There will be one book in your kitchen, different from all the rest.  You can recognise it by the grease splatters on the pages, the pencilled comments you have made in the margins  and the binding coming apart. These are the signs that you have a great cook book on your shelf.  Mine is Claudia Roden’s ‘The Book of Jewish Food’. It’s a celebration of tastes and places and people and jokes and feasts and families and friends and vanished worlds. It was a revelation to me and made me realise that food is about so much more than just eating.

Inspirational cookery writer, Claudia Roden.

Claudia Roden’s recipe for Pishkado kon Salsa de Tomat, or Fish with tomato sauce, is one I make often because it is quick, simple, classy and delicious.  She says that fish cooked with tomatoes is characteristic of every Judeo-Spanish community. It is done with whole fish such as red mullet, fresh sardines, mackerel, or with fish steaks or fillets.  I make it with cod pieces, a thriftier alternative, which works very well.

The language, by the way, is Ladino, spoken by Sephardic Jews of mediterranean background. It is based on medieval Spanish, with some Hebrew, Greek, and Turkish words. If you are a Spanish speaker, you will see how close it is to Pescado con salsa de tomato.  


Serves 4


  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 1 small, mild or semi-hot pointed green pepper, sliced thinly (optional)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt & pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 kg (2lb) fish pieces, or 4 individual fish
  • 4 TB finely chopped dill, or flat leafed parsley

To make

  1. In a large frying pan, fry the garlic in oil till it begins to change colour.
  2.  Add the tomaotes and green pepper, season with sugar and a little salt and pepper, and cook 10 minutes with the lid off, until the sauce is thick.
  3. Then add the lemon juice and the fish.  Cook 10 minutes, or until the fish is opaque and flaky.
  4. Add the dill or flat leafed parsley a few minutes before the end.


  • In Salonika, Nicholas Stavroulakis adds a little white wine and a pinch of cinnamon, but no lemon, to the sauce.
  • In Derby, I make it with a green jalapeno chilli and a 400g tin of tomatoes and serve it with rice.



Since we first moved to Derby, I must have driven by this water-meadow on my way Morrisons to do the family shop, every Saturday for the best part of twenty years.  And no matter what time of year, I’d always noticed the horses but had never been able to stop. This morning I was determined to find them, and so I cycled.  Sure enough, there they were, knee deep in the buttercups and lush grass.  20160529_084042 There was a kindly gentleman by the footpath, upending a bag of hay and breaking up some carrots. I asked him if they were his horses.  “No,” he replied.  “They’re gypsy horses”.  One of the male horses came over to investigate my bicycle, and I could see he’d been fighting, and had bite marks on his rump and tail.


He emptied the bag and we watched as a group of them came up to eat. There was a shaggy foal with them. He’d felt sorry for them in the winter when the water meadow was like a lake and they’d been marooned with nothing to eat, so he’d started feeding them.  “But this’ll be the last time till next winter, now that the grass is up,” he said.

“Think the gyspies work them?” I asked.  “No,” he replied.  “But they do rotate them.  Sometimes you see different ones in the field.”

The sunlight reflected on the water and lapwings flew high in the sky.  On the far side of the water meadow, the Sheffield train went by and the horses galloped across into the next field.  I said goodbye and walked along the green way, thinking about the Romany, where they had gone and when they were coming back for their horses.









Here’s a poem written  over 2000 years old,  by Publius Virgilius Maro, otherwise known as the roman poet Virgil who was born 70 BC and died 19 BC.  It’s freely translated by M. E. Rose in ‘Green Finger’d Virgil’ from the Pickpocket Books series No. 9 ISBN 1873422105.


I remember once, under the towers of Tarentum,

Between two yellow fields,

I saw an old man with a few acres of soil,

Unfit for ploughing, or vinyards,

Or even for grazing cattle,

Yet among the scrub he had planted a real garden.

Even when ice held fast robust little brooks, and broke the teeth of rocks,

Under his sheltering walls he had hyacinths blooming.

His the first roses in spring, the first apples in autumn.

He could transplant grown trees and have them fruiting.

There were pear trees, plum trees, lime trees, laurestines

And guarding them all a sheltering column of elms.

What a gardener – and what a bee-keeper too!

But I must get back to farming

And leave other poets to tell this kind of story.




You waited a long time for this, didn’t you!  (See previous post ‘R is for rhubarb’) Well, it’s worth it because a dish of rhubarb and custard is more versatile than you think.

Remember the penny sweets from your childhood?  The sticky paper bag with Parma violets, black jacks, licorice laces and … rhubarb and custard boiled sweets.  And you can still get them!  But I digress.

All I wanted to say that rhubarb and custard is a classic British combination, delightful if made with real custard, but oh-so-horrid if not.  Here is a way to channel childhood nostalgia into an excellent cake recipe where you can use cheap custard. (Save the real stuff for a sophisticated Rhubarb Fool).


Rhubarb & custard cake
Rhubarb and Custard Cake


  • Cooked rhubarb (see previous post)
  • Softened butter, 250g (it must be soft)
  • Ready-made custard (Ambrosia or Morrisons cheap stuff), 150g pot
  • Self-raising flour, 250g
  • Baking powder, 1 tsp
  • Large eggs, 4
  • Vanilla extract, 1 tsp
  • Golden caster sugar, 250g
  • Icing sugar for dusting

To make

  1. Grease and line a 23 cm loose bottomed cake tin.
  2. Heat oven to 180C, Gas Mark 4.
  3. Reserve 3 TB of the custard in a small bowl.
  4. Beat the rest of the custard together with the butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, vanilla and sugar until smooth and creamy.
  5. Spoon one third of the mix into the tin, add some of the rhubarb, then dot with one third more of the cake mix and spread it out as well as you can.
  6. Top with some more rhubarb, then spoon over the remaining cake mix, leaving it in rough mounds and dips, rather than trying to be too neat about it.  Scatter the rest of the rhubarb over the batter, then dot the remaining custard over the top.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes until risen and golden, then cover with foil and bake for a further 15 – 20 minutes more.  It’s ready when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  8. Cool in the tin, then dredge with icing sugar when cool.
  9. Enjoy!
Rhubarb and Custard: remember them?

This recipe comes from the Good Food magazine.



2016-04-10 16.16.36

Such a brilliant colour combination, you would never have thought it up yourself. There are some Unexpected Outcomes from cooking rhubarb, so read on.



  • Rhubarb stalks, about 6
  • Runny honey, 3 TB
  • Cinnamon Stick, 1
  • Orange 1, juice

To make

  1. Heat oven to 180/350/Gas Mark 4.
  2. If your rhubarb still has the leaves on, cut them off and compost them.  They should not be eaten as they contain oxalic acid, which is not good for you.  The stalks are fine, so trim away any manky bits , then cut into pieces the length of your little finger.
  3. Put into an oven-proof dish made of ceramic or glass, drizzle over the honey and squeeze over the orange juice.  Break the cinnamon stick and tuck it in.
  4. Cover with tinfoil, or a lid, and cook for 20 – 30 minutes until the rhubarb is tender, yet still retains its shape.
  5. This is your basic unit of rhubarb. It is delicious just on its own like this, or the classic English way is with custard (but use the posh stuff), or a dash of cream.

However, using the basic unit, you can go on to other things.


th (3)

Rhubarb produces a lot of pink juice when you cook it.  It makes a wonderful Bellini.

Strain the juice into a jug .  Fill champagne glasses about a quarter full with rhubarb juice and top up with chilled Prosecco.  Mmmm!

For other Unexpected Outcomes, see the next post.