Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Making Peace with Tamasin Day-Lewis

In my 1/21/07 post I bring up my mixed feelings about Tamasin Day-Lewis, whose Good Tempered Food is in constant use in my kitchen. So it was I found Tarts with Tops On last week and bought it.

For those of you unfamiliar with Tamasin, here is a breezy link.

Now, if you are at all like me, Tamasin may evince a bit of dismay. Perhaps you are not so very long-legged, slender, and doe-eyed. Or maybe your family pedigree is less ... well ... pedigreed. Perhaps you do not shoot your own grouse or fish for your own freshwater shrimp.

Perhaps you are a poor baker and fear pie crust above all other culinary exploits, excepting anything involving egg whites.

Here you are, reading Tarts with their Tops Off. And you are hating Tamasin even more, because in addition to all her other impossible achievements, she is a terrific writer.

Writing about food has its pitfalls. Namely, adjectives. How often can a dish be delicious, tasty, nourishing, heartwarming, or the ultimate comfort food? Light, fluffy, delicate? Or how about that gloss for heavy meals, "hearty winter fare?"

Enter Day-Lewis, ever the poet's daughter. On gathering summer fruits from her grandparents' garden:

"I remember best the scent of the currants picked warm from the branch, splurting purple juices on fingers and mouths, then stripping the sun-ripened orbs from the stem with a fork, rolling them in the gritty sugar that would breathe its sweetness into their acidity just so, turning the sharpness into a mere undercurrent." (introduction, unpaginated.)

On purchasing salmon:

"Farmed salmon is a sacrilege, a sop to the supermarket mentality that the punters have to have everything they want all of the time." (33)

She'd play really well here in Berkeley. Which leads me to wonder why she isn't more popular here ... more on that later.

On preparing a Layered Ricotta and Feta pie:

"... Brush with melted butter and add another sheet of filo ... Repeat this until your last storey of mixture, then add the penthouse roof of a double layer of filo ... Cut a diamond pattern into the filo roof ..." (40)

Not only amusing, but informative. In context you understand what to do; the preparation of a potentially difficult dish reads as something easy, even fun to prepare. In other recipes, pies are "musky-breathed" (46), cayenne is "a dusky hot hit" (56). Meat loaf pie is "... the culinary equivalent of a stater home." (76) That is, so simple that even her nine-year-old daughter Miranda could make it, and did.

As for the pies themselves, they are largely, defiantly, British. Recipes call for organic green streaky bacon (whatever that is), Rich Jersey Milk, clotted cream, double cream, mutton. Bottles of anchovy essence. Suet and lard. Montgomery cheddar and ox kidneys. Squab. Most dishes are well-suited to their cold, clammy homeland and would set in California-acclimated tummies like so many rocks, but they'd do well in other parts of the United States. We Americans need to shed our seemingly inbred revulsion toward British Isles cookery; then again, this observation may be extended to many other aspects of our conduct on the international floor. But back to food. As insight into another culture, the recipes are fascinating--classic pies that made the most of what was at hand: excellent dairy products, lamb, sheep, pigs, game.

Which leads us back to Day-Lewis' surprising lack of fame stateside. Her cooking encompasses more than pies--she has seven books to her credit, and is an avid supporter of organic, sustainable eating. And she is gorgeous: Americans love a gorgeous girl cook. All I can think is her uncompromising promotion of English foodstuffs has failed to draw American fans. Or perhaps she isn't interested in conquering America a la Gordon Ramsay? Whatever the reason, like Jane Grigson, she deserves more of our attention.


Blogger Shaun said...

I actually discovered Tamasin Day-Lewis when living in the US. I have all of her books now, and I use them all. I agree that her writing is so evocative that she catches the reader up in her enthusiasm. Sure, we aren't all out in the sticks and can't all get snipe, but at least she inspires the reader to reach for greater heights by purchasing the best available ingredients. I would be lost in the kitchen without her; Tamasin is a personal culinary hero.

May 01, 2008 1:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Tamasin's work and have all her books. It was because of her I brought the wonderful large Aga stove(Live here in outer Melbourne, Australia)
Her version of the New York Little Pie co. apple pie is to die for....

Thank you Tamasine

September 24, 2011 12:24 AM  

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