…to be beside the seaside, oh I do like a sardine for my tea, oh I do like to roll my spuds in may-on-naise, and some fine green sauce, Tiddely-om-pom-pom!
My Dad was 70 on Saturday and so, agreeing a week of merrymaking was in order, we are all – all being the celebrated one, Mum, my brother Ben, Kate, their little boy Stanley, my sister Rosie, Paul, their little girl Beattie, Luca and I – staying in a farmhouse in Penare in Southwest Cornwall. Even the pretty persistent rain hasn’t dampened our spirits (actually that’s a lie, it drenched our spirits on Wednesday, thank god for the fudge) or appreciation of the pure loveliness of this part of England.
Secluded, seductive wood-fringed pebble beeches and tiny, unspoiled coves punctuate the undulating coastline. Serpentine cliffs provide a craggy and fierce backdrop to white-sand beaches and the turquoise ocean. Vast gorse and heather covered moorlands are dotted with hairy buttercups and grazing ponies. There are quaint shops in every town, village and hamlet whose sole purpose is selling clotted cream fudge. The ratio of pubs to people is excellent. Dark-green pastures and lush, often magnificent gardens thrive and thrill in Cornwall’s unique damp, warm and almost tropical micro climate.
We’ve been threading our way through leafy lanes over babbling brooks (Really! proper bona fide babbling brooks) in search of tiny fishing villages where we take alternating gulps of salty sea air and local beer. We’ve been to Lizard lighthouse, Roskilly ice-cream farm, Helford, Kynance cove, Gillan cove (where we happened upon a keg of beer on the beach with a note attached inviting us to help ourselves) and St Ives, which is, despite the crowds, twee shops and nostalgia for its artistic heyday, as luminous and lovely as the art it inspired.
We’ve eaten well, Cornish crab, whitebait with proper tartare sauce, hake baked with potatoes, almost perfect fish and chips, local lamb with new potatoes, Cornish yarg, Cornish blue, broad beans, butter lettuce and curly kale from the local allotments, raspberries with sugar and thick, yellow clotted cream, sea-salt and caramel ice-cream (that rivalled anything from my favourite gelateria in Rome), copious quantities of clotted cream fudge, treacle tart, gooseberry fool, gooseberry tart and on Tuesday evening sardines.
My brother Ben undertook the fishy investigations and arranged to pick up 18 freshly caught sardines from the Cadgwith Fishseller. I’m not sure we should have driven down to this exquisite tiny end-of-the-world fishing village wedged into a cleft in the silver-grey rock. But we did. ‘Bloody tourists‘ a local (a crusty old sea-dog no less) snarled as we snaked the car back up the long and winding road with our spankingly fresh fish.
This post should be tagged Bencooks as my brother took charge of both cleaning the sardines – slitting along the bottom of each fish from the throat to the rear vent, then pulling out the innards and rinsing the inside of the fish – and then cooking them – perfectly it must be said, charred on the outside, tender within – on the BBQ. He also made mayonnaise, by hand, whilst sipping locally brewed, optimistically named doombar beer.
I thought I’d already written about making mayonnaise, I’ve certainly rattled on about how much I like this glorious, creamy, silky- smooth ointment of egg yolks, oil and lemon juice, a home-made concoction incomparable to even the smartest commercially produced jar full . But having trawled backwards through my sporadic posts (my shoddy index of recipes was no help) it appears I haven’t. This then, seems like an opportune moment.
I avoided making mayonnaise for many years, believing it to be fiendishly difficult and liable to curdle, split or suffer some other terrible egg suspension/emulsion fate at any moment! Then one evening a few years ago, whilst leaning up against my friends kitchen counter, glass in hand, my tongue a-wagging, she whipped up some mayonnaise. Just like that. No fuss, no palava, no curdling. I peered into her bowl of glorious yellow ointment, ‘What was her secret?’ I whispered in case I really was mayonnaise jinxed and my voice split her master bowl. She looked bemused. There was, as far as she was concerned, no secret and certainly no reason for mayonnaise anxiety (which is rather like pastry and custard anxiety only worse.) Making mayonnaise was, with sound advice and practice, a pretty straightforward affair.
And so the advice: eggs at room temperature, a heavy bowl which doesn’t slide all over the counter, a small whisk, adding the oil (a mixture of groundnut and olive oil) very very slowly, whisking energetically between each addition and – the vital bit – practice. Lots and lots of practice, so you – and I know this might sound pretentious – learn feel the moment when the yolk and oil transform, seize really into an ointment, when the speed you add the oil is instinctive, when the texture feels right – feels like mayonnaise. And if it does split? Pour yourself a glass of wine and then add a drop of boiling water to the mixture. If that doesn’t work start again with another egg yolk in a clean bowl. Beat the yolk and then slowly whisk in the curdled mixture.
But enough talk of curdling, let the whisking begin.
- 2 egg yolks (at room temperature)
- 225 ml groundnut oil
- 75 ml extra virgin olive oil
- juice of half a lemon or dab of Dijon mustard
In a heavy bowl (which doesn’t require too much effort or holding to keep it firm) start whisking the egg yolks with a generous pinch of salt.
After a minutes, when the yolks are thick and sticky, start adding the groundnut oil very gradually – by very gradually I mean drop by drop and then a very thin stream. Do not rush and keep whisking as you add the oil.
Keep adding the oil until the mayonnaise seizes into a very thick ointment, at this point you can relax and add the groundnut oil in a slightly thicker stream.
When you have added all the groundnut oil, add the extra virgin olive oil (again in a thin stream) and keep whisking until you have a smooth, silky and firm mayonnaise. You may not need to add all the olive oil. Add a few drops of lemon juice or a dab of mustard, whisk, taste and then, if necessary a few drops/dab more. Add salt as you like.
Dollop on Tiddely-om-pom-pom!.
May I recommend serving your home-made mayonnaise with freshly grilled sardines, waxy new potatoes, a spoonful of salsa verde and a slice of lemon. And for pudding (our tea this afternoon, my niece Bea was beside herself with cream induced excitement) raspberries with sugar and Cornish clotted cream. I hope you are having a good summer.