Sunday, 30 March 2014
It's Poires au Chocolat's fifth birthday today!
The past five years have taken me from being a 19-year-old fresher to a few months off 25. So much has changed but blogging has been one of the strongest threads through it all. It's hard to describe how important this space has become to me and how protective I feel - it's been a part of my entire adult life. As I sit here facing my next five years, I know that a lot of things will look very different. Though I'm sure my path won't make it easy, I really hope that Poires au Chocolat will reach ten.
In the end, I decided to celebrate five years by writing an ebook. I'd been looking for a fun project for a few months - something I could get my teeth into - and it seemed like the perfect thing to do. I wanted it to be different to the blog but still working along the same lines. I thought something historical with lots of references to stories and literature was the sort of thing that would work.
So the ebook I'm writing is about the food sent out to the front in parcels by loved ones in World War One. It's the sort of topic I love - slightly random but fascinating to research.
I studied WWI literature for my A Level synoptic paper in my last year of school. We could read anything we liked on the topic - poetry, prose, British, German, modern or contemporary. It was one of my favourite papers to study (tough competition came from my introduction to Chaucer and a paper on William Blake) and certainly my favourite to write, with the sort of open questions I came to love at university. The things I'd read stuck with me and suddenly resurfaced when I was thinking about possible topics.
The scale of the horror and suffering during WWI is hard to comprehend as someone who has never known war, looking from a century's distance. Despite that, I hope I can commemorate it with respect. I want to focus on the small moments of joy and on the comforting power of food from home. To remember those small personal details, in some ways insignificant and everyday, but vital nonetheless.
I'm not an expert on the history (it would take a lifetime - or at least several decades - to be that) and I'm not trying to write a textbook. In many ways this ebook will be a collection of all the anecdotes and comments that have made me smile or touched me as I've read and researched. It's a way of bringing together all the bits I don't want to forget and that I find myself excitedly blurting out to friends and family.
I think that blurting feeling comes from having found the research really gripping - it's had lots of moments, twists, and surprising gems. It's also been emotional at times. Sitting in the Imperial War Museum research room reading letters written in the trenches - touching the very paper - is an experience I won't forget.
I'll also remember - for different reasons - a day I was working in the Bod and stacked up a beautiful first edition of a 1915 cookery book to find that about a third of the edges had never been cut (it looked like it hadn't been read in several decades). I had to go and ask the librarians what to do and then sit there, paper knife in hand, slitting each page of the cakes chapter. The sound of tearing paper ripping through the silence in a no-seats-left lower Rad Cam is engraved upon my memory - I was half expecting a fellow reader to perform an enthusiastic citizen's arrest.
The ebook will be split into two sections. The first part will cover the sort of things that were sent out (from cakes and chocolate to two brace of grouse, smoked salmon & clotted cream), rationing, the rules, Christmas and various other topics, with quotes and contemporary photos and that sort of thing. The second part will contain ten recipes (things like shortbread and toffee) with headnotes that describe the letters and stories that mention them.
I'm going to experiment with selling it as a PDF from the blog (though Selz.com). You won't have to leave the site to buy it. I like the idea of a PDF ebook because I want to be able to design attractive, static pages with the images set in properly.
I'm planning to finish and release it in May - I'll let you know about a date soon.
I hope you'll all like it and find it as interesting as I have. Even if not, it's been just what I needed personally. It's felt completely different from working on the beginnings of bigger book projects (far less stress and fear). It's still a challenge, just of the right sort of size. There's something wonderfully satisfying - and, to let the geek really flow, thrilling - about being on a research hunt, chasing quotes and references from book to book and archive to library and back again. It's like fitting a puzzle together.
Anyway - back to the birthday. As I've mentioned many times, one of the reasons this blog is called Poires au Chocolat is because of the pear and chocolate loaf cake (as below) that I tested that fateful Easter holiday in 2009. Yet there's also another layer, in that one of my favourite desserts growing up - and today - is the humble combination of freshly chopped pear and melted chocolate.
It's too simple for a recipe but I thought it would be perfect as the background to this post. If it helps I reckon we usually use roughly 10-15g dark chocolate per pear (melted as per the glossary) and a pear serves one. A few splashes of double cream finish things off.
My first, 100th, 200th & 300th posts (this post makes 332 overall):
1: Lemon Curd Cake
100: Butterfly Fleur de Sel Caramel Cake
200: Toffee Apples
300: Dutch Baby a.k.a. Puffed Pancake