Seville Oranges

By | Bitter | 4 Comments

Bleakest mid-winter in Canada holds little joy, except for the arrival of Seville oranges. And they are here now so get some and make marmalade. I add my dram of whisky to my homemade marmalade as a salute to my ancestors and the bard,Robbie Burns as his birthday is coming up. Seemingly a quintessential English food, marmalade’s beginnings however have nothing to do with England, or even oranges.

Marmello is the Portuguese word for quince. The Portuguese mixed this fruit with sugar to make marmelada a solid, dry preserve, much like today’s quince paste. Served at the end of meals, marmelada as a digestive, and to settle the stomach, an early antacid. Whether it was the taste, or its therapeutic effects, marmalade became popular and other fruits were added, notably apples and oranges. Today, in many European languages, the word marmalade is a generic term for what English speakers call jam.

During the eighteenth century, the Scots introduced marmalade at breakfast. As both orange peel and sugar were believed to warm a cold stomach and stimulate the appetite, they believed the best way to start the day was with marmalade washed down with a glass of whisky. It was still a thick paste, and not until the end of the century did it start resemble the jam we are familiar with today. In 1797 Janet Keiller, a Dundee grocer’s wife, popularised “chip” or Dundee-style marmalade. This was made with finely cut pieces of Seville orange peel suspended in a soft jelly that could be spread. Serving marmalade (and toast) at breakfast quickly became the norm.


With the expansion of the British Empire marmalade traveled the world, to Antarctica with Scott and up Everest with Hillary. Its popularity in remotest corners of the globe transformed marmalade yet again, and recipes using limes, kumquats, ginger and pineapple began to appear. Seville orange marmalade with a splash of whisky added is my favourite. On dark winter mornings, it may not warm my stomach, but it definitely brightens my mood.





Bitter Greens

By | Bitter, Cooking | 2 Comments

The world of food is full of surprises, that’s what makes it so interesting. There is a Portuguese couple in my local market who sell olives, dried fruits and nuts, a selection of charcuterie, (they have a fabulous spicy chorizo), salt cod and a few Portuguese wines. Every time I see wine for sale in a market I think how archaic things are in Canada. Last week when I was buying salt cod to make brandade de morue,  a dish of cooked salt cod mixed with pureed potatoes and garlic, I noticed a pile of greens at the back of the stall. This was unusual because they don’t sell fresh vegetables. I asked about them and the first thing they said was that they were bitter. Great! They called them turnip tops. What we call rapini or broccoli rabe is known as cime di rapa in Italian, or turnip tops. I bought a big bunch and was told, everyone in the markets loves to tell you how to cook your purchases, that I should blanch them first to remove some of the bitterness, then cook them in a little olive oil and garlic. I protested saying that I loved bitterness, so they allowed that I could cook them without any preliminary blanching.

The bunch resembled rapini, the leaves had hollow stems, but there were no tight flower heads, just a few stray yellow flowers. The wife told me to bend the stems until they snapped, like you do with asparagus, otherwise they would be too tough. I followed her advice, then rinsed the leaves well, pulling out a few stray weeds, I’m guessing they were grown on a friends farm. As the leaves drained in a colander, I heated a little olive oil in a large saucepan and gently cooked a couple of sliced garlic cloves until they  began to colour. I dumped in all the damp leaves, gave them a stir, then covered the pot and cooked them until they were wilted and tender. The taste was like rapini, but significantly more bitter – I loved it. I am not sure my guests that night were as keen. However, that just meant I was able to enjoy the turnip greens the next day reheated in a frying pan topped with a couple of eggs. I am hoping they will have more this week.

Out and About with Bitter

By | Books | One Comment

Although Bitter won’t be on sale until September (you can always pre-order) I am beginning my campaign for this overlooked taste immediately.

I will be talking about taste and bitterness next Sunday July 13 at Savour Stratford in Stratford Ontario.

On September 17th at lunchtime, I will be in New York City at the 92Y.

Next year at the end of January I will be in Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco – so watch for news and updated links.

Back at Last

By | Blogs | No Comments

This is just a quick post to welcome you to my new website which now incorporates my blog and books. I hope you like the new look as much as I do. I’d like to thank my friend Val and the talented Stacey for their hard work. I seem to have survived the launching of the new site and the changing of internet hosts relatively unscathed. There were of course glitches especially with my email, but most of that is sorted. So my excuse for not blogging since I was in Frankfurt is that I was waiting for the new site. Now when I don’t blog I will have to look for other excuses.

The big news, apart for the new look website is what arrived from California this week, an advance copy of Bitter. It is quite something to hold your book after staring at it on a screen for months, or in my case, over a year. As you can see the cover on this site I will show you an inside spread.

What I can’t convey is how the book feels, it is very tactile and what I love best is how the the title is debossed into the cover, very sophisticated.

Book number 4 – Bitter

By | Books | 5 Comments
I made a promise to blog every week and of course I’ve already broken it. But, I do have a good excuse –  my book Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes. I am in the last stage of the book’s production, which means a lot of careful reading, looking for typos, missing words and mistakes of any kind.

Cookbooks are complicated to put together, often a recipe runs a few lines long so instead of going over a page, you trim the recipe and/or the headnote so it all fits on a single page. Often words get dropped or are left behind so the text is missing a word, or has one too many. I complicate the process by adding quotes and lots of sidebars that don’t always neatly fit. As they are my words, I have to be very careful not to read what I want to read rather than what is actually on the page. This is an all-consuming task and I find myself unable to deal with anything else. I have a short break at the moment, but at the end of the week, I’ll be back at it. It will be my last chance to check the manuscript.

The book is looking beautiful. The current trend is for naked books, that is without dust jackets. I know some people remove the jackets as soon as they buy a book, I keep my books covered. Not sure why, perhaps because they often all start to look the same naked. Well even naked Bitter will stand out. The cover has a special coating which makes the image pop giving it almost a three dimensional look. (And just what is that on the cover? –  I’m not telling although I am sure some of you will guess.) Another special touch, the word Bitter is debossed so the book is very tactile, and isn’t that why we love books? Yes it, will be available as an e-book too, but you won’t be able to run your finger over the cover and feel the title.

September 16 is the publication date, so after this intense period of concentration the book will be sent to the printers and there will be nothing left to do, except worry that I missed something. I hope to have a copy in my hands sometime in the late summer.

The next stage will be what my French friend calls le service après-vente, or selling the book. This is definitely not my forte but I will be doing a couple of events in Toronto and I hope to be in New York around the release date so I’ll keep you posted. If you want a sneak preview of the book watch my chat with Jamie Drummond at Good Food Revolution.