'comfort food'?    It's probably noodles, soup, a stew or braise or some other heavy carbohydratey, meaty concoction 

This is not comfort food to me.  

To me,  comfort food is a simple feast which evokes memories of childhood or a happy time.    That is what brings succour to the soul and explains why we cook these dishes again and again, and in the depths of winter when our thoughts can turn to the past.  

This is Wootton Manor, the 17th century listed house in Sussex in which Elizabeth David, cookery writer, grew up.   A number of extensions were added by family friend, the architect Detmar Blow, (Isabella Blow married his namesake and grandson) including a staircase hall, library, ballroom and nurseries, resulting in an interesting yet harmonious Arts and Crafts - Jacobean house.  

Is it any wonder Elizabeth David became such a sparkling writer?  She may not have had a completely idyllic childhood, but she was surrounded by wit and stimulating intellects:  Walter De La Mare and Rudyard Kipling were local and frequent visitors.  

Here is Elizabeth David (second from right) in 1923 with her father and mother Stella and Rupert Gwynne) and her sisters Felicite, Priscilla and Diana.

Like all children of that class and era, she was largely raised by her nanny, in her case, one Nanny Cheshire, who used to cook the girls little treats on the open fire in the nursery.  These were oases in a desert of junket, tapioca, boiled turnip tops and spinach, mutton and dry rice pudding.   Until they turned eleven, the girls were only permitted to dine with their parents once a week, at Sunday lunch.  

The dish which sticks in my memory, and of which Elizabeth David wrote so evocatively, was that of mushrooms in cream.

The girls would venture out in the early morning to pick the tiny button mushrooms which grew in the field beyond the bluebell wood.   They then brought the mushrooms back to Nanny, who would briefly saute the mushrooms and pour cream over them.    Once the cream has bubbled and reduced a bit, they would be ready to eat.  

This is a wonderful dish which I cook frequently finished with freshly ground pepper and chopped parsley. 

My comfort food is equally simple.   Cold tomato on hot toast.  My mother used to make this for me when I was little.    It is a little funny how something so mundane can be so good. But that is the way of life sometimes. 

Like all things so simple, there are a number of requirements which must always be met:

The toast must be proper thick sourdough.   It must be spread with butter.  Tomatoes must be sliced thinly and then drizzled with olive oil and Maldon salt.    The tomatoes have to come from the fridge, even though I don't usually keep them there.   

The contrast between the hot toast and coldish tomato is taste heaven.  Truly.   

And now I force my children to eat it too and they love it!  So the cycle continues.  


Josephine Tale Peddler said...

Wootton Manor is so beautiful and interesting, Jane! So sad to think of children dining with their parents once a week. I love how you bring such interest to all your Blog posts. The old photograph is wonderful. My idea of comfort food is all the usual mainly based on carbs. Mashed potato, sausages and mashed potato, fish and chips. I also love Nanny Eggs which are simply soft-boiled eggs with bread, salt and pepper. And my mother's chicken curry. My ultimate comfort food is Apple Crumble with custard. And the cold tomato on hot toast looks superb. I am definitely going to have to have some for lunch tomorrow now. xx

Amanda (Small Acorns) said...

Aren't we funny with our comfort food. I'm a creamy mushroom girl too - with a little chilli thrown in for good measure. And eggs - especially scrambled eggs made with cream, and also on sourdough toast. This I could eat every night! Simple is so often the best.

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Oh Jane
I had mushrooms fried up the other day.. first time I have had mushrooms in years.. so yummo!!! and I agree that comfort food is those that evoke memories of childhood and familiar times....

Just love these blue/grey images.. fabulous..

have a lovely week xxx Julie

Mise said...

I've also taken to tomato on toast since you mentioned it in a comment once, Jane, but I see now I've been doing it All Wrong - wrong sort of bread, and without butter (but still yummy).. I shall make sure I prepare the élite version next time. And so interesting to see the photo of Elizabeth David's family, looking full of privileged possibility.

Jane said...

Mise - I think the Gwynnes have got that 'we look like hobos in our funny knitted hats and slightly scratchy skirts but we are actually the children of an MP and the grandchildren of Viscount Ridley' look down pat.

And I love the way they stare so ferociously into the camera.

Ange said...

I am the girl who dreams of a tomato on fresh bread during my week long races while others dream of steak and chips (the French dream of steak and chips - can you imagine that???) In fact - I am going to have tomato on toast this morning with a cup of milky coffee and think of you. My dad used to make us creamy mushrooms ...Sigh - My kids will grow up wishing for a mix of vegemite on toast and croissants. Such is the way of cultural change ;-) Mind you, I ate so much tomato on toast during my pregnancies that they must have a taste for it under there somewhere.

count it all joy said...

What a fascinating and drool-inducing post, Jane. It's absolutely freezing in Sydney today (it was -1 this morning!) and although I have a chicken cacciatore in the oven, after reading your post, all I want to eat now is tomato on toast! Gosh, you write well...thanks for sharing. Meredy xo.
p.s. re coffee table....adore the lucite, don't care if it's as yesterday as Tuesday - if you love it, you love could always use that wonderful line with your husband "I thought I'd ask for forgiveness, rather than permission" - fingers crossed!

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