In the slightly rearranged words of Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy, green bean.
At least, it’s not easy when you suddenly come in for a lot of green beans, as I just have. And let me tell you, this mob has that menacing look that certain vegetables acquire when gathered in great numbers, daring you not to waste a single pod.
In physics terms, dealing with said mass of beans is a space-time problem – I could freeze them if I had space or pickle them if I had time. Meanwhile, I am tackling them with that which I know best: heat and potatoes.
“Before long it becomes hard to imagine doing much of anything for ourselves — anything, that is, except the work we do ‘to make a living.’ For everything else, we feel like we’ve lost the skills, or that there’s someone who can do it better.”
Though Micheal Pollan might, I think, have missed the news about this weekend’s Grandmothers’ Day events at Sandbrook House in Ballon, Co. Carlow, I suspect, reading the extract from his forthcoming book, that he would have approved.
The extract paints a dizzying picture of an economic world, spinning ever faster on an axis of relentless specialisation, a process which, at the same time, binds us in a tourniquet of learned helplessness and leaves us hopelessly disconnected from the origins of our food. He articulates the case for loosening those bonds, “making visible again many of the lines of connection” with our greater food system through the medium of cooking (or equally, one might infer, through practising the many other food skills with which our forebears were familiar).
And it is that reclaiming of lost skills and passing on of inherited wisdom that underlie both yesterday’s Slow Roots symposium and today’s Slow Food Ireland family event at Grandmothers’ Day. It seems appropriate, then, to introduce you to winter buttermilk, one old way with food that I have recently discovered, and one which is, to my mind, well worth remembering.
The thing about winter buttermilk is that it is not, in fact, buttermilk at all.
What’s more is that, despite what its name might lead you to believe, winter buttermilk has a dairy content of precisely zero, containing neither butter nor milk nor moo nor cow, but flour and water and – perhaps somewhat inevitably, given my well-documented obsession – spuds. It also (and this is the important thing) makes for a damn fine loaf of soda bread.
It started simply thus: I had cauliflower in my fridge and potatoes on my mind.
My ponderings on what to make using said combination lead me first in the direction of this yellow, coconut-milky curry which, in turn, drew me to an old Thai-style favourite. The ever-present desire – nay, duty – to mix things up, potato-wise, took those thoughts and translated them into a bake, layered with potatoes and cauliflower and a coconut-milky sauce. And it was good, maybe very good, even. But my tastebuds told me that, while the cauliflower was fine, some aubergine would be even better. I, naturally, took my tastebuds’ advice.
Potato and Aubergine Bake
So here it is then, the net result of my potatoey thought processes – not a cauliflower to be seen but, nonetheless, with cauliflower to thank for the initial inspiration.