He picked up his coat from the grass and brought out of a pocket a lumpy bundle tied in a quite clean, coarse blue and white handkerchief. It held two thick pieces of bread with a slice of something between them."It's often naught but bread," he said, "but I've got a fine slice o' fat bacon with it today."
Mary thought it looked a queer dinner, but he seemed ready to enjoy it.
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Chapter 11
My first morning in London, six years ago next week, was an overwhelming one. I was exhausted after the impossibly long flight over from Australia, missed my family desperately, had no job and, frankly, no idea why I'd stepped onto the plane in the first place. In search of the familiar, I left my friend Alex's flat in Mile End and headed west on the District Line, towards the statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. I sat underneath it and called my mum. Thankfully, she is ace, and calmed me down enough for me to start appreciating something I was seeing for the first time: spring. Real spring. Budding trees, chirping birds, flowers popping up - the whole gambit. Growing up in Australia, in a sub-tropical climate, I had never appreciated the true beauty of it. I immediately thought of Mary Lennox, arriving alone from India to this strange country, watching (and helping) a garden come to life all around her.
So each year, at about this time, when the daffodils are pushing their heads through the still freezing soil, I pull out The Secret Garden again. I've read it more times than I can count; there's nothing that says spring to me more than a couple of chapters from this book (as my post from this time last year will attest to).
The closest to a garden I'll get in London - my thriving window boxes.
In terms of the dish below, regular readers may be aware that I will be hosting a supper club in May, based on food inspired by this old favourite. I don't want to ruin the surprise yet, so I've gone with something that probably won't make the menu. After all, while a bacon sandwich is the breakfast of kings (and Dickon, my fictional crush when I was 10), it's probably not going to do so well as part of a three-course dinner.
ps. My lovely friend Lean from lean + meadow took some photos of us eating and making mussels recently - check out my recipe for them over on her terrific journal.
Obviously it's not necessary to make your own tomato sauce, or your own bread. But, for those who wish to, I've included recipes for both below. One day, when I learn how to cure my own bacon, I'll add details for that too. For those pulling the three component parts out of their fridge and wanting something they can make while brewing a cup of tea (or nursing a hangover), scroll through the other recipes to my tips at the bottom.
Cuts into around 12 slices
500g spelt flour
7g instant yeast
350g water, at blood temperature (ie. if you stick your finger into it, you shouldn't be able to tell whether it's hot or cold)
1. Tip the flour into the bowl, and add the salt on one side and yeast on the other. Pour the water over the flour, and mix everything together with your hand until it has formed a dough. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave to rest for 40 minutes.
2. Once the dough is noticeably risen, dampen your hand with water and slip it under the dough, then fold the dough over itself. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat, continuing until all the air is removed and the dough is smooth. Cover again and rest until doubled in size - about another 70-80 minutes.
3. Line your loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Lightly flour your bench and tip the dough out onto it. Press out into a rough square, then fold the corners into the middle. Repeat with the new corner points you have made. Flip the dough over carefully and slid the palms of your hands underneath it. Transfer it to the loaf tin, keeping the smooth top facing up. Cover the loaf tin with the damp tea towel and allow it to prove for a final hour.
4. In the final twenty minutes of proving, heat your oven to 210C. Once the dough is ready and the oven is hot, make a slash down the centre of the loaf with the bread knife and transfer it to the oven. Bake for 40 minutes, under the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.
Makes about 250ml
2tbsp olive oil
1 red onion
2 stalks celery
1 long red chilli
2 cloves garlic
1tbsp coriander seeds
Bunch of basil (leaves picked from the stems)
Grinding of black pepper and pinch of salt
1 tin chopped tomatoes (in summer, do use 600g fresh tomatoes instead)
1tbsp tomato puree
100ml red wine vinegar
35g dark brown sugar
1. Warm the oil in the pan, then add the roughly chopped red onion and celery. Cook for five minutes over a medium heat.
2. Add the finely chopped cloves of garlic, and finely chopped red chilli, along with the coriander seeds, the stems of the bunch of basil and the salt and pepper. Cook for a further ten minutes.
3. Add the tin of tomatoes, tomato puree and water, and cook until reduced by half. Remove the pan from the heat, stir through the basil leaves and pour into the blender. Blitz the sauce, ensuring that you stop frequently and open the top to allow the steam to escape. Wash and dry the saucepan, then sieve the sauce back into it. Add the red wine vinegar and brown sugar and cook until the sauce is thick and gloopy.
4. Transfer the sauce to a sterilised bottle while it is still hot - it will keep in the fridge for at least a month.
2 slices bread
2 rashers back bacon*
1 rasher streaky bacon*
Generous dollop tomato sauce
*Buy the best quality bacon you can afford - this isn't an everyday dish. The liquid that comes out of most supermarket bacon as you cook it is water - cheap, thin-cut bacon is pumped full of it. Bacon that has been cured properly, from an animal who was well-fed, will make a world of difference.
Knife and chopping board
Cast-iron (or heavy bottom) frying pan - two, if you have them
Tongs (or a fork)
No one really needs a recipe for a sandwich but, to ensure maximum bacon satisfaction, here are my tips:
1. Trim some of the fat from your back bacon and place the rashers in the frying pan. Place the pan over a low-medium heat - you want it to cook slowly so that the fat renders and crisps rather than burns. Add the streaky bacon and cook all the bacon for around seven minutes, turning the rashers occasionally and allowing them to brown in places. Don't crowd the pan; you want the bacon to be making contact with the pan, so if you're doing this for a couple of people, do it in batches.
2. While your bacon is sizzling away, slice two thick slices off your loaf of bread. Open the empty sandwich you've just created and place the slices, outside sides down, into your second pan, again over a low-medium heat. I prefer toasting only one side of the bread, so that the inside is still chewy, otherwise you can absolutely do this in the toaster.
3. Once your bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan, and set it to drain on some kitchen towel. Rub the non-toasted sides of your bread in the hot bacon juices you've left behind in the pan.
4. Assemble your sandwich, toasted sides out, and add a generous glug of tomato sauce. Serve with a mug of strong, milky English Breakfast tea. No other drink will work quite as well as an accompaniment.