This is a classic recipe from the 1954 Alice B Toklas Cookery Book, which I came across in one of my Mum's cookbooks. It's a bit of a giggle and you're never quite sure how tongue-in-cheek she's being - in the intro Alice recommends it as 'an interesting refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge Club' - can she be serious? Nowadays, the medicinal qualities of marijuana are understood better and it is used as an effective, natural pain relief by people with arthritis, MS and IBS, as well as the less drastic symptoms of period pains. Very figgy, spicy and sticky.
Makes about 20 pieces
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
a scratch of nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cinnamon (I don't like cinnamon, so I substituted the seeds from a vanilla pod, which worked out really well)
a handful of stoned dates (ha ha)
a handful of dried figs
a handful of flaked almonds
a bunch of Cannabis sativa leaves (or you can just crumble in some hash or weed)
140g light brown sugar
Toast the peppercorns and the coriander seeds in a small frying pan on a high heat until they start to smell wonderful. Put them with some nutmeg scrapings and the cinnamon (if you wish) into a pestle and mortar/coffee grinder and pulverise.
Chop the fruit and nuts and mix them in a bowl. Sprinkle on the spices and add the cannabis in whatever form you have - if it's leaves, they will have to be pounded first (i.e. in the pestle and mortar with the seeds and cinnamon), but hash or weed can be crumbled in with the other spices.
Dissolve the sugar and the butter in a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat. When the sugar has melted, the mixture will be separated: melted butter floating on top of a slightly bubbling brown sugary goo. Slowly bring to the boil - don't let it catch on the bottom of the pan - stirring briskly with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to boil and come together. Keep stirring until it is a thicker, foamier texture. Mix in the fruity bits, take off the heat and beat thoroughly. The fruit will break down and make it even smoother. (If you are left with a little melted butter in the pan, drain it off, and use some kitchen paper to de-grease the fudge mix.)
Line a tray with a piece of buttered greaseproof paper and push the fudge into it, or Alice suggests rolling it into individual, walnut-sized pieces. Cool to room temperature in the larder overnight, in the fridge if you're in a hurry, or in the freezer if you're desperate.
Shelf life: weeks and weeks.
Best kept: in an airtight box in the larder or fridge.
Fudge can be fun - just add cannabis
Allegra McEvedy has come a long way since being expelled from school and fired from the Groucho Club - for having sex in the shower. She's now married, is the culinary brains behind Leon, and has just published her first cookbook. She tells Daisy Garnett why Michelin stars are 'bollocks', and how to make the perfect hash fudge
Sunday October 22, 2006
It's not quite 'first, catch your hare', and Allegra McEvedy is hardly an icon of domestic bliss (though in fact she and her partner were married earlier this year, pretty traditionally, in a church with a blow-out party afterwards. McEvedy wore a white suit by Richard James and a purple corset; her bride, Susi Smithers, was in Vera Wang; Heston Blumenthal did the canapes, and the wedding cake was a £1,000 tier of Neal's Yard cheeses. So yes, pretty traditionally), but still, I can't just grate or crumble or sprinkle hashish into my Alice B Toklas Fudge, the recipe for which appears on page 215 of McEvedy's new book: Allegra McEvedy's Colour Cookbook, because I haven't got access to Cannabis sativa, which the recipe requires.
Where did McEvedy get hers? I ask when we meet for lunch. (Chez Kristof in Hammersmith Grove. She orders steak tartar, celeriac remoulade, chicory salad, good white wine.) 'Oh a friend of a friend of a friend,' replies the 35-year-old chef and food writer, laughing unapologetically. But then marijuana is just another ingredient for McEvedy who seems not to be daunted by anything, in cooking or in life. 'Make it without the hash,' she says reassuringly, 'because it's just fantastic fudge, that one. Spicy, sticky. Cracking,' she adds, though she doesn't much go for puddings herself - she likes an espresso, brandy and a cigarette after lunch she says, and promptly orders all three - something that is reflected in the book, which features, alongside a huge, seasonal range of what she calls 'Superstars' - 'smalls' and 'biggers' - puddings mostly using fresh and dried fruit.
But then that is the point of the book. It is, not unusually these days, a cookbook whose recipes are dictated by what is available when; by seasons and more specifically by colour, ergo the apricots and rhubarb and berries, figs and nuts and cheese - and hashish. McEvedy doesn't want you wasting too much time baking with flour and eggs and chocolate or whatever; she wants you out and about, swooning over the dark greens of winter, the oranges of autumn, the reds of summer and pale greens of early spring.
'There is a message in eating by colour by season,' she says, 'and quite a lot of hard-core nutritional research to back it all up. It is simply a good way to treat your body.' She begins to flip through the book. A few pages later she spots a recipe for Bonfire Beef - a favourite. It involves wrapping a kilo or so of beef with herbs and garlic in salt and a wet tea towel and chucking it on to a fire. She did it recently for a Gray family party (as in Rose of the River CafÃ©) and it was a big hit. 'What comes out is the most sublime piece of heaven,' she says about it. 'It's a bit fun. A bit different. A little bit bonkers. Very easy. And bloody tasty.'
McEvedy might be describing herself. And what is great about Allegra McEvedy's Colour Cookbook is that more than anything - of course the book is seasonal, and yes the colour stuff makes sense - it that it is just that: Allegra McEvedy's.
I was at school with her in fact, and I remember spotting her on my very first day there, and being struck by something I couldn't then identify - charisma it turned out. Nor was I the only one. She caused havoc and was expelled shortly before taking her A-levels, which she took anyway, and passed.
'I hit 17 and two things happened to me,' she explains. 'My mum died. And I found out I was gay. That makes it sound like I got a letter through the post, and though obviously it wasn't like that, there was an epiphany moment. The first time a girl kissed me, the clouds parted and the heavens opened. I felt enormously different. And of course if either one of those things happens to a 17-year-old there will be repercussions. Basically I went off the rails. I'd go into school with huge hickeys on my neck, looking like I'd shag anything, and did. I behaved so unspeakably that the school felt that they had to expel me. But I don't feel like I need to apologise for it. My mum had just died. That's your world when you're that age. I busied myself with the ladies to hide facing up to that.'
And now? Now McEvedy is a happily married woman. She met her wife Susi, four years ago at the ICA ('though I didn't get my mitts on her for a year because she was with a long-term boyfriend'), when she was running their restaurant and Smithers organising their events. They got married in April in a church in Hammersmith, where McEvedy grew up (her father, who died last year, was a consultant psychiatrist, historian and writer; her mother also wrote), then put their 200 guests on barges to chug down the river to Bray, where Smithers's mum lives, with bites to eat by Blumenthal - quail Scotch eggs, devils on horseback; goats cheese and pepper tarts - and a copy of Hello! magazine. At the Bray party, roast beef, sushi, pork pies, shellfish bisque made the rounds, crepes were flambÃ©ed for pud, and of course there was the famous tier of cheeses, plus a band, disco and fireworks.
And if McEvedy has settled down at home, so too her professional life seems more even-keeled than it perhaps once was. She is a founding partner of the healthy fast-food restaurant Leon, which feeds 18,000 people a day in four restaurants across London - 10 more are planned for next year - where she works every day, developing and planning menus, as well as cooking. There is a plan for a Leon cookbook, a column for Men's Health magazine, and a couple of TV projects in the works - one on cooking game and the other on food, travel and culture. And, of course, the new book. Not bad for a tearaway.
How did it all happen? 'Well,' she says, 'after a few rock'n'roll years and various odd jobs, my dad said to me, you like cooking, you like people, why don't you open a little restaurant? So I thought, that's what I'll do.' In fact McEvedy had begun cooking in earnest when her mother died and she became responsible for putting supper on the family table. 'I used to experiment a lot,' she remembers. 'Duck Ã l'orange. Not necessarily the best thing to go for when you are 17 with no training. I started the sauce with a bÃ©chamel. So wrong.' But it was when she began to train at Cordon Bleu that she fell in love with cooking and discovered she was good at it.
What followed were stints at various restaurants in London, including the River CafÃ©, the Cow (she was head chef there when she was 24), and Green's in Mayfair, where she met her friend and collaborator, Fred Dickieson. The pair have worked together, been fired together ('from the Groucho Club - I was caught in the shower with a girl and a bottle of Jack Daniel's. Fred was consistently late'), and written together. Dickieson was also best man at the wedding.
It was cooking in America though, where she worked for a couple of years 10 years ago, that had a lasting effect on her. It was in San Francisco, she says, that she really learnt about using ingredients and balancing flavours. 'I remember thinking, I'm a different kind of a chef now. I've learnt.' It was in New York, when she was effectively running Robert De Niro's Tribeca Grill, and watched a plate of food she knew cost $4 sail out of the kitchen for 10 times that price, that she realised she never wanted to cook posh food for rich people ever again.
As a result she came back to London and ran the kitchen at what became, under her, a packed-out cafe at a community centre in London (the Tabernacle in Notting Hill), serving a two-course lunch every day for a fiver. 'I do think Michelin stars are bollocks,' she says about the kind of cooking she doesn't do. 'It's not what people want to eat. All that pomp and ceremony. All those reduction sauces. You feel sick. You feel guilty. It's a waste of money and time.'
There is nothing wasteful in her book, it's true. When I made her horenso goma-ae, a Japanese spinach salad with sesame dressing, I came across this in among her instructions: 'Pass the sesame paste through a fine sieve ... you will end up with a concrete load which is loaded with flavour, but sadly plays no more part in this dish. We couldn't bear to throw it away, so we stuffed it under the skin of a chicken breast and baked in the oven. Great little cook's snack.'
The book is full of asides and jokes and nuggety tips and, of course, recipes. Some are elaborate, like pheasant risotto, some are simple - how to cook rhubarb so that it stays beautifully pink and in neat batons. The book is worth buying for the saltimbocca sarnie recipe alone. Hash fudge anyone?