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So here I am in France, spending some time with my parents as I have time on my side and came across some cheap flights via Ryanair.

One thing about coming here is the food. And I don’t just mean the wondrous creations cooked up by my mum, but also the food that I come across in the shops. The first Sunday in August here is the la Fête des Traditions Paysannes in the nearby small town of Ménigoute which showcases rural life of yesteryear (or so Google translates the word “d’autrefois”) and includes a whopping market that sells everything from dried meats to cheese, from soaps to olives, from trowel handles to plaits of garlic

Garlic Plaits, Menigoute

Even in the supermarkets, however, you can often find a stunning array of goodies (I will freely admit that you also get a lot of crap and a lot of grot, now that the French have grasped the idea of fast and convenience foods in all their salt-laden, preservative-rich glory) …

I mentioned in a previous post about the meal I cooked before Christmas which included an apple strudel for dessert. It was a close run thing between the strudel and baklava as I had a hankering for that sweet dichotomy of crunchy pastry and soft filling. I settled on strudel that night simply for expediency (apple + raisins + filo sheets = rolled + done), but the yearning for baklava set off a flash in my brain that could only be fulfilled whilst visiting my parents in France.

I may have mentioned before that my mother has a wonderful array of cookery books – running the full gamut of cooking genres – Indian, Italian, French, English, baking, fish, Chinese, old-fashioned, fads & trends – and personalities – Jamie, Nigella, Delia, Hugh, Gary – but there’s one book that often sits alone, not kept with the other cookery books. Which is a surprise as it is very much filled with recipes, albeit no glossy photographs. It is more a book about a culinary culture than, say, a British twist on foreign cuisine.

The title is “The Melting Pot: Balkan Food and Cookery” by Maria Kaneva-Johnson. Here’s a piece of the blurb from a review in The Independent back in 1996:

“… in this scholarly work, which is surely the most comprehensive ever attempted on this opaque subject. The Melting Pot has been a magnum opus, entailing more than 20 years of research, requiring knowledge of the cultural, religious and social differences of eight distinct regions, not to mention a familiarity with their languages – Albanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Macedonian, Romanian, Serbo-Croat, Slov-enian and Turkish.

Kaneva-Johnson’s aim has been to give wider credence to a homely but delicious cuisine that has been overlooked. Balkan food culture is complex, she admits, though the centuries-long Turkish occupation gives it an overall shape.”

The uncreased-ness of the cover is a testament to how little this book has been used. Its main fault lies with its lack of photos of what the dish is supposed to look like, presumably because we’re used to the gloss and the glamour of modern cookery books and programming. There’s a lot of information on the history of the Balkans, and the influences that have gone into the food – the first recipe isn’t until page 64 (admittedly they do continue for another 300).

Anyway. The rather long-winded point that I’m trying to make is that there is a wonderful chapter entitled “Syruped Sweets & Sweetmeats” which includes some baklava, kadaif and halva recipes which sound pretty fantastic.

The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot

Since being here I’ve already cooked three dishes which I should’ve been a bit more sensible about photographing (i.e. taken some) – lamb biryani, lemon cheesecake & aromatic duck – and I’ll share those recipes with you in a series of later posts. Currently I’m cooking up a batch of salted apple cinnamon caramels from Smitten Kitchen … photos later.

I guess that’s about it for now … I’ll be back in a bit with a post about aromatic duck …

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