#443 Three-Gourd Garnish

This is a recipe that has been put off simply because I thought that it had to be served with the (#441) Smoked Chicken with Three-Melon Salad. Once I finally made the smoked chicken and was ready to make this one, I spotted that Jane actually wrote a ‘good accompaniment to smoked chicken, roast duck or lamb…’, so I could have cooked it ages ago. It’s a vegetarian recipe, but appears in the Poultry section of the Meat, Poultry and Game chapter, which is disappointing because it’s the final poultry recipe in the book, so a bit of a damp squib.

I’ve had mixed feelings about this recipe to be honest; I have a great dislike of pointless garnishes. Some foods just don’t need them. Chopped parsley is good with most British foods – but not all – and don’t get me started on the mint spring on a dessert, or as someone pointed out on Twitter recently, the single physalis fruit. Some foods are best on their own. What’s putting me off with this recipe is that it runs the risk of being a big, pointless faff.

One good thing, however, is that it introduces us a new ingredient, the bitter gourd – also known as bitter melon – those knobbly verdant green torpedoes you see in Asian grocery stores. Jane is surprised they are not used more often seeing as we have been a nation of Indian food lovers since the eighteenth century. Why hasn’t the nation taken to this delicious vegetable? Jane reckons it’s the bitterness: ‘Europeans’, she says ‘are not skilful with bitterness in food though we take it well enough in drink.’ Well, I’m game for something bitter.

The other two gourds are the more familiar courgette and cucumber.


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Gourd #1: bitter gourds

You need four small to medium bitter gourds here. Begin by removing sharp the knobbly edges with a vegetable peeler. Halve them lengthways and deseed, taking any pith away at the same time. Keep a couple of teaspoons of the seeds for later. Slice very thinly, place in a bowl with a good, heaped teaspoon of salt. Leave around three hours before rinsing and blanching in boiling water for three minutes. Fry the slices in about a tablespoon of butter to just soften for two or three minutes. Season with pepper, they may not need salt. Place in a pile on a warmed serving plate.

Gourd #2: courgettes

Jane asks for 10 to 12 small courgettes. If you can’t find small ones, then buy the equivalent in regular ones. I guessed at three. If you can find small ones, halve them, if they’re a bit bigger quarter them lengthways and in half crossways. Fry them gently in a tablespoon of butter and a small, finely chopped clove of garlic (we are looking for a suspicion of garlic here). Season with black pepper. Place the courgettes in a pile beside the bitter gourds.

Gourd #3: cucumber

Peel and thinly slice half a cucumber and fry gently in butter to just soften – two or three minutes is all you need. Pile up on the dish.

Increase the heat add a little more butter and cook through the reserved bitter seeds with a tablespoon each of parsley, coriander and chives. Cook for two minutes more and then scatter over the cooked gourds.

#442 Three-Gourd Garnish. Okay; what to say about this one? Well, the cucumber and courgettes were okay, and I like the herb combination. BUT the bitter gourds were so fantastically bitter they were totally inedible. There is only one way they could be used, in my opinion, and that’s very sparingly mixed in with the cucumbers, and by sparingly, I mean just a dozen or so thin slices. What I’m saying, I suppose, is a two-gourd garnish would have been bland, but at least you could have eaten it all. No thank you Jane. Unnecessary mint sprig: all is forgiven 3/10.

#256 Buttered Squashes

An old-fashioned recipe this one and it comes from a book called The Accomplisht Cook, or the Art and Mystery of Cooking by Robert May. It was published in 1660. To put this in context, King Charles II was on the throne after the country had briefly been de-royalled by the big old puritan misery-guts Oliver Cromwell.

Robert May himself was from a family of chefs, but obviously wanted to tell the common man how to cook; at least via rich home owners. In those days, you see, the lady of the house would have presented the head cook/chef with such a book to use. Assuming they could read. Read more about him and his book here.

Anyways, this is a very good recipe to do in the autumn because a large variety of squashes are available. This recipe can be used with ‘gourds, pompions, cucumbers and musk melons’, i.e. any soft or hard squash. The squashes are first baked in the oven at 190⁰C until tender; the length of time will depend upon the size of the squash. If the skin is very thick, it would be better to simmer it, says Griggers. I used some quite small squashes and decided to bake them.

Meanwhile prepare the stuffing for the squashes. You need to chop some onion and apples in the ratio of 1:2. The original recipe suggests using Cox’s Orange Pippins. These are not available so I used Granny Smith apples as they are quite tart. Place them in a casserole dish along with a decent knob (or knobs) of butter. Cover and bake in the oven alongside the squashes.

When the squashes are done, cut in half and scoop out the seeds and keep warm while you deal with the filling. Mash the apples and onions together and season with sugar, salt and black pepper. Fill the squash halves generously and return the whole thing to the oven for a short time to give it time to dry out a little. Serve with hot buttered toast.

#256 Buttered Squashes. I must admit I have been putting off many of the recipes in the Vegetables chapter because they seem too much of a faff to make and don’t necessarily look that tasty. This was one of them, but how wrong I was. The squashes were tender and slightly earthy in flavour which stood up very well against the sweet-sharp onion and apple filling. A big surprise that was a great supper dish, but would make a very nice first course or a good addition to some roast pork I reckon. 7/10