With metaphoric knapsack on my back I am off travelling again with the refrain of ‘Val Deri, Val Dera’ softly singing in my head as this Happy Wanderer thinks of childhood in Wales when the Obernkirchen Childrens’ Choir came to my home town and sang their cheery song which became a world sensation. Enough of this nostalgia, because this time my journey takes me far south to Salento.
I am going there to meet a bunch of genuine food artisans who hold their values dear. No time this week to publish anything, so my backlog of near ready-to-go pieces are summarised here as a dry aperitivo with plenty of spritz.
Last week was the first ever London heats for the World Championships of Pesto al Mortaio – in other words a celebration of the real way Pesto alla Genovese is made in a Carrara marble mortar (mortaio). As the King of Pesto’s under-study – jokingly making me the Prince of Pesto – I demonstrated the Genovese tradition at the Italian Embassy as we set out to select a finalist from London to fly across to Genoa next Spring to compete as one of 100 amateur pesto makers from all over the world in the grand salon of the historic Palazzo Ducale.
A piece follows talking also of Moon Rabbits. New to me too and they’re a mythical delight as they work their mortar.
Another article will look at the Sassi people of Matera – troglodyte families who it’s said and recorded have lived in the same homes for 9,000 years. Their houses are caves and quarter is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sense of community is amazing and so is their cooking.
The Pane di Matera has already been a well read article and more is to come including Lucana mountain lamb, recalling more memories of a real Wales before English lowland lambs were trucked across the border to be finished in Wales and so quite legally earn the right to be labelled ‘Welsh Lamb’ – look at the colour, conformation and texture. Spot these imposters in your local store.
Then comes a rare pear called ‘Signure‘ (adopted by Slow Food), a special Japanese satsuma variety known as ‘Miyagawa‘ (below right at Masseria Nivaldine which has a very special story to tell) – and another first from the Battifarano family which has been growing vines for 300 years. Now they are creating a dessert Passito wine most unlikely made with the thin skinned Pinot Nero grape which is more at home in Burgundy where is grows far from the wind and sea. Every corner turned shows a new tale.
A fascination linked also to a Rome-based food writer leads me to Amatrice, a town on the north-most Lazio / Marche border. This popular sauce is too often misunderstood, much like its Roman sister dish of Carbonara.
Saving the biggest until last, I have a major interview piece nearing completion. For me and most I know, there are two outstanding photographers who have left their mark on food. One I wrote about already is Anthony Blake (see ‘Knew Chefs, Shot Stars’). Next comes the gentleman who brought us ‘The Taste of France’, a book still mercifully in print after 30 years and a title that no serious food lover and student can be without (ISBN: 0-906671-82-5).
I talk about – and have talked with – the world famous, award winning photo-journalist, Robert Freson who began his career as assistant to Irving Penn in 1950′s New York – seen here this summer gone with food writer, Linda Collister who visited him in his home in Maine.
A chance remark on a visit to the tiny village of La Puye (Poitou-Charentes) brought this all about. How our lives hang by fragile threads and yet days ago I talked to Charlie Boxer (below) in his essential neighbour café cum food store called ’Italo’ (Vauxhall, London).
Charlie’s father, the late Mark Boxer, was first to commission Freson in the UK when Boxer was at The Sunday Times Magazine, the first colour supplement anywhere in the world and. back then, a ground breaking title. ‘The Taste of France’ was based on a series on the French regions that Freson had shot for the magazine.
Freson broke the mould by always shooting his subjects in natural light. His passion for patina and reality – probably driven by the immediacy of photo-journalism – shone through as a revelation. This was a time when food was mostly photographed achingly slowly until any life in the food has long since evaporated in heavily lit studio sets, with brand new pots, pans, and worst of all, the wooden spoon with no staining.
Like a latter day Aladdin shouting ‘new lamps for old’, Robert Freson would ask to trade life-worn, used and battered tableware and utensils for the nearest new equivalent he could find in the locality. This is just one insight into the art of craft of this remarkable photographer’s special approach to shooting food subjects. Patina is but one of his many passions. More in my article which follows shortly.
This is a taster of what’s soon to come on garethjonesfood. This is post No 360 meaning well over 500,000 words have gone down since I went live at 05h30 one icy December morning reporting on Les Glorieuses de Bresse in Pont de Vaux.
Alitalia to Rome and on to Brindisi here I come, quietly humming ‘The Happy Wanderer’ all the while, with pen and notebook in pocket.