946 Socca

The word “conviviality” derives from the Latin word for “feast” and hints at the Latin words for “living with”. In French the word for “friend” is “copain”, derived from the Latin words for eating bread together. The recent troubling events in France, the home of gastronomic excellence and inevitably consequent conviviality, make us want no more threats to the French people’s ability to continue to feast and live together in comfort and harmony with their friends and neighbours. If anyone is contemplating starting up a Feasting For Peace movement I shall, with alacrity, apply to be considered for the post of local Branch Membership Secretary.

After years of looking out for “chick pea flour” I have discovered that it is marketed under other names (yes, all right, I could have tried harder) and I have purchased a bag of “gram flour”. At last I can attempt to bring back those fragrant holiday memories of the street market in Nice on the Côte d’Azur, where from a wide cast iron pan set over a wood fire in a tin drum comes forth the fastest and best of fast foods, the “socca”, a tasty chick pea flour pancake folded into a crisp-edged floppy cone, to take the edge, and more, off an appetite whipped up by the sea breeze sweeping the sunlit length of the Promenade des Anglais.

“Cuisine Niçoise” (first published in English in 1983) is an engaging compendium of culture and cookery compiled by allegedly crooked politician and former mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin. He tells us that socca used to sustain the builders constructing the city’s fine buildings. It was the job of the site’s “bochou” (gofer) to listen for the cry of the itinerant socca vendor and to ensure his hungry co-workers got some before it cooled.

Simply combine equal volumes of chick pea flour and water, add some olive oil and some salt, mix to a smooth batter, leave it to stand for 15 minutes, then pour a ladleful into your hot frying pan that is already sizzling with a little olive oil.

I used 250ml of flour with 250ml of water plus 25ml of olive oil (additional oil is needed for frying the pancakes) and a teaspoon of salt. This amount made about six dinner-plate sized thin pancakes.

Jacques Médecin proposes, if there be no wood fire readily available, pouring the mixture into an oiled baking tin to a depth of 2-3mm and placing it under a hot grill, piercing blisters as they form, until it is well browned, almost burnt in parts, and then cutting it into 5cm squares and serving while still hot, with pepper. I will try this method next time, because frying pancakes has its tense moments, but I was after the floppy cone experience this time.

And yes it did bring back those holiday memories, on a sunny British winter lunchtime. Lovely just naked, plain and simple, but I note that there are a number of suggestions, from various parts of the world, on offer if you search for “chick pea pancake”, the only limit being the horizons of your own imagination.

Salut les copains!


The Temporary Gentleman

858 The Temporary Gentleman

In search of a fiction fix at the public library, and having had a mental bookmark for Sebastian Barry for some time, I noticed the quotation from John Banville on the cover of this new novel and it was irresistible. John Banville, in my humble opinion one of our finest novelists, labelling Sebastian Barry as “one of our finest novelists” is an encomium with which I now have great pleasure in agreeing. A strong story, recounted in melodious Irish idiom and accent, of the utmost clarity, exploring degrees of familial connections and reflecting upon a lifetime’s emotional needs, cutting between the grey damp Irish past and the blue dry present day Accra, delineating scene and mood with exact and penetrating description, using long, long, sentences (just as I am affecting to emulate here) to build up perfectly controlled drama, the best example being an extraordinary sentence of more than two pages in length, describing a catastrophic event, which seems to have the resolution of a slow motion film. It is unusual in modern fiction to come across a flawed woman and the occasion this provides for male insightfulness. Like Henning Mankell’s narrator in The Depths, Sebastian Barry’s narrator is an engineer despperate to make some sense out of the chaos of emotion. A great read.

Tennyson’s autumnal babies

846 apples

I discovered Tennyson at a tender point in my vulnerable teenage years. I have never been able to let go of his baklava-like layer upon layer of dense Victorian word-wallowing in the other-world of “fain” and “o’er” and “thro'”. A line that sometimes comes back to me at this time of year is from “The Princess”, published in 1847, describing how “babies rolled about like tumbled fruit in grass” just like these big Bramley apples falling from our tree this week. It reminds me to go and read his poems again.

Mozzicato by the mozzies

Here is a delight for lovers of onomatopoeia – a map showing the distribution throughout Italy of the range of words used for the action carried out by the mosquito on the innocent human skin. It would be onomatopoeia if you could hear the bite.

This website does have an English translation option but I think that the verbs speak for themselves – even more effectively if one can find an Italian to declaim them operatically.