I was leafing through a cookbook. I spend a lot of my time leafing through cookbooks. Sometimes, while standing at the kitchen counter before the day has started proper, cup of tea in hand and pondering upon all that I could cook and all that we could eat. Other times, I sit in bed with my camomilla after dinner, and read through recipes as if indulging in a wonderfully compelling novel. That kind of leafing through cookbooks – the kind I do in bed with no real method or plan or intention to it – that is one of my most favourite things. It is how I relax. Do you do that too, I wonder? Or is it just a me thing?
Anyhow: Honey From A Weed by Patience Gray. It’s a funny book, really; there are no glossy pictures – the pages, filled with evocative sketches, tell the story of a stonemason living in Southern Italy. Then there are a few recipes added in for good measure. The book is about fasting as much as it is about feasting and the quirks of simple life in a part of Italy where time stopped long ago and has been moving very slowly ever since.
Perhaps my favourite chapter is the ten or so pages dedicated to la merenda, that Italian ritual of afternoon tea. I say ‘afternoon tea’, because while merenda may or may not actually occur in the ‘afternoon’ and rarely involves ‘tea’ as such, somehow afternoon tea seems to encapsulate its spirit, in as much as words of the English language can. Merenda is – as Patience Gray so aptly points out – a very different affair from a ‘snack’, say, which is food snatched; merenda, you see, is food shared. Of course, food shared always tastes best. Don’t you think?
Growing up, la merenda was an important part of daily life. It was a something truly worthy of the la, of that almost reverential ‘the’ that – like an introductory drumroll – precedes its very mention. La Bellucci, la Loren, la merenda. [Read more…]