3 minutes reading time (699 words)

RECIPES FOR POEMS AND POEMS WITH RECIPES

There are recipes for certain kinds of poem. Villanelles, for example.

Ingredients: one rhyming couplet, each line sufficiently persuasive to bear four repetitions and bake on its own with strong flour. If you have any iambic pentameter, so much the better. Select a third line that's easy to rhyme with, since this pudding (I mean poem) only has two rhymes throughout. Pre-heat your oven to approximately 180°C.

But you don't want to make a villanelle, surely. I know they're fun to concoct, but so rarely sustaining. They remind me of Dr Johnson's unfortunate but memorable observation on women's preaching: 'like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all'.

But I digress. I am thinking really about poems with recipes rather than recipes for poems. I am working on Alison Brackenbury's forthcoming HappenStance publication, which was to have been a pamphlet and has grown into a delightful book. It is called Aunt Margaret's Pudding and contains a mixture of poems and recipes, as well as a brief account of the life of the woman who inspired them – Alison's grandmother, Dot – who worked, at one time, as a professional cook.

As a recipe lover myself, I have often been struck by the similarity, on the page, of poems and recipes. They both often resemble lists, but they're a little unpredictable. They can sprawl unexpectedly, and contain little asides that have nothing to do with the food. You can make of them what you will.

Either way, it strikes me as an excellent combination. Alison's poems are particularly good if read in combination with a cup of tea and, say, a raspberry bun. (I especially like Dot's raspberry buns and my other half, Matt, who almost never eats cake, has developed an interesting partiality for them.) So this is a little advance puff for her book, though there will be much more about it later.

I once tried to combine a recipe and a poem. That is to say I converted a recipe into what seemed to me at the time to be poetic form. I am not sure the results would have pleased the T S Eliot judges, but at least it has saved the recipe from getting lost – another use of poetry, if you like. Before it became a poem, I once lost it, and my friend Barbara, to whom I had passed it on, copied it out and gave it back to me. It is called 'Pain de Campagne' and when Barbara returned it to me, she had subtitled it 'Tired of Living in the Country'.

So whether or not it's good poem, I know it's a good recipe. It is tried and tested by more than one of us and will not let you down. Here it is:

Pain de Campagne

Day 1:
Mix these things in a roomy bowl:

8 ounces of strong white bread flour
A scant dessertspoon of table salt
8 fluid ounces of tepid water
A little dried yeast (a scant half teaspoon)

Cover with a plate and leave till next day.
At night dream richly. Record your dreams.

Day 2:
Return to the bowl.

Add 4 fluid ounces of luke-warm water
and then 4 ounces of whole-wheat flour.
As you stir the mixture, remember your dreams.
They will rise to the surface in tiny bubbles.

Cover and leave. Sleep well that night.
Record your dreams.

Day 3:

Back to the bowl.

Beat in more water—4 fluid ounces
and then add 12 ounces of strong white flour—
enough to make a workable dough.
Knead at length, remembering your dreams.
Add flour if needed. Continue to work
until the dough is beautifully smooth.

Leave to rise till doubled in size.
Sleep, if you wish, while the bread rises.

Later the same day

Punch back the dough.
Knead briefly and form a long oval.
Place on a baking tray covered in flour.
Shake more flour on top of the loaf.
Lightly cover and let it rise.

This loaf will grow.

When the size impresses you
slash the top with diagonal cuts
and bake very hot[1] for a quarter of an hour,
then somewhat cooler for twenty minutes[2].


The crust of this loaf will be domed and firm,
the crumb dreamy.
It will make great sandwiches, keep well
and prove that poetry can be useful.

[1] 230C

[2] Or perhaps a little longer, at 180° 



REASONS FOR WRITING THINGS DOWN
THE BEAUTY OF OLDE SPELLING
 

Comments 3

Ama Bolton on Monday, 15 January 2018 14:29

Mmm ... yummy! Thank you. Here's my recipe in return.

How to make Sloe Gin

Buy a litre bottle of gin.
Drink half. With friends. It is no sin.
Pick sloes when you’re good and sober,
About the last week of October.
Wash and prick the purple fruits
To release the tangy juice.
Drop them in till the bottle’s full.
Add a wineglass of sugar as well.
Keep in a cupboard, cool and dark.
Give it a good shake once a week.
Drink at Christmas if you must.
But left another year it’s best.

Mmm ... yummy! Thank you. Here's my recipe in return. How to make Sloe Gin Buy a litre bottle of gin. Drink half. With friends. It is no sin. Pick sloes when you’re good and sober, About the last week of October. Wash and prick the purple fruits To release the tangy juice. Drop them in till the bottle’s full. Add a wineglass of sugar as well. Keep in a cupboard, cool and dark. Give it a good shake once a week. Drink at Christmas if you must. But left another year it’s best.
Guest - Sarah J on Saturday, 20 January 2018 10:22

That's great!

That's great!
Guest - Rosie Barrett on Tuesday, 23 January 2018 19:19

A Sonnet to Custard

I’ve got four egg yolks, that’s a good start.
A vanilla pod, some full fat milk,
yellow and creamy, texture of silk.
I know the way to my man’s heart,
with rhubarb or crumble, treacle tart,
beats clotted or ice cream every time,
so custard it is then – how sublime.
Measure, right pan, right whisk, it’s an art.
From warming the milk, steeping the pod,
beating, whisking and not letting boil,
wafts of vanilla fit for a royal.
Comforting stages so often trod.
All through the ages the cook would sing
Custard, Egg Custard, Custard is King.

A Sonnet to Custard I’ve got four egg yolks, that’s a good start. A vanilla pod, some full fat milk, yellow and creamy, texture of silk. I know the way to my man’s heart, with rhubarb or crumble, treacle tart, beats clotted or ice cream every time, so custard it is then – how sublime. Measure, right pan, right whisk, it’s an art. From warming the milk, steeping the pod, beating, whisking and not letting boil, wafts of vanilla fit for a royal. Comforting stages so often trod. All through the ages the cook would sing Custard, Egg Custard, Custard is King.
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Monday, 26 August 2019