16 June: Bloomsday

‘God made food; the devil made cooks.’
David Garrick as quoted in 'Ulysses' by James Joyce (1882-1941)

Bloomsday is a celebration held on 16 June, mainly in Dublin to celebrate the work of James Joyce and relive the events in his novel ‘Ulysses’ which took place on the 16 June 1904. The name comes from Leopold Bloom, one of the characters in Ulysses whose wanderings round Dublin on that day parallel the ten year journey of Ulysses after the Trojan War. So it seems a good day to think about Ulysses, his amazing journey and the many poems written about him.

The journey of Ulysses is first recorded in the Odyssey, originally a collection of oral tales but written down by Homer between 800 and 600BC. Ulysses has since appeared in numerous literary versions, from Dante to Tennyson to Joyce. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath even commemorated Ulysses by marrying on Bloomsday 1956. In an essay in 1929, T. S. Eliot called Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ a ‘perfect poem’. I have a sentimental affection for it, my Father – no mean poet himself, read me Tennyson instead of nursery rhymes and I don’t remember not knowing many of the lines.

But what to cook? There’s a lot of food (and drink) in Joyce’s Ulysses:

"Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine."

Hmm - maybe not. We could however perfectly legitimately do something French. The famous bookshop on the left bank of Paris ‘Shakespeare & Company’ was the first publisher of Joyce’s masterpiece - Joyce lived in the city for twenty years. I stumbled on this marvellous place when as a very raw teenager I went to Paris alone to join something called ‘The Paris Cultural Holiday’. I was dreadfully homesick but it started my continuing love affair with Paris. The photograph below shows Joyce with Sylvia Beach outside the shop, which has hardly changed since the 1920s when this shot was taken.

So a French offal dish maybe?

My Mother was a nurse and keen on feeding us well. We ate lambs’ liver at home when I was a child, 'eat up - it’s good for you', but we never had kidneys. Mum says she couldn’t rid herself of the thought of their function. But actually I like kidneys and I do cook them three or four times a year. I make a sort of Rognons Turbigo. Turbigo is a place in Italy, the site of a Napoleonic victory - like Marengo - as in chicken. Here’s the classic definition;

Skinned split kidneys, sautéed in butter, presented around a centre garnish of grilled mushrooms and chipolata sausages, with a sauce made from the white wine deglazed pan juices mixed with a tomato flavoured and seasoned demi-glace sauce.

OK - decision made.

Rognons Turbigo (for two greedy people)

6 lambs kidneys
4 chipolata sausages twisted into 8 little ones and separated
I medium onion
2 tablespoons dry sherry,
1/4 pint wine (red or white)
1/2 pint stock - I used chicken
1 big teaspoon plain flour
1 tablespoon tomato puree
oil and butter
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
I slice thick white bread.

Turn on the oven to 180c
Cut the kidneys in half lengthways and cut out the white cores (scissors are best for this).
Cut the bread into cubes and fry in oil until golden brown, keep warm in the oven. Fry the little sausages ditto. Add some butter to the pan. Cut the onion into eighths through the root and fry until brown, add to the sausages and bread. Put the wines and about 2/3 of the stock into a jug and add the tomato puree. Fry the kidneys until golden but still a bit bloody, add the sausage, onion, liquids and bay leaf to the pan with the kidneys and bring it all to a simmer.

Thicken slightly by mixing the flour with a tablespoon of wine and whisk in quickly, I keep a glass handy whilst I'm cooking for just this reason....If it's too thick adjust with the remaining stock.

Pop back into the oven for about 15 minutes. Taste and season. Sprinkle thickly with parsley and serve with rice.

This is an amazingly cheap and delicious dish, (the kidneys cost me just 82p) and you can vary it by adding mushrooms, worcester sauce, omitting the sausages - whatever - just stick to the basic method. You can cook liver in a similar way - just don't over cook it , otherwise it's like chewing a hockey puck

The final three lines of Tennyson’s poem are inscribed on a cross at Observation Hill Antarctica, it commemorates Captain Scott and his colleagues, who died on their return from the South Pole in 1912:
‘One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

1 comment:

Emmalene said...

You have more heart than me for offal, but I love your blog and your writing! Kind regards, Emmalene x