Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Still life with Vegemite, prunes & 'sumas

Vegemite and friends

It seems that when you're learning the imperative form of a language, an exercise filling in the verbs for a recipe is not far off. This morning we had to ensure that our recipe for Roti de veau aux carottes et aux champignons was directed by the correct set of laissez, ajoutez, mettrez, faites, cuisez and servez. My homework for tomorrow is to provide similar instructions for an Australian dish of choice. Will it be Barbecued Emu (maybe the "Serve to old men and dogs, then the women and kids" won't be appreciated), or perhaps Witchetty Grubs? Or perhaps play it safe with some nouveau Aussie fusion (Char Grilled Kangaroo Loin with Crispy Pancetta and Eggplant Relish) or popular comfort food (Sticky Date Pudding). If only Parisian cafes served the range and quality of food found in Australian cities! At school today I overheard several students decrying the quotidian offerings here.

When you're on the road in foreign lands, locating your comfort food becomes an epic, if not epicurean, quest. One of my simple refuges on a rainy afternoon is toast with vegemite and plum jam. Now, you understand the toaster purchase! I wasn't counting on finding any on the continent, except perhaps at some over-priced import store, so I collected some in the UK. Plum jam on the other hand is deceptively difficult outside of Australia. In the United States I usually had to opt for something expensive from an organic wholefoods store, since I quickly discovered that supermarket competition in the US means that you have 47 brands of strawberry jam and not much else to titillate your taste buds.

In France, it turns out that the most common variety of plum (Agen) is more suited for making prunes. The Latin word for plum is prunus ( immortalised by Julius Caesar, clutching his belly, and explaining "Et 2 prunus") and the French word for plum is prune, with pruneaux being dried plums or what are usually called prunes in English. Although the issue is not all pruned and dried, you must remember to avoid confit de pruneau and look for the rarer confit de prune if you want plum jam, and I do, thanks for asking.

The other fruity nomenclature that I have been pursuing is mandarin vs clementine vs satsuma. As far as I can tell, the easy-to-peel mandarins are clementines and satsumas are an increasingly-popular Japanese variety (although the Japanese call them mikan). Tinned mandarins are likely to be satsumas. In practise, grocers and supermarkets are likely to mix them all together anyway using whatever labels they have printed out already*, so you will have to learn your favourite peel + taste combination by trial and error.

*This reminds me of a summer job at the end of my first year of university, where I had to sell cheap costume jewellery in Grace Bros stores around the periphery of Sydney. The rule of pricing was to pair up your available signs with the stock you had to hand. Whatever price happened to be on the sign was what you charged for that item.

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