I interviewed Nigella last week. In her kitchen. I know! And as we sat at the mottled zinc table she says in her latest book is the 'nexus of my life now', we talked about, among other things, brown food.
The podcast featuring the interview about At My Table will be the November episode of the delicious.podcast, live on Thursday October 26th, but here's a little snippet to wet your whistle. Brown, we agreed, is an old fashioned, pre-Instagram colour, but it's the colour of most of my favourite food, and certainly the roasts and stews of Nigella's and my grandmothers' best-remembered dishes. Home cooking, she said, is often all about the brown, from her family's barley soup to her chicken fricassee.
What a joy! As she told me how she was often moved to tears when she hears about one of her cakes becoming a milestone in someone else's family, I counted the autumn and winter recipes I would make from her books without a single pomegranate to be seen. And as I pondered on what I would cook for a post Yom Kippur feast (some of you will spot the deliberate errors) on Saturday night, I remembered a particularly gorgeous brown dish from her book Feast.
Now in proper Jewish households (unlike my mash up family and friends of non-observant Jews and ritual-happy goys), no-one cooks during the Day of Atonement. But slow-cooking could hardly be called work, and so Nigella's Paschal lamb, roasted languorously with white beans, garlic, carrot and white wine seemed a perfect choice. Wrong time of year perhaps for an Easter lamb? Paschal, shmascal, as my husband would say. The story of Jewish ritual is always the same; 'They chucked us out; we survived; let's eat.'
That was Thursday last week, and on Saturday morning, I picked up my Southdown lamb shoulder, fresh from Lew Howard, my family butcher in Ringmer who is live this week on the delicious. podcast and who had personally checked on its welfare at the Goodwood Estate Home Farm, as he does with all the farms he buys from. Pasture-fed on the chalk ground of the South Downs, and winner of two Gold Stars at the Great Taste Awards, it fell off the bone after three hours at 150 degrees, with beetroot and sweet potato instead of carrot, and red wine instead of white (there was already a bottle open) adding autumnal tones to the richness of its brown.
At dusk, we burned our scribbled atonements (or the failings we weren't prepared to take into the next year) in a Buddhist Puja ceremony, and broke the fast that I'd failed to do, but in which my newly single friend had found the mental space to reflect on the year that's been. The light was dim, candlelit in a nod to the proper Jewish tradition, flickering against my brown and beetroot-red lamb shoulder. My grandmother would have been pleased. My husband's grandmother would have been even happier. And I think Nigella would have approved.
Now I love Nigella as much as the next person, and as 'her biographer', (as the Sunday Times calls me) I do have a particular interest. But I'm more interested in the effect her glamour and the way she 'performs' it has on her audience and readers (and my social media following when I haven't even yet released what she said to me). As a media academic for eight years, I've written and presented copiously on the subject of Nigella, or 'Nigellisima; a study of glamour, performativity and embodiment', as my co-authors, Lorna Stevens and Bernadette Capellini titled a paper we published, as the performed version of the food writer, Nigella Lawson. Here's the link and abstract if you're interested.
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