This is Patrick Leigh Fermor.
Read why he should be your hero here -
So, we went to France. The plan was to cycle to Paris. Then we heard about Den. Den is from Middlesbrough. He is Terry’s dad, he occasionally fed the children their pets, and most importantly he owns a smallholding in Brittany. With goats and chickens and all that. Obviously we went there instead. And we took the car.
Early morning starts always seem like a good idea when you book the cheapest Eurostar tickets. They suck after pre-holiday celebrations. Mags can’t remember a thing until five hours into the trip. Customs police had checked to make sure we weren’t transporting his dead body. They all looked fucking dead. Dead comfortable, asleep in their moo moos and two-piece party suits. Being the driver sucks too.
I’m not sure if you have driven in France, but there are a lot of tolls. Unbelievable amounts. We got charged twice just to turn around, once for each 90 degrees. Honestly.
It may just be in the mind, but French countryside is way nicer than ours. Every cottage/converted barn/medieval farmhouse has chickens and ducks and fuck-off veggie gardens, with poly tunnels and everything. The men driving aesthetically pleasing rust spotted tractors wear striped shirts and smoke little cigars. Wheat field’s stretch golden into the distance, scarecrows wave at you, and small cats emerge from the underbrush to play. Even the cows are more relaxed in France. I think we only saw two on their feet. The rest were lying in the lactose rich paddocks as the milk curdled and turned to Camembert in their udders.
Den told us he lived near Dinan. And he does, kind of, but not when you speak zero French, can’t read the signs, and are way too cheap to pay for roaming on the phone just to use Maps. Den lives a good half an hour from Dinan, down dirt roads and wrong way roundabouts. He lives in the middle of no-where. It took us a while to find him. But wasn’t it grand when we did. The weather was beautiful, nay, perfect. The farmhouse was exactly what none of us had dared hope for, the chooks had just hatched chicks, the rabbits were due, and the goats were drinking each others’ piss in some summer fertility ritual in the back paddock. There was even a gypsy caravan. And twenty-seven bottles of wine. France is Radical.
Den is such a dude. He is almost hairless, has a northern accent, and has snake daggers tattooed on his forearms. His hobbies include fishing for carp, and fishing for foreign women on his favourite website, plentyoffish.com. He had just returned from a romance in Rio, was meeting a French babe down the sea when we left, and had a flight booked for Thailand to go ‘cat-fishing’. Not even really sure what that means. He was incredibly welcoming. There was cured meat, cheese, and farmhouse cider waiting, he had decked out the attic bedroom, and he gave us hugs. We gave him chilli powder, and some sliced wholemeal bread, cause he was sick of that ‘cheap French shit’.
The next day we went to the beach, swam in the crystal clear (cold) water, and found a cave. There was a French car-boot sale on the hills overlooking the ocean. French car-boots are kind of like English ones, except you want the shit they are selling, the wine is good, and you’re the gross ones. We bought a cast iron pot, and a cheval (horse) medallion for the Lurch. She loves horses. Then we drank all twenty-seven bottles of wine, and bought a gun.
It’s an air rifle really. Den sold it to us for 70 Euros. It looks like a proper gun though, with a scope and everything. And it kills rabbits, or any other small edible mammal you could think of. To celebrate we all dressed in Den’s camouflage gear, (he has an inordinate amount of camo, enough to dress all of us. Too much camo to be honest. What’s he need it all for?) and posed with our new shooter. Then we shot a scarecrow and drank alcohol free beer in Den’s gypsy caravan.
Foraging the gun back to England was going to be a problem. Den assured us it was fine, but we were pretty sure transporting firearms over international borders wasn’t really the done thing. We thought about putting it in the spare wheel well in the boot, or under the back seat, but decided against it on the grounds that it might look too much like we were trying to smuggle it if it was found. At the same time we couldn’t just drive through customs with it on our laps. In the end we just threw our bags over it, and plugged the holes with cheese.
They found it.
We were told to stand separately, and not to talk to each other. There were loads of French police, and real guns. To be fair, it looked pretty wild when they pulled it out of the boot. I think it was the scope that did it. The lady with the dog looked disgusted after searching the rest of the car. She came out with a frown and wrinkled nose, and muttered something to her colleague about fromage. Probably something along the lines of, “These English-scum gun runners smell of cheese and arse”.
Somehow we got the gun back. They were going to fine us 15000 pounds for a concealed weapon, but I think it would have been too difficult to explain with our non-existent French. And it was probably a subtle fuck you to the UK letting the cheese-stench rifle maniacs in. The gun was taken off us during the ferry trip, and returned on British soil. We never told them about the ammo though. So technically that makes us gun smugglers. And after we kill a rabbit illegally in Epping Forest, we will become poachers. I will cook it in our French pot, like this -
Joint one or two rabbits, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and fry in the French pot until nice and browned on all sides.
Add 3 spring onions and 4 cloves of garlic. Sweat.
Add some small potatoes, halved.
Get one of those tops 3 Euro bottles of red wine from Super U, then use a third of it.
Add two tins of tomatoes. If the liquid doesn’t cover your meat, top up with water.
Throw in half a jar of kalamata olives, a chicken stock cube, and a good bunch of rosemary, stalks on.
Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for a minimum of an hour, but the longer the better.
Sprinkle with fresh Thyme, and serve with dumplings, or mash, or whatever the fuck you want really. Cause you’re outside the law.
They sailed slowly beneath the bridge on which we stood. The driver, or captain, or pilot – the guy with the pole – looked unsteady. The boat rocked from side to side as he shifted his feet, searching for balance. The horse-faced students being driven about lay slumped happily on the cushions, laughing in that way only the privileged of Britain can. Punts.
We were in Cambridge. We had come for a dog, but that was the future. In the present we stood amongst the polite landscapes of St Johns College. Rolling, perfectly flat, and brilliantly green grass spread between the majestic oaks and straight paths designed to accentuate the grandness of the buildings all around. The grass was not to be walked on, and most of the buildings closed to the public. Tourists and visitors followed sign posted paths, and students who believed too much marched orderly in the streets.
There is an inherent nostalgia, and romanticism, to places like Cambridge. You imagine dreaming students at ancient stone windows, and dark wood panelled libraries silent but for the creak of old books (bound in human skin), and the swish of student’s robes. The great halls, magnificent drunken professors, and secret societies all exist here somewhere, beyond our reach. Really they’re just twats in boats and rugby jerseys.
We walked on their grass, ignored their signs, and foraged the fuck out of their land. The school is separated from the normals by walls and water. Shallow canals crisscross the grounds, and their grassy banks are the perfect place to find ramsons, or wild garlic.
Wild garlic is fairly common in damp woodlands and grassy banks throughout the country. It appears in thick, grass-like spears, usually growing in large colonies. The leaves are dark green, flat and wide with no ridges, and are unmistakeable in their smell. The garlic aroma can be so strong that you can smell large colonies before seeing them.
Unlike cultivated garlic it is the leaves of the ramsons, rather than the bulb, that are eaten. They have a slightly milder, fresher taste than normal garlic and can be used as a substitute in most dishes. They can also be eaten raw, chopped roughly and put in salads or sandwiches. We made a pesto, because pesto goes with everything.
All you need to do is blend the ramsons with half of their weight in shallots, walnuts and finely grated Parmesan cheese. So if you had 100g of wild garlic you would add 50g of shallots, 50g nuts, and 50g cheese. Blend, gradually adding olive or rapeseed oil, until you have achieved desired consistency. Add some good sea salt and sugar to taste (generally half as much sugar as salt), and bottle in sterilised jars. If sealed correctly the pesto should last up to a month in the fridge.
New London food zine ‘erbs is out soon. Centrefolds, photos, recipes, and the Mexican motherfucker!
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Originally published by Mint Magazine 14/02/2012
Goats are pretty rad. They are bad tempered, they smell, and they taste good in kebabs. I saw a video of a goat yelling like a man once. They pulled Thor’s chariot. The Greek God Pan had the lower body of a goat. He got heaps of nymph babes. Goat is one of those words that looks wrong the more you read it.
Goat. Goat. Goat. Goat. Goat. Goat.
But the best thing about goats is that they give us goat’s cheese.
Most good things in life are cheese related, and goat’s cheese is right up there at the top of the smelly pile. Even better, goat’s cheese is relatively simple to make. All you need is a lactating goat and a coagulating agent to separate the milk into curds (solids) and whey (liquid).
I know that you’re raising your eyebrows right now and thinking, “I don’t have either of those things, dickhead”. But you would be wrong.
The traditional method of separating the curds and whey in cheese making is to add rennet. Rennet is found in the stomach of calves, but any juvenile mammal will do. Its natural function is to break down mother’s milk.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to steal and slaughter a baby cow in order to harvest rennet. Natural rennet can be made from the common stinging nettle. It’s kind of just like making tea.
Bring 1 litre of water to the boil with a heaped tablespoon of salt.
Add enough nettles so that they are just covered with water, put a lid on the pan and simmer for 20 minutes.
Drain off the liquid and discard the nettles.
1 cup of liquid will curdle 4 litres of milk.
If, like right now, outside is covered in snow and the temperature is a good 5 degrees below freezing then you can just use something acidic, like lemon juice or vinegar.
Goats lactate like crazy. On average they produce around 3 litres of milk a day, and can keep producing long after the kids are weaned. Sometimes they don’t even need to have kids. Fuck, even boy goats have been know to lactate. A fat kid on my bus used to be able to do that. Only once a day though, he had to let it refill. It was super disgusting.
There was a time when London was flush with goats. It was flush with disease and pestilence as well, so don’t get too teary eyed and nostalgic. Still, with this Whole Foods branded renaissance in natural foods it shouldn’t be too hard to get hold of goat’s milk in the capital. And there is always the Internet.
But this is the Skull Gang, so we found a goat. I can’t really say where. Her name was Cordula. She was from Guernsey. She had golden hair and a thing for bananas. My hands were cold, but she didn’t mind. I put her head in a vice and went straight for the tits.
I’m assuming that most of you city folk have never milked a goat. Neither had I. It was so fucking weird.
Heat 1 litre of fresh goat’s milk to around body temperature (38 degrees Celsius).
I didn’t have a candy thermometer, so I just used my finger. If the temperature feels neutral, not too hot or cold, then you should be pretty close. Alternatively, buy a thermometer.
Add ¼ of a cup of lemon juice (or the same amount of nettle rennet) slowly to the warmed milk. Use a strainer to keep the seeds out.
Stir for a few seconds more. By now the milk should have started to curdle.
Leave to sit for around 20 minutes.
Place the colander over a large bowl.
Add the now separated curds and whey to the colander. The whey will pass through into the bowl, leaving behind the cheesy goodness in your cloth.
Tie the corners of the cloth off to form a little pouch. Hang this somewhere, with the bowl underneath to catch the remaining whey.
You can leave it to drain overnight, but the longer it drains the drier and crumblier it will get. I pulled mine after about 3 hours to ensure it was nice and creamy.
Fold through some salt if you want, then spoon into an airtight container and put it in the fridge. If you used nettle rennet, the salt in that recipe should come through in the cheese.
Eat it on things. Obviously.