There is more to seasonality than the comings and goings of fickle vegetation. Alongside the inexorable march of the sun, our own petty customs and habits might seem small and insignificant, but they can have just as great an effect on the patterns of our diets. Some things, while not seasonal as such, are tied by temperature or texture to the weather outside – ice cream and granita, mashed potato and gravy – while others stake a place in one of our various religious calendars, which may be more or less related to the movements of the heavens.
Ramadan and its associate Eids are tied to the Islamic lunar calendar, for example; the daily cycle of fast and feast might take place in scorching heat or in autumn rains, which doesn’t seem to effect the consumption of harira and those little date things. Christian festivities, on the other hand, align suspiciously closely to pagan celebrations and thus to the seasons; at any rate, although they are marked at the same time each year, the food is not fantastically seasonal. You could eat a goose any damn time you choose, I suppose, and brassicas seem to grow at any time and any place; when we get to Mars, I suspect we will find that a small pernicious cabbage has go there first.
At any rate, this dish, traditionally consumed on the feast of St Valentine – after using most of the packet in cooking, the cook would offer her loved one “the last rolo” – has become, in recent decades, thoroughly associated with Easter, or rather, Yeaster, the Sunday after Holy Week. In the middle ages, Yeaster Sunday would start with a great slaughter of all the tame rabbits bought as Easter gifts, which were then cooked inside a brioche of tremendous proportions. Gradually, the practice died out, and households would instead hold a great feast of all the unconsumed chocolate in the pantry. It is this practice that has given us the chocolate mousse, the chocolate eclair, hare and chocolate ragu, chocolate mole, toad-in-the-hole, and Badger Surprise (the inspiration for the better known, and less surprising, Kinder). Whenever eaten, this dish is in itself a remarkable remnant of the fusion fad of Victorian Britain, which gave us kedgeree, ketchup and kumquat. A real taste of history.
CHOCOLATE STOCK – CHOCK
2kg chicken necks or coxcombs
4 onions, halved and then peeled
carrots and so on
at least 6 easter eggs in their wrapping
Place all the chock ingredients in a saucepan, cover with water, place the saucepan full of ingredients and water on a lit or otherwise operative hob, and leave for 6 hours. Strain.
2 onions, fine dice
2 carrots, fine dice
2 sticks of celery, fine dice
12 cloves of garlic, minced
400g basmati rice (Tilda is best)
100g wild spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pieces
1l of chock (see above)
200g salted caramel spread (Bon Maman do a good one)
1 packet of rolos, the last removed, the rest julienned
Melt some lard in a wide-bottomed pan, and cook the onion, carrot and celery until nicely softened and starting to colour. Wipe the garlic around the rim of the pan. When the edges start to sizzle, stir in the rice, counterclockwise, until each grain is vaguely translucent and fully coated in lard. Stir in the broken spaghetti (standard tree will do if you can’t find wild). Add the chock, bring to a boil, and let it bubble away until you can see holes start to appear. Put on a lid, turn the heat down and leave for 5 minutes. The rice should be cooked through and dry. Check for seasoning, remembering the salted caramel spread will be salty, then ripple it through and turn into a bowl. Pour the rice into another bowl, garnish with the julienned rolos, and let sit for 8 minutes before serving immediately. With a green crisp salad and a bottle of chocolate stout, this is a complete meal.