'Father says General Peachum is the most gullible man he's ever come across. Any kedgeree?'
'I ate it.' Polly got up from the table.
'All of it?' Calypso whispered.
The Camomile Lawn, Mary Wesley
I've never been much of a morning person. My years in theatre came with 10am starts; I could comfortably press snooze until 8.40am, then speed through my morning routine before dashing out of the house at 9.10am. The thing is, I have always considered myself to be a night owl, and I was rarely in bed before the early hours of the morning. A novel, a batch of something in the oven, a recipe to write up - something would always keep my attention from sleep.
And then, last week, my schedule changed dramatically. I've taken on a new job that requires me to rise at 6.30am. I'm not getting up to make pastry (yet - details about a cafe and new events will be coming later this year) but am instead spending some time as an au pair while I write my first book. I'm up bright and early each morning, flipping pancakes or toasting bagels for two little ones, readying them for another day at school. Once they're there, I retreat to my desk, writing into the late afternoon before I put a chicken, or some lamb chops, in the oven for their dinner. It's a life I am thoroughly enjoying.
To my immense surprise, the early mornings are a complete joy. I'm reading more, taking time before I sit behind my desk to enjoy a couple of chapters and a cup of tea. I am also spending time on my favourite meal of the day, rather than walking out the door with a banana or slice of toast in hand. As breakfasts go, kedgeree offers up pretty much everything I'm looking for: carbs, fish, herbs, spices, an egg. A perfect marriage of British and Indian flavours, its first appearance is debated, but it is generally agreed that its origins lie in the Indian khichri, a dish dating back to the 14th century. With the addition of the smoked fish and boiled egg, it's become a common breakfast table feature here in Britain.
I first read The Camomile Lawn at 13 or 14, sneaking it off my mum's bookshelf and finding myself both thrilled and shocked by the multitude of affairs (and relationships between cousins) it contained. Re-reading it as an adult, I'm most taken with the tangible loss of innocence, the shift between the final idyllic summer on the camomile lawn - all Terror Runs and kedgerees - and the years of war that were to follow. Based on Mary Wesley's experiences in London during the Blitz, the juxtaposing freedom from convention and the ever-present terror of war are at odds throughout the novel. It exposes what's truly important to the characters - the things they value and are unwilling to sacrifice. The kedgeree, from the last days on the camomile lawn, seemed fitting here.
1 onion - roughly chopped
1 small carrot - roughly chopped
1 stalk celery - roughly chopped
1 bay left
5 black peppercorns
300g smoked haddock (undyed)
3 small brown onions
2 cloves garlic
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp fennel seeds
3 crushed cardamom pods
180ml double cream
250g basmati rice
Knife and chopping board
Wide bottomed saucepan
1. Put the chopped vegetables, peppercorns and the bay leaf in the wide-bottomed pan with the haddock. Cover with the water and bring to the boil on the stove. As soon as it comes to the boil, turn the heat off and set it aside it to cool - the fish will finish cooking as it does so.
2. Pour the rice into the medium saucepan. Rinse and drain the rice three times in cold water. Add fresh water to the pan until it sits one knuckle higher than the top of the rice. Cover, bring it to the boil, then turn down to a low simmer and cook until the water is at the level of the rice. This should take around 8-10 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the lid on tightly, covering the pan with a tea towel if it isn't a snug fit. Leave to steam in the pan for fifteen minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork.
3. Chop the onions into fine slices and mince the garlic. Heat the butter until foaming in the frying pan and add the onions and garlic. Fry until soft and translucent. Add the spices and fry for another two minutes. Add 300ml of the fish cooking water and reduce the liquid by half. Finally, add the cream and reduce until thick.
4. Meanwhile, put the eggs in cold water and boil them to your taste - for this recipe, I like them cooked for five minutes after the water comes to the boil. Run them under cold water and peel them.
5. Tip the rice into the sauce and stir through so that each grain is coated. Flake the fish in and stir this through too. Serve immediately with mango chutney, parsley and a peeled, sliced egg on each plate.