Tag Archives: condensed milk

Beef jerky ice cream, anyone? The murkier side of harvest festival

Do you remember harvest festivals at school? Those uncomfortably half-pagan rituals that have been absorbed into the Christian calendar – a lesson in keeping your friends close but your foes closer? I don’t know whether things have changed these days, but when I was at junior school, harvest festival was one of those annual events that, despite being lauded as A Good Thing, made parents either groan or panic.

The week before, schools would give their young charges a brightly coloured piece of paper to take home to remind mum and/or dad of the happy event. This would immediately be stuffed to the bottom of each child’s bag, only to resurface months later. Savvy to this possibility, and taking no chances, teachers would remind the class again the night before that they should all bring something to donate to those less fortunate. And so it would begin: a parental sigh of exasperation, followed by the excavation of unwanted food for the greater good.

In essence, that’s what harvest festivals are: charity shops in edible – or semi-edible – form. The acceptable face of fly-tipping; a clever dance whereby the recipient shows more gratitude than he should and the benefactor less. Harvest festival is a dumping ground for things you wish you’d never bought or know you’ll never use again: the BOGOF bargains and ill-considered impulse buys that got out of hand; the tin of condensed milk you bought for a recipe and never used; the free sample of beef jerky that no one tried; a dented tin of plum tomatoes; a random box of stale ice cream cones. My mum once exhumed a vintage tub of strawberry milkshake powder and looked at me doubtfully for approval – upon closer inspection it had expired the year before I was born.

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Joining the Breakfast Club

This week was my turn to cook at The Breakfast Club, a pop-up restaurant run by the oft-mentioned Rachel. It was also the hottest week of the summer so far, with temperatures topping 30 at the weekend.

It was late on Friday evening when I wondered whether I could stand the heat – and if not, whether I should get out of my kitchen. I’d dried the tomatoes for hours in a warm oven. Said oven was now heating up again, this time to welcome my Portuguese custard tarts. I was boiling kettle after kettle of water to turn into iced tea. And everything I touched was starting to melt.

Such was the intensity of the heat that at one point, an apparition came to me. There, at the far end of my kitchen, a mirage appeared, and out of the haze stepped Gregg Wallace, wearing nothing but a white towel and an ugly grin. I’ll never forget what he told me (mainly because he repeats it so often on MasterChef that it’s the next most natural thing to him after breathing). ‘Cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this,’ said he, portentously. ‘Yes it does you ridiculous little man,’ I replied sternly. ‘Now get out of my kitchen before I report you to Hello magazine.’

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