Thursday, 30 April 2015

I was really very hungry - M F K Fisher's extraordinary meal reimagined

Ever since I picked up The Gastronomical Me 
and read the description of a the meal served up to MFK Fisher by a young servant “almost fanatical about food” I have longed to eat that meal myself. Now through an extraordinary feat of culinary time travel this meal is going to take place at Quo Vadis in June.

It is Northern Burgundy 1936. Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher takes a cross-country walk to an old mill, which has been bought by a celebrated chef from Paris and turned into “one of France’s most famous restaurants”. She is hot and dusty. Her parched throat stings with the thought of a dry
sherry. A sherry she is unlikely to be offered. She makes peace with the thought of the Dubonnet she will most likely be given but in the first of a series of almost miraculous flights of intuition the waitress hands her a dry sherry “chosen in Spain for Monsieur Paul”.

That this is no ordinary meal is signified by the first couple of sentences which one might overlook (but do so at your peril), they describe the servant as “fanatical, “like a medieval woman possessed by the devil.”

This fantastical tale describes an extreme form of dining; one in which the will of the diner is subjugated by the skill of the chef. This (not the homicidal atmosphere) is what I think is worth recreating. This  air of exquisite perfection at Quo Vadis will be reimagined with Jeremy Lee's help at a lunch at Quo Vadis.

MFK Fisher is a lover of purity of effect, of the skilfully wrought dish made with the perfect ingredients. Her ability is not to recreate reality faithfully but to offer an embellished version of it (and so can we). She told tall tales about her life, tales in which she became a super sophisticated version of her real self, one who dined on the most sumptuous food and wine; her appeal lies in the fact that the reader is always included, she may be a little haughty but we dine alongside her. In this tale the spirit of perfection is one of the reasons you want to eat this food so much despite the oddness of the waitress.

This is a fairy tale, a fairy tale that takes place in the past but also outside time. Just as is in a fairy tale the narrator has come across an almost deserted palace. Everything is laid out as if guests are expected at any moment but no one is there. The dishes appear almost magically, we never see the chef. Everything about this meal is heightened, the attention of the servant is too much, the cooking is of almost sublime excellence, the courses exceed what MFK wants to eat but she eats them anyway. In this spirit of excess it also seems to be many seasons at once. The end result is that the diner is fed to the gills, her wishes delightfully overridden. MFK Fisher knows she has miles to walk but yet she is powerless to resist. This idea of an exquisite meal that overwhelms you and removes you from the everyday is the ideal here and what I hope will be brought o life at Quo Vadis.

The menu

A glass of very dry sherry

Eight Hors d’oeuvres – to include:

Little baked onions marinated in broth then baked in the oven with olive oil and pepper,

Pickled herring “truly the best I had ever eaten, mild, pungent, meaty as fresh nuts.”

Puy lentils with minced fresh herbs, tarragon vinegar and walnut oil,

A sizzling plate of broiled endive

Monsieur Paul’s pâté (made with goose breast, pork, egg yolk and marc “and a suspicion of nutmeg”,

Truite au bleu with new potatoes and a sauce made butter, cream and chives.

& the meal MFK Fisher doesn’t fancy
 “shoulder of lamb in the English style, with baked potatoes, green beans, and a sweet.”

Chablis 1929 “well cooled, please but not iced”

 Crisp green salad

Terrine of wild duck


The most beautiful apple tart


A glass (or two) of marc

Tuesday, 9 September 2014


The Modern Peasant was short listed for two awards as food book of the year (Andre Simon and the Fortnum & Mason food book of the year).

It won the Fortnum and Mason award:

In case you haven't seen it yet all this year I've been writing a regular monthly column in Gardens Illustrated on cooking and growing as well as contributing to the Financial Times on subjects as diverse as brains, soufflé and hop picking.

Click on the link below to read about artist Kathrin Bohm's community art project which involved gleaning and picking hops to make cordial and a green hop beer :

My pamphlet on Elizabeth David has been sent out far and wide (all the way to Emporia, Kansas) thanks to an excerpt in Petits Propos Culinaire 100. If you listen to the end you can hear me defending Mrs David on BBC Radio 4's the food programme here:

In  October the inaugural edition of Toast Magazine will feature my culinary short story inspired my Georges Simenon, Madame Maigret and the Butcher.

picture: Jo Woodhouse

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Elizabeth David pamphlet E book live - pamphlets in selected bookshops

If it's just words you want you can now buy the pamphlet in the Kindle store. If  you feel you must have it in your hands then go to Violet Cakes in Dalston, Victoria Park Books and Broadway Books in Hackney and Books for Cooks in Notting Hill Gate. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Aunt Liza Had a Cat Called Squeaker - 100 Years of Elizabeth David

I decided to celebrate Elizabeth David's centenary by writing and publishing a pamphlet. I've always been a huge fan so it seemed like the right thing to do. It's a very personal account of why she matters to me and should matter to all literate cooks.

The pamphlets are small, Le Creuset orange, beautifully illustrated by my sister Katherine Tulloh and priced £5. We're only making 200 and 82 are already sold.

After that it's an ebook.

Send me a message via twitter @jojotulloh if you would like to buy one.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


Saving seed is so satisfying not just because seeds and seed pods come in every shape and size but because you are getting something for nothing. This year I have saved radish, pumpkin, chicory and flax seeds.

I visited a plot very different from my own recently. It was an extremely inspiring garden and made me realise that the way in to a vegetable garden is important. This plot had two rowan trees heavy with berries and a vine climbing up a willow wigwam. This winter I am going to prepare the ground for a wild flower meadow around my fruit trees and lay a path straight through the centre of the plot. Garlic is in the ground and asparagus too. The swarm I hived has been working hard all summer and should have plenty of stores to see them through the winter.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

First catch your swarm - natural beekeeping

 I can now add the miracle of having hived a swarm of bees to my list of natural wonders witnessed at first hand.

I've been keeping bees for a year now in a hive designed by a French priest, Emile Warré in the 1920's. It's a more sustainable way of beekeeping that puts the health of the bees uppermost. Everything you need to know about this way of keeping bees is at

Sadly the swarm I hived last June didn't survive our long cold winter. They made it through til April but then for some reason dwindled away so that by the beginning of May I had an empty hive and a box full of dark comb honey of an intense and nutty flavour.

I put my name down on the swarm list of my local beekeeping association and waited

My hive is right outside my bathroom window, so the silent hive was a daily reproach.

On Sunday morning I got the call, there was a swarm impossibly high up in a bendy pine tree in the garden of a towerblock in Stoke Newington. Two fellow beekeepers had seen them swarm out of one of their hives and followed them, now they were trying to work out how to get them down. The more experienced swarm collectors were unavailable as were their arsenal of cleverly designed tools for reaching high up spots. I climbed the ladder to take closer look, the swarm hung plum like and beautiful swaying gently, seething.

The swarm was right at the top of the middle tree
Sally had assembled various tools 

We pushed branches into the bucket & lashed it to a broom.

We thought we had failed as only a few bees fell into the bucket. But when we took away the ladder all the bees left in the tree flew up into the air. It looked like they were swarming again but soon they were reassembling around the bucket.

About ten minutes after Sally brought the bucket down.

I came back three hours later to take the swarm back home by putting a box over the bucket and wrapping it in two sheets. I drove home very slowly. When I got home I shook the swarm out in front of my hive.

They didn't go in straight away but spent the night in a sheet across the front of the hive, then moved slowly up to form a large round beard like shape. They were investigating the hive all day and then suddenly started scurrying down mid afternoon. By early evening they were all inside the hive, scouts continued to return until night fall. Watching the bees rushing towards the entrance of the hive was a truly thrilling sight.

The swarm made a sheet over the front of the hive

Monday, 20 May 2013

Yoghurt making with cheese culture

Home made yoghurt is a deceptively easy thing to make. All you need is milk and a little commercial yoghurt to make a thick and creamy yoghurt.

 I've been making it this way for about a year but when I recently visited the Kappacasein Dairy

 I tasted Bill Oglethorpe's yoghurt made with the starter he uses to make his Comté like cheese Bermondsey Hard Pressed. Now I've started making yoghurt with a cheese culture, as it makes a very delicate French style set yoghurt.

 I got my culture as part of the excellent cheese making kit from London cheesemongers Paxton & Whitfield. This costs £45 but it contains everything (cloths, moulds, rennet, starter culture and thermometers) that you need to make both a simple soft and a hard cheddar like cheese. The soft cheeses I made with this kit were very good. Freezing the initial batch of starter means you’ll have enough for at least twenty attempts at a decent cheese or yoghurt after which you can easily buy more culture.

 Plain set yoghurt 

Take 1 litre of semi skimmed or whole milk (whole milk makes a creamier yoghurt)
100ml of pre prepared cheese starter
1 Kilner jar or large jam jar 

Heat the milk slowly, stirring occasionally until you see bubbles appear on the surface and as the froth rises, take it immediately off the heat. Remove from the heat and pour into a basin, allow the milk to cool (the temperature should not fall below 90F/32C. 

Get your jam jar ready by filling it with hot water, this way the temperature of the milk will be maintained when you pour in your yoghurt mixture.

Whisk the starter with a tablespoon or two of the warmed milk mixture then pour back into the bowl and whisk again. Pour the yoghurt into the jar, seal and wrap the yoghurt pot up in a towel or blanket and place in a warm spot for 8 –12 hours. Don’t jostle the pot if you do your yoghurt may not set.

I use an insulated cool box as I find this way guarantees success every time. Take a small ice box and heat it by filling it with hot water, pour the water out and put the jam jar wrapped in a tea towel inside the insulated cool box. This will make the yoghurt even snugger and imitates a commercial yoghurt-making machine. Also it’s harder to wobble a jar that’s held tightly inside a box.

After it has set you should refrigerate the yoghurt. It will keep in the fridge for about a week.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Modern Peasant will be published by Chatto & Windus on 30th May 2013

This months sees the publication of my book about independent food producers, Lynn Hatzius has done some really wonderful illustrations and also made this beautiful cover. There will be an extract from the cheese making section of the book in the Financial Times on Saturday May 18th. I spent a very happy day yesterday watching Bill Oglethorpe make Bermondsey Hard Pressed and ricotta as his Kappacasein dairy in Bermondsey so that Jason Lowe could illustrate my words with photos of Bill at work. I look forward to seeing everyone at the launch party.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

School gardening club

I'm so happy to be part of the group who help look after our local primary school's garden and run an after school gardening club. In the past two years our growing space has expanded to include 11 raised beds, chickens and now an orchard of heritage apples (planted just before Christmas). We now have a blog How Does Our Garden Grow? which is updated each week (sometimes by the children themselves) to show what the gardening club gets up too: