Monday, 22 November 2010

Cornwall's Country Kitchen

One of Cornwall's joys is its food. Not the pricey Padstow emporia of Rick Stein, or Mockney Jamie's Fifteen Newquay dining experience. Nor the bizarre fusion food knocked up at other tourist spots by wannabe celebrity chefs. The cognoscenti know Cornish fare isn't really about dining out.

The other night I was at a garage paying for petrol. Queueing was an old man in ragged clothes. Sharply, he turned to me. "Do you like fish?" I'd never seen him before; in my mind, I edged away. I replied cautiously that I did like fish, yes.

"I been fishing all day, but they made me come back." I nodded, while glancing round for a possible weapon. "There's some in a bucket by the door, help yourself to a couple if you want."

I hurried to pay for the petrol. But just as the old man had said, outside was a bucket. Within, scales gleaming, mackerel, just out of the sea. I took two, and returned to thank the man for his eccentric generosity. He beamed and moved toward me; a moment later I gave him a wave from my car. That evening I cooked the beautiful fish, fresher and with more taste than a supermarket could ever, ever manage.

In Cornwall too, we have wayside produce. During the summer and autumn, in boxes on garden walls across the Duchy coy little displays appear, goodies fresh from the garden, allotment or farm. Invariably they're unattended, but tins are left out for customers' money. Cash of course, the way Cornish people like it, no need to trouble the revenue men. Gnarled, bumpy vegetables, shiny fruit full of flavour, eggs with bulging, vivid yolks rather than pallid little puddles of 'yellow'. All at a fraction of the shop price.

If you're partial to seafood there's a thriving underground trade in crab and lobster, fresh off the boats, sold at the Falmouth dockside. Well actually, just round the back. A little coinage, a big fat crab. I've learned to dress these beasts and they're delicious. For a good deal you need to know the right people, and fortunately I've been introduced. Meanwhile Oliver and his lot are charged the full whack, which they pass on to the tourists.

And who'd bother with supermarket meat? I've found a butcher in Redruth who supplies the most tender, succulent fare at lean prices, straight from the farm down the road. He'll joint it for you, or dice it up for a stew, or score it. His pork chops are thick and obscenely juicy, with golden crackling which deserves to be a Cornish national delicacy. It's to die for, especially if you're the pig.

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