Thursday, 26 February 2009

Being Flexible with Tradition

Tuesday this week was Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the beginning of Lent. Historically Christians gave up meat, fish, eggs and milk for the forty days of Lent, to remember the time Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness before he was crucified. (Not many Christians eschew all those foods during Lent now, although many still choose to give up something in the hopes it will help them to focus more on God.) The tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday arose out of the fact that wasting is a sin, and all those foods being given up for Lent would need to be eaten before it began. Well, one of the best ways to use up eggs and milk is pancakes, hence the development of Pancake Tuesday - something that is now celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike.

When I was a little girl, the local church would have a pancake supper on Shrove Tuesday and my parents and I would go there every year. It’s one of my earliest memories. But as I grew older, life got busier and often Shrove Tuesday passed without pancakes. So I re-instituted the tradition when my son was born. I got pretty stuck on the idea that pancakes were for breakfast though, which made it very hard to keep the tradition on busy mornings. We get up very early during the week, and I don’t know about you, but making pancakes at six am is not my idea of fun! So once again, the tradition got sidelined.

Finally this year I realised that there was no reason we could not have a pancake supper like the ones I remembered from my childhood. Pancakes are really not difficult to make even if, as I was on Tuesday, you are catering for different people at different times. The pancake mixture is easily made up and stored in the fridge for an hour or so. As it was our main meal of the day, I also served bacon.

Even though I live in England, it is the North American style pancakes I remember from my childhood that I like to make for Shrove Tuesday. (In fact, it is this sort of pancakes I make nearly all the time.) English pancakes are more like crêpes in my opinion and whilst I love them as a dessert (particularly the 21st Century Husband’s Crêpes Suzette), I don’t think of them as proper Shrove Tuesday pancakes.

Last year when we were visiting my cousin Esther, she gave me a marvelous pancake recipe. I always used Bisquick or pancake mix in the past, but not anymore! Esther’s recipe is the most delicious I have ever tasted. It also works very well if you want to make the pancakes in batches to serve all at once, keeping them warm in the oven. Some pancakes wilt under these conditions, but not Esther’s.

Just in case you fancy a belated Shrove Tuesday celebration - or perhaps a long lazy brunch this weekend - I’ve included Esther’s recipe below. Happy Belated Pancake Day!

Esther’s Pancakes

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt (I use about half a teaspoon)
3/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I use half fat créme fraîche)
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted

In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream, milk, and melted butter. Add all at once to the dry ingredients, stirring just until combined. Cook on a hot, lightly greased griddle or in a frying pan.

Serve with maple syrup.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

An Upside to the Downturn

Something funny happened when we visited Paris last week. For the first time, every waiter in every restaurant was in a good mood. This did not always use to be the case in Paris, where waiters can be quite grumpy on occasion and even rude. But no, they were all jovial and friendly, more so than I ever remember. More and more, the same thing is happening to me wherever I go in the world these days.

Please don’t get me wrong – I have had fabulous dining experiences in France in years gone by – and I have experienced rude restaurant staff the world over. From the chef in England who refused to cook my steak to my version of medium – despite the fact that his version of medium was quite blue – to the maitre d' who attempts to make their customers feel inferior – bad service exists everywhere. But it exists less and less these days.

I suppose it is not that surprising really. The economic slowdown means that for many of us “staying in is definitely the new going out” and we are thinking twice before we eat in restaurants. My family and I are notorious for our love of dining in fine restaurants, and even we are eating out less often – only when we are travelling or for special occasions. Suddenly restaurant prices seem extortionately high – and they are continuing to rise. The price of food is not just going up in the supermarkets, restaurants have to pay their suppliers more too, and they are passing this increase on to their customers.

In France, restaurateurs began to feel the pinch back in 2008, when profits reportedly dropped twenty percent. Three thousand restaurants and cafes closed their doors in the first half of 2008 alone. Things are not improving either as the strength of the Euro against the dollar is making North Americans hesitate to travel to the Eurozone. So not only are French restaurants losing local clientele as the recession bites, they are losing the tourist dollar, something that has always been hugely important to them.

Those tourists who do venture abroad are expecting better value for money than they have been used to getting, and many rent small apartments with kitchens instead of eating out all the time. I can understand this as during a recent visit to Paris I never managed to pay less than fifty dollars a head for lunch – and as we never drink alcohol at lunchtime that does not include wine. Dinner rang in at between ninety and a hundred dollars per head – and that is before we added wine to the bill.

It is not just happening in Europe either. Restaurants all over the United States are reportedly feeling the pinch as customers either cut back on the amount they dine out or cut out dining out all together. Canadian restaurants are having the same experience, particularly in Ontario where the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association forecasts that foodservice sales will fall up to 6.3% in real sales.

Interestingly enough, in London this does not seem to be the case. According to commercial property group Shaftesbury, restaurants in the West End of London are still doing a brisk trade, with the weakness of the pound attracting larger numbers of overseas visitors. I wonder how long this will last though, as prices in West End restaurants seem to be skyrocketing, and there is only so much that the market will bear.

Some of those feeling the credit crunch are simply moving downmarket in terms of eating out. Although McDonald’s sales fell in early 2008, now they are rising. In fact, McDonald’s has said it plans to open 1,000 new restaurants this year alone. Fourth quarter pre-tax profits rose nine percent as the company profited from consumers trading down during this economic crisis.

But for those of us who continue to enjoy quality over quantity, it is the dining experience that is taking on new importance. As I found in Paris last week, restaurateurs and their staff world-wide are realising that they must be friendly and welcoming at all costs in order to ensure repeat visits from an ever shrinking clientele. In order to encourage those of us with money to spend to return, our experience has to be extra special, not just in terms of the quality of the food, but also in terms of our experience and how important we are made to feel.

I think this is a long overdue adjustment, particularly so in markets like New York, where tips of twenty percent are regularly added to the bill as a mandatory charge. When people treat themselves less often, they want that experience to be outstanding – and while they may be expecting to pay the price, they want to see value for money in what they spend. Whether it is listed as a separate item your bill or not, part of what you are paying for is service. And gone are the days when menus sans prix can be presented to guests at expensive restaurants – as are the days of “if you have to ask you can’t afford it”. Frankly if you don’t ask today you won’t be able to afford it tomorrow.

As much as I deplore this economic crisis, I think it may finally usher in a long overdue era in fine dining world wide, where the customer is finally looked on as someone very special indeed and value for money takes precedence over snobbery. Without the customer there is no market – and without the market all that is left are empty restaurants and unemployed staff.

Vive la difference. Finally - an upside to the downturn!

Monday, 16 February 2009

No More Cakes and Tea?

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" Malvolio in Twelfth Night

Whenever I read or hear this quotation from William Shakespeare's Twelfth NIght, I always think tea should replace the word ale. Shakespeare was reputedly a great tea drinker and of course there are few institutions so British as that of afternoon tea. Originally 'afternoon tea' was an entire elaborate meal - course after course of sandwiches, scones and cakes. Nowadays, most British hotels both in England and abroad offer some form of afternoon tea, from the incredible multi-course afternoon tea at the Ritz and other top London hotels to simple tea and cake. But sadly, for most of us these days, afternoon tea is simply a rushed cup of tea. This is why we Brits take any opportunity we can to enjoy a proper afternoon tea when life slows down enough to let us.

One of the times I can do this is when I am traveling. There is nothing like a bit of work or sightseeing to sharpen the appetite, and a cup of tea and a cake can be a great way to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner. And I have to confess, after years of traveling, that England is not the only place where you can enjoy a fantastic afternoon tea.

I am in Paris at the moment and I have to admit the French don’t officially take tea in the afternoon the way the English do, but I can promise you that if you visit a French cafe or restaurant around four o’clock, you will often see people requesting a table for “un petit dessert” which they have with a cup of tea or coffee- in other words, afternoon tea.

One of the best places in Paris to take afternoon tea but still stay true to French ambiance is the wonderful Le Fouquet’s on the Champs Elysées. The 21st Century Husband introduced me to it some time ago, and we try to make at least one visit there every time we are in Paris.

Le Fouquets has been an institution since 1899 and its iconic red awning has welcomed everyone from Churchill and Chaplin to Jackie Onassis and Theodore Roosevelt. Of course, Le Fouquets serves wonderful full meals, but if you arrive at the right time in the afternoon, they will happily serve you coffee or tea and “un petit dessert”.

The selection of “petit desserts” is quite staggering and they are anything but petit in most cases. The most famous of these is their Fouquet’s Millefeuille, a chunky tower of crisp pastry layers sandwiched together with thick layers of creme patisserie and served with a raspberry coulis. As well as tea or coffee, Le Fouquets makes wicked hot chocolate that is really almost like liquid chocolate melted in a cup. As if this were not sinful enough, the Viennese version of this treat even comes with cream! Okay, so it is not strictly tea, but I think with temptation like this you would be allowed this variation on the traditional.

Le Fouquet’s is beautiful, with luxurious red decor and plush red and gold curtains. Photographs of the celebrities and statesmen who have visited line the walls and the atmosphere is one of relaxed and cheerful elegance. Comfortable booths are available, and some of the tables even have sofas for seats. There is a formal dining room on the second floor. Le Fouquet’s is so famous that this thriving restaurant has been designated an official Monument Historique, and it is still popular with celebrities. However, the staff are so discreet and the seating arrangements so intimate you would be hard pressed to spot one of them. Furthermore, in my experience you are treated politely and made to feel special whether your photograph would be welcomed on Le Fouquet’s wall or not. In the fine weather, if you don’t mind being seen, you can even sit at one of their highly coveted tables outside on the Champs Elysées watching the world go by.

Another wonderful place for afternoon tea in Paris is yet another French institution - Ladurée. Where Le Fouquet's is known for its red awnings and decor, Ladurée is noted for its pastels, particularly its iconic pastel green entrance on the Champs Elysées. Even the china they use is in pastel colours. Like Le Fouquet, Ladurée is beautiful. There are several rooms; the tea room facing out on to the Champs Elysées, the amazing new cocktail bar at the back, and several dining rooms upstairs. These are all elegantly and tastefully decorated - and unlike Le Fouquets, even the restrooms at Ladurée are gorgeous.

Ladurée is most famous for its amazing macarons - which come in virtually every flavour imaginable. And no, I have not mis-spelled macaron - these delicacies are as different as they could possibly be from macaroons. Although macaron themselves were brought to France by Catherine de Medici from Italy in the sixteenth century, it was not until 1930 that Ladurée's famous double decker macaron held together with a creamy ganache filling was devised by the grandson of the founder of the restaurant. Ladurées' macaron have a light, crusty exterior which belies their soft, melting middle - they are nothing short of ambrosia. Of course, you can have anything you like at this famous restaurant, from un petite dessert to a three course meal, but it is their macarons - and amongst British tourists and ex-pats living in France- desserts and afternoon tea - they are remembered for.

Ladurée's dessert menu is over three pages long. The choices seem endless - choux pastry is stuffed with cream flavoured with rose water and topped with almonds, extra large macarons are sandwiched together with a fresh apple filling and cakes that in any other restaurant would be known as "death by chocolate" are on offer. This is before mentioning their ice cream dessert menu which also fills a page, and the choice is made even more difficult by the fact that their iconic macaron are available for purchase by the boxful downstairs in their shop so you need not feel you have to eat them in the restaurant. At this point I almost hate to mention that their menu of teas is almost a page long as well - Ladurée is a difficult place for the indecisive! But if you can finally choose, afternoon tea at Ladurée is an experience you will not soon forget.

So yes, even if you are in France, perhaps the least English of any country, there will still be cakes and tea, whether you are virtuous or not!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Here I Am Once Again

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a sixteen year old girl who dreamed of becoming a translator. She was studying four languages in high school and her favourite was French. When the opportunity arose for her to travel to Paris on a school trip, she leapt at it. At first, her parents said no, but then they relented, and she found herself traveling to the City of Light with a group of other students one rainy Saturday morning in the early 1980’s.

In the week she spent there, the girl fell in love with Paris. From the Eiffel Tower rising up above the Champs de Mars, to the Tuilleries with their fountains and gardens, to the Arc de Triomph sitting resplendent at the top of the Champs Elysees, everything seemed magical to her. The cobbled streets entranced her, the people - especially the fashionable ladies along the Avenue Montaigne - fascinated her, and the food dazzled her taste buds. It was such a city of contrasts - the beautiful and the ugly, the rich and the poor, the old and the new juxtaposed everywhere. She was besotted.

This was the girl’s first trip outside of North America, and at the time foreign travel seemed such an expensive luxury that she worried she might never return to the City of Light. The thought made her incredibly sad. And so, as she sat on the bus the morning the left the city on the way to the airport, she prayed fervently that God might let her return just once more to this amazing place - this Paris she had fallen in love with.

No, I never became a translator but yes, the girl was me. Life took me in a different direction but I am very happy that it did. The way the prayer was answered never fails to make me stop and be thankful every time I arrive in this magical place. You see, I cannot even be sure now how many times I have returned to Paris. I remember the first time was in the late 1980’s but since then I have come here at least once a year. So that would make this roughly my twenty-first visit here. God is amazing.

I'm here with the 21st Century Husband and Teenager, and over the next few days we plan to enjoy the hospitality of this wonderful city. As usual we will be visiting lots of the famous and not-so-famous places to eat - so watch this space for a Taste of Paris.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Carnivore's Quandary

Recently there has been a lot of buzz in the food world about something very controversial. Both professionals and environmentalists alike are recommending we seriously cut back on the amount of meat we eat.

For a credit crunched, previously hedonistic society, this has come as quite a shock . Not only is food becoming a minefield of political correctness, with the posing of awkward questions ranging from “can you maintain your ethics and eat foie gras?” to “did you use free range eggs in that cake?” but now we are being asked to change the whole way we eat. And the even more worrying thing is, the people who are asking us to do this are anything but vegetarians. They include members of the United Nations, Nobel Prize winners, doctors and food writers.

Apart from about a year where I dabbled with vegetarianism in my early twenties, I have always been a confirmed meat eater. I love a good steak and chicken features in a huge number of my recipes. Like many other people, I have been rather alarmed by the idea of seriously cutting back on my meat consumption. As a food writer, I have written more vegetarian recipes recently because people seem to be interested in them, and I do love vegetarian food – but I seriously doubt I could make the huge commitment involved in becoming a proper vegetarian. A dear friend of mine who has been a vegetarian for years says if you can withstand the smell of a hot bacon sandwich, then you are truly committed to the vegetarian way of life. Well, I’d never manage that to start with.

Doctors have long advised us that meat consumption can cause serious health problems. Eating too much meat can cause heart problems, cancer and other nasty diseases. Not only that, but too much meat equals too much protein – and that can only be excreted through your urine – putting pressure on the kidneys. We don’t often think much about our kidneys - but if they don’t work properly, it can kill you. More people than you think die of kidney failure – my own wonderful Dad was one of them.

But now it is not only a matter of health, but also one of environmental stability. Some of the reasons many knowledgeable people cite for seriously cutting back on meat consumption are enough to make even a hardened meat eater worry about the environment. Mark Bittman, author of Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, writes that the problem with raising animals for food is that they consume more resources than they produce. He states that the environmental impact of eating a typical family of four steak dinner is to drive around in an SUV for three hours while leaving all the lights on at home. Oh dear, that does not sound like a good idea at all. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently recommended that people should aim for one meat free day a week, before scaling down their consumption even further, to help the climate become more stable. Furthermore, Compassion in World Farming calculate that if every average household in the UK cut their meat consumption by fifty percent it would cut emissions more than if car use was halved. As someone who loves her cars, I have to confess I’d much rather cut back on meat than use my cars less – although I appreciate that the idea is probably that I actually do both.

Needless to say, all this has caused considerable alarm in the farming community. The poor farmers have had rough time in the last few years – particularly in the UK, with Mad Cow Disease, Foot and Mouth and Bird Flu scares. Now all these professionals are recommending people cut back on meat, presumably cutting back rather seriously on the farmers’ livelihoods. It is no surprise that farmers have responded angrily to these suggestions. They believe they have been unfairly targeted and that moderate meat consumption benefits health. Not only that, but they feel there are other ways to effect climate change.

On some levels they may be right. Moderate consumption of lean meats can offer health benefits. Most of those of us who get into difficulties with our health due to meat consumption simply eat too much of it. In fact, not so long ago the USDA Agriculture Fact Book reported that since the 1950’s, meat consumption has increased by over fifty-seven pounds annually per person in the United States. Fifty-seven pounds is one heck of a lot of meat for one person to be increasing their consumption by, and I’m not even going to begin trying to multiply that by the number of people living in the United States. Yes, God did tell us we have dominion over the animals and we could eat them, but I am pretty sure He did not have the 16 ounce steaks offered on many restaurant menus today in mind when He said that. It all comes back to the old saying “a little of what you fancy does you good”.

Lucky for us, most of the people recommending we cut back on meat are preaching moderation and not abstinence. I would really miss my ultimate comfort meal of a good steak and a glass of red wine. I do think we need to heed these recommendations though. Carrying on as we are is simply not an option, unless we want to live very unhealthy lives in a world ravaged by climate change. We each need to take responsibility for making the small, necessary changes in our individual lives in order to benefit both ourselves and the planet.

As for me, the recommendations have encouraged me to explore the vegetarian side of my culinary work even further by developing more meat free recipes. I’m also planning to keep some days meat free in the 21st Century Household. I hope other people will take action too so that we can all keep on enjoying reasonable quantities of meat – and a stable environment - for years to come.

Friday, 6 February 2009

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get....Baking?

We’ve been snowed in this week by the worst weather Britain has had in eighteen years. This is not a problem in the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen. My store cupboards, fridge and freezer are always full. I grew up in Canada and rough weather was never a surprise during the winter months, so as a result I learned very early on that it is good to keep your larder full. It avoids having to go out in awful weather, and means that you are never without the things you need to feed your family – not just adequately, but well.

I did find that by Wednesday I was beginning to run out of original ideas for meals and I battled my way out to the supermarket, where I found a lot of other people also stocking up against the storms. I left with a full trolley, and everyone else must reckon this weather is going to last a long time, because I saw people leaving with enough provisions for several winters, not just a few weeks of snow. Perhaps they have very large families. Having said that, since the rationing of the Second World War, the British response to virtually any crisis is to stock up the larder. Shortages were so acute during that war that the fear of them happening again for any reason whatsoever has permeated its way through generations of Britains. Even now, over sixty years later, any disaster, real or imagined, results in a run on the shops and sometimes, even shortages of things like milk and bread.

But the most embarrassing part of this particular crisis in the United Kingdom is that we have been snowed in not by feet of snow but, in most places, by less than a foot. Even more cringe worthy is the fact that here in West Berkshire where I live, we have been snowed in by even less than that. This is not because we are lacking in back bone, but rather because we are woefully unprepared as a nation for weather of this type. Actually, we are rarely prepared for any weather. We discuss it constantly, but this is a country that seems to consistently receive the “wrong kind” of snow or rain, causing huge problems with transport. Similarly the use of air conditioning in private homes and even public buildings if rare (it has only just been made a standard feature on most cars in the last five years) because, it is maintained, it is only warm for a few months each year so a few weeks of comfort are just not worth the investment. So it is no surprise that as we only get heavy snow once every few decades, it is believed that we have no need to invest in enough snow plows and even the adequate supplies of salt and grit that could get us through a crisis like this. And it is the latter that has caused all the problems this time. Our city councils are running out of salt and grit, and have had to ration it to only the major roads. They have delayed sending out the gritting trucks until the last minute on many occasions in the hope of saving the salt and as a result many schools have been closed for four days this week, people are unable to get into work and the country has, if not ground to a halt, considerably slowed down.

As someone who grew up in Canada, I find it very embarrassing to admit I have been snowed in by such a tiny amount of the white stuff. But although I have walked through blizzards in my time, I am hardly encouraged to venture out as I watch cars slipping and sliding all over the roads on the evening news and hear about accidents and people getting stranded. So this has been a week for turning inwards. The 21st Century Husband is able to work from home part of this week, and indeed has been doing so. This week he has put in over sixty hours as our home became a satellite office. The two hours he has not had to use to commute (and it would have taken a lot longer than that in this weather if it were possible to get in at all) have been used for work, video conferences and yet more work. The 21st Century Teenager has been struggling to keep up with his schoolwork without the benefit of any teacher contribution, a challenge in this very important last year of senior school before sixth form. And I have carried on as usual, with the exception of the fact that every appointment I had this week, bar one, has been cancelled.

Strangely enough, I have often found myself in the kitchen. I have been baking more this week than I have in several months, and at the moment the second of two cakes is finishing baking in the oven. Baking is something I have always loved, partly because I love pleasing others with tempting treats and partly because I love those same treats just as much myself, but it is not something I do that often due to a lack of time. Baking is so much fun for me it feels like an indulgence, even though as someone who writes about food and lifestyle I could easily get away with classifying it as work.

As I thought about it, I began to remember that baking was something I often did with my Mom on snow days when I was a little girl. While blizzards raged outside, we’d turn on the oven and mix up something yummy. It was usually cookies as I recall, often my Grandma’s handwritten recipe for something called Bachelor Buttons, which regrettably seems to have been lost. (The recipe was easily sourced on the Internet, but the handwritten copy is not so easily replaced.) I remember the warmth of the kitchen, the delicious smells emanating from the oven and the cold feeling of my nose and hands pressing up against the small square windows that decorated our front door as I waited for my Dad to get home out of the storm so he could taste our baking.

So maybe that is why, during this week when the familiar has shifted and the entire nation has found itself held hostage to capricious weather systems and a lack of forward planning, I have sought comfort in the warmth and familiarity of my kitchen. I’ve cooked and baked in a lot of kitchens over the years, but many of the things that surround me in my kitchen today are from the kitchen I baked in all those years ago. And I still get the same feeling of satisfaction when I can offer someone cold and hungry a nice cup of tea and something delicious to eat that I did when my Mom and I would serve tea and cookies to my Dad when he got home.

There is a huge pleasure in providing not just sustenance but nourishment and warmth for our families and one of the easiest ways to do that is through baking. I find it tremendously comforting. At least it takes a bit of the sting out of the embarrassment of being snowed in by hardly any snow at all!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Life is A Bowl of Cherries - As Long As You Avoid the Pits!

Cherries have been eaten for centuries, and have long been a part of popular culture. Erma Bombeck made us all smile when she said “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?”. Shakespeare saw them as the stuff of desire, and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, had Demetrius describe Helena’s lips as “kissing cherries”.

As for me, cherries are one of my favourite fruits. When I was a little girl, my Aunt had a cherry tree. I remember her picking cherries from it for me when I was too short to reach them. They were sweet cherries and we used to have to be careful to get them before the birds did. Double cherries were the best. My Aunt used to pick them carefully so they did not separate and put them over our ears as earrings. Of course they did not stay on our ears long; we could never resist eating them.

I also remember my Dad buying a box of those chocolates with maraschino cherries and liqueur in them for his secretary every Christmas. He would always get an extra box to bring home for us to share. For me, these were just the biggest treat imaginable. Nothing beats the taste of dark chocolate followed by the lovely warm hit of cherry brandy, and finally the soft gorgeous maraschino cherry melting deliciously in your mouth. It is such a vivid memory that although I have not had one for years I can taste them now.

I don’t know whether it is just those good memories influencing me, but cherries always seem like a really special treat. Most of all, I love cherry pie. I remember making one for my husband not long after we were married. The pie turned out beautifully and I served it very proudly, but for the first time in our marriage, my husband refused to eat something I had cooked. And to be fair he had battled his way through some “interesting” dishes in those early days when I was learning to cook. “I don’t like cherry pie,” he insisted. I was desperate for him to try it but he would not be swayed. He would not be drawn on the reason either and watched quizzically as I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of the piece I cut for myself.

I was not very happy that my attempt at domesticity had been rejected (especially as the pie really was delicious) and as a result that was the last time I made a cherry pie for many years. I’d treat myself to cherries from time to time, and after our son was born and old enough to hear the earring story, he and I would happily share a pint of cherries –popping the double ones on our ears as earrings just like I used to with my Aunt. Yet still my husband refused to eat my favourite fruit. He might cautiously eat one or two fresh cherries, but he really was not enamoured of them. Whenever I made Christmas cakes, he would encourage me to make a recipe that did not include glace cherries, and he always passed on the cherry jam I loved to spread on my morning toast.

Having said that, it is not like we had cherries a lot. Even in season, they are terribly expensive. Although they have a long growing season and will grow nearly anywhere, the labour involved in growing cherries along with their propensity to damage from rain, hail and birds makes them relatively expensive to produce and of course that cost is passed on to the consumer. I guess that is another reason they have always seemed like such a treat to me.

It seems virtually everyone I have ever met likes cherries, so I could never understand my husband’s aversion to them. It didn’t matter what it was, if it hd cherries, he did not want to eat it. It was not until we were at a dinner party some years later where the only dessert on offer was homemade cherry pie that I was to find out. This was one of those important dinner parties where to refuse dessert would not only have been seen as rude, it also would have been a grave political error. It was only as my cut gingerly into his unfortunately generous serving of cherry pie that I learned the reason behind my husband’s aversion to this famous fruit.

It turns out not everyone has such happy memories of cherries from their childhood. Apparently, the first and only time my husband ate cherry pie as a child it was made from scratch by someone who genuinely did not realise you had to remove the pits from cherries before putting them in a pie (or perhaps simply ran out of patience when doing so) and the teeth aching conclusion to his dessert put him off them completely. So he was pleasantly surprised on this later occasion to find that the pie he was eating not only had no pits in it, it was actually quite delicious.

Not long after that I risked putting glace cherries in a Christmas cake. My husband loved it. And the other day I made an almond and cherry loaf cake in which the glace cherries were clearly visible - and he said it was one of the nicest loaf cakes I had ever made.

Yet my beloved still won’t willingly eat cherry pie. Whoever made that pie all those years ago has a lot to answer for! He never did reveal to me who it was except to say it was no one from his immediate family. I hope whoever it was discovered that cherries are lovely without pits, but with them they perfectly illustrate Shakepeare’s assertion that “Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour”.