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Yesterday’s post was about the BBC’s MasterChef.

It could be argued that the 2018 amateur series was the best to date.

Today’s post has more about the winner and a few inside scoops on the show.

More on Kenny Tutt

The Sun has excellent photos of Kenny Tutt’s restaurant quality winning dishes.

When bank manager Tutt beat Dr Nawamin Pinpathomrat and pilot David Crichton in the final, he said:

This whole thing is for my dad. I know he’s looking down and been giving me support. It’s a special day.

The first quarter hour or so of the final programme presented a segment on each of the finalists’ personal lives. Kenny’s mother related that her husband and son died when Kenny was a young man. He was close to both, but she said that he and his father were ‘joined at the hip’.

Kenny is devoted to his mother, his wife and his two daughters.

Yet, to look at Kenny’s characteristically happy face — we dubbed him Mr Smiley — one would never think that he had had two traumatic deaths to make sense of:

I drew two lessons from this.

The first is that we never know what has happened to other people by looking at them. Although far from being as sunny as Kenny, years ago, someone once said to me, ‘Nothing bad has ever happened to you’. I was taken aback, thinking how utterly wrong that person was.

The second is that the resilience and positive attitude that Kenny displays are exemplary.

We also found out from his wife Lucy that he got up when it was still dark to practice his dishes and perfect his culinary techniques for the show.

The Radio Times reported:

Speaking about his plans after the competition, the chef said “he would love to get more young people cooking”, but that his “ultimate ambition would be to run a high-end gastro Pub”. Just save us a seat whenever you open, Kenny.

The Daily Mail told us:

He said: ‘I would love to get more young people cooking. I always love to get my girls involved in the kitchen, and my eldest Emily just loves to cook and taste the food. Cooking teaches so much, from science to maths, and allows children to be creative and proud.

‘I would also love to write about food and want to put together some great food events, be it supper clubs or private dining. The ultimate ambition would be to run a high-end gastro Pub/B&B.’

The dad-of-two lives happily in Worthing, West Sussex, with his wife Lucy as well as their two children three-year-old Emily and 10-year-old Grace.

The Mail explained how he became interested in cooking:

Kenny started his culinary craft at a young age as he always loved watching his mum cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

The bank manager developed an interest in food from different cultures thanks to his love of travelling across the globe.

The Sun told us what he said before the final:

He said: “My mum always said if you just put a bit of love into it, that generally will make the food taste better.

“I’m just going to give it my best shot, try and have a bit of fun and we’ll see what happens.”

He said his job with the bank was his first “proper” job – and he’s worked there for 15 years.

Kenny says he appeared on MasterChef because he wanted to try something different.

Of course, MasterChef finished filming long before it aired. As with similar televised contests, the winner has to keep the victory a secret until the whole series airs. Add on the six weeks it takes for the show to complete on television and that is a very long period of time.

Mirror TV managed to interview him afterwards:

Speaking to Mirror TV, dad Kenny said that he still “couldn’t quite believe” that he had won the competition and described it as “mind-blowing”.

“It’s an amazing achievement for me, my family and everyone. So yeah, I’m really happy,” he said.

Revealing that he managed to keep the result a secret from most of his family and friends, he admitted that he told his wife Lucy and mum the outcome.

“My wife thought I was joking!” he quipped.

Kenny, who is dad to Emily (3) and Grace (10 months) said that he couldn’t have done it without his wife’s support.

The Mirror asked about the trip to Peru during finals week:

One memorable moment saw a contestant attempt to recreate the Andes mountains out of corn, and another arrange piranha heads on a plate. But was it all work and no play?

“We went out and had a bite to eat, but generally there was a lot of us thinking about what we were going to do next,” he told us.

“But yeah, we managed to spend a few hours together here and there which was really time well spent.”

His MasterChef experience far exceeded his expectations. The contestants were decent people:

I thought it would be more like competition – dog-eat-dog with people trying to clamber over each other to win and the thing that made it really good was that there wasn’t any of that.

We were all the best of friends. And the time the bell rang for us to start cooking we were all in our own little worlds anyway.

Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace:

were the same in real life as they were on screen: “A couple of great guys”.

One thing Kenny hadn’t bargained for was the camera and sound crews:

The thing you don’t see when you’re watching on TV is the things that go on around you when you’re filming like cameras and sound. I didn’t know about that – you don’t even think about it.

It is a bit weird but you quickly get used to it. Once I was used to it it was like they had always been there. They were all great actually – the production crew, camera guys – they all had a great sense of humour.

He also said there was:

a “great atmosphere” on set and said that “everyone was well looked after”.

As for his cheerfulness:

To be honest, that was just me – what you see is what you get and I do get a bit excited to be there. I was just a bit like an excited puppy and that comes across.

I mean, I am a pretty happy guy, I’ve got nothing to be upset about. So I think most people take that as a good thing, but you do get the odd person who is like, ‘God, why is he always smiling?’

Well, you know, I’m on a TV show and I’m doing alright, so I’m not not going to be happy about it.

And:

He also said that he hadn’t realised he was “quite so animated” from the facial expressions he pulled: “It is quite cringe when you watch it back”.

It was all good, Kenny.

He told the Mirror that he was looking forward to relaxing and enjoying the experience before launching into any culinary projects.

Judges’ tasting and food waste

Many MasterChef fans wonder if the judges have to taste the dishes cold. They are also interested in what happens to leftover or unused ingredients.

The Sun posted an article which explains everything. In 2012, Gregg Wallace revealed what happens to the unused food and the cooked food:

The raw food gets divided up by the youngsters in the crew — talented young people who’ve just begun their careers and aren’t necessarily earning very much.

The cooked food is devoured by the filming crew. A lot of them carry their own cutlery!

That said, contestants race the film crew to taste each other’s dishes:

Chetna Makan, from the 2014 series, told Digital Spy: “It’s not just the cameramen who swarm over the food, we (the other contestants) definitely do it too.

“We all run to the food made by whoever got the most compliments. Literally, everybody runs, nearly knocking each other over to have a taste.”

As for the judges’ tasting, the Sun cited former MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finalist Louisa Ellis, who told Birmingham Live:

The food stays there for a bit after you’ve finished so they can get good shots of it.

“So it can be cold by the time the judges get to it – especially if you’re last to be judged – but they take that into consideration.”

The judges are said to get round this by going round and tasting each contestant’s food straight from the pot, in scenes which are later edited out.

Narrator India Fisher

India Fisher breaks the mould with her sultry, intense narration of MasterChef. She narrates all of the various series except for the Celebrity editions.

The Sun profiled her on April 13:

The softly-spoken host gives a commentary on the dishes whipped up by the cooks – and always makes them sound as good as they look …

Others have admitted that they’d love India to narrate their lives and describe their cooking successes with equal vigour.

This can be problematic for viewers when she moves on to other projects, such as commercials:

Fans may have noticed that India’s voice is affiliated with a number of different brands.

She is the voice of Natwest and has presented a variety of different advertisement campaigns.

Amusingly, her voice has become so synonymous with the show, that fans find it hard to focus when she embarks on a new project.

She also does other voice work:

India is also a broadcasting star, providing voice work for Science Fiction audio dramas including Earthsearch Mindwarp and Doctor Who.

She has also appeared on BBC Radio 4 comedy series Elephants to Catch Eels and Dead Ringers.

As we never see her, the Sun has a photo of her at the top of the article. Mystery solved!

India has been with MasterChef since its relaunch in 2005. Yet, we know little about her. The Sun tells us:

The 43-year-old is an actress and presenter who was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

She comes from a famous family, as her dad is former MP Mark Fisher.

India is also the step-sister of musician Crispin Hunt and actress Francesca Hunt.

The trophy

The MasterChef trophy and logo were updated in 2012 to reflect a 21st century look.

The Sun explains:

It is made of polished aluminium and mounted on a tiered aluminium base.

Makers of the award, Gaudio, say on their website: “The MasterChef trophy is instantly recognisable and is treasured by winners.”

The article also gives updated information on recent winners’ activities in the culinary world.

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Another series of MasterChef ended on Friday, April 13, 2018.

MasterChef, in all its incarnations — amateur, professional and celebrity — has comprised most of my BBC viewing. The only other programme I watch is Inside the Factory, which is also food oriented. As everything else is either politicised or revisionist, I avoid the rest of the BBC like the plague.

The last time I wrote about the amateur series of MasterChef was in 2013, when Londoner Natalie Coleman won. I was going to write about Ping Coombes in 2014, but a serious family matter intervened.

I remember well the original MasterChef, which Loyd Grossman — originally from Marblehead, Massachusetts — hosted in the 1990s. Grossman also hosted the British edition of Through the Keyhole for many years.

MasterChef underwent a revamp in 2005. The new studio was large (the current one huge), and the challenges became more involved. Chef and restaurateur John Torode and former greengrocer Gregg Wallace became the new co-hosts. Since then, many the winners have gone on to greatness, opening their own gastro-pubs and restaurants. Thomasina Miers, the 2005 winner, is probably the most successful of all the MasterChef winners. She founded and owns the Wahaca chain of restaurants featuring food you won’t find outside of Mexico.

Every series has some sort of controversy. 2017’s was about the proper pronunciation of chorizo. That year also saw the debut of the market, full of ingredients for the contestants to use. A physician from Watford won: Dr Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed, who now divides her time between hospital work and a cookery career. The doctor had stiff competition in Giovanna Ryan and Steve Kielty:

Now on to the 2018 edition of MasterChef.

The standard of cookery gets higher and higher every year, beginning with the first episode. Successful contestants make and plate restaurant quality dishes. Competent home cooks end up eliminated early on.

This was also the first year that the amateurs went to a foreign country during Finals Week. They spent time in Lima, Peru, cooking for two of the country’s top chefs.

The near diplomatic incident

In Knockout Week, Gregg Wallace nearly caused a diplomatic incident when he criticised a Malaysian contestant’s chicken rendang because the skin wasn’t crispy. On April 4, the London Evening Standard reported:

Wallace sparked a wave of criticism, including from Malaysia’s prime minister, after telling Malaysian-born Zaleha Kadir Olpin her chicken rendang dish needed a crispier skin.

“The skin isn’t crispy. It can’t be eaten but all the sauce is on the skin I can’t eat,” Wallace said on the BBC show.

His sharp assessment of the dish, which saw Ms Olphin crash out of the show, sparked a rebuke from Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, who tweeted a picture of the curry dish along with the caption: “Does anyone eat chicken rendang ‘crispy’? #MalaysianFood”.

Wallace appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to explain:

I didn’t mean it should be fried, like a fried chicken. What I meant was, it wasn’t cooked. And it simply wasn’t cooked. It was white and flabby.

It did no good. A Facebook page went up in Malaysia with the title ‘Justice for Chicken Rendang’ and demands for apologies from judges Torode and Wallace:

One commenter, Jin Wee, wrote online: “As a Malaysian, if I could, I would personally go to the show and rendang their head. Uncultured swine, doesn’t know variety of cuisine and claims to be Masterchef?”

The British high commissioner also got involved:

Vicki Treadell, the British high commissioner to Malaysia who was born in the country, tweeted: “Rendang is an iconic Malaysian national dish … It is never crispy & should also not be confused with the fried chicken sometimes served with nasi lemak.”

Torode had the final say, with no apology:

I did a whole series on Malaysia. Malaysian food is fantastic. I absolutely love it. I said to her, it wasn’t cooked enough, that’s what I said.

The Radio Times has more on the incident, including tweets. The magazine gives Torode’s exact quote as he was judging the dish:

I think the chicken rendang on the side is a mistake. It hasn’t had enough time to cook down and become lovely and soft and fall apart. Instead the chicken itself is just tough and it’s not really flavoursome.

Chorizo pronunciation redux

Questions over the pronunciation of chorizo arose again with Portuguese-born Alex, who works in the fashion industry in London. On April 12, the Sun reported:

Alex claims she’s from Portugal but some viewers seemed doubtful due to how she pronounced Chorizo.

One tweeted: “Alex on MasterChef tells us she’s from Portugal but then she says ‘Choritso’…#suspicious.”

The Sun included the tweet:

Alex did not make the cut for the final, but as the fourth remaining contestant, did a great job throughout.

Finalists

The final three contestants this year were all men: bank manager Kenny Tutt, airline pilot David Crichton and another physician, Thai-born Dr Nawamin Pinpathomrat, who is currently studying for his PhD at Oxford.

The Radio Times has more on the finalists, including their style of cuisine.

The apple crumble moment

David Crichton made an outstanding crumble in Finals week:

David’s apple crumble mille-feuille – layers of puff pastry, filled with caramelised apple and cream custard, with a crumble topping and served with clotted cream ice-cream and a caramel sauce – almost reduced John Torode to tears. The judge called it “fabulous, fantastic and faultless”.

The Australian-born Torode speaks as he finds. This crumble brought out a side that viewers had not seen before. The Evening Standard carried the story, peppering the text with tweets.

Torode told David:

“Fabulous, fantastic and faultless,” he said as he came close to shedding a tear. “Like honestly, it makes me well up – that is sensational.

“That’s what this competition is about where you push yourself to the stage where you make your own puff pastry and take the risk.

“You make a crumble, you make an apple pie, an apple tart, an apple [mille-feuille] and you take it to dizzy heights where it stirs emotion. Restaurant quality absolutely and a credit to you David.”

Here are two of the tweets:

Kenny’s cauliflower

On April 12, the day before the final, Alex and the three men were tasked with reproducing intricate recipes served at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

Chef director Ashley Palmer-Watts devised his takes on these historic dishes with the help of food historians and the team at Hampton Court Palace. Each recipe is 15 pages long.

The four contestants had five hours each to re-create four of the dishes to Palmer-Watts’s exacting standards. Each contestant was assigned a different dish. One of his sous-chefs was on hand to supervise and offer advice.

SpouseMouse and I really wanted Kenny to win. We think his bank branch is going to close, and he desperately needs another line of work.

We were furious to find that Palmer-Watts’s sous-chef allowed Kenny to leave his cauliflower garnish in the oven. We weren’t alone. Digital Spy reported:

People were fuming that poor Kenny wasn’t reminded about his cauliflower – especially when fellow contestant Alex had been given a helpful hint earlier…

For whatever reason, the sous-chef muttered:

His cauliflower’s still in the oven, so I’m not gonna tell him…

Representative tweets in Digital Spy‘s article follow:

Not only ‘could have’ but jolly well ‘should have’.

After a nail-biting round with Ashley Palmer-Watts joining John and Gregg in the judging, it was a relief to discover that Kenny was going through to the final.

Torode welled up once again:

Alex narrowly missed out on a spot in the final, but said that she was delighted with how well she’d done.

Judge John Torode got rather emotional when the time came to announce the results – and viewers were very quick to notice:

Alex is standing next to Kenny, awaiting the verdict:

The final

In an online poll, most MasterChef viewers did not expect Kenny Tutt to win the final.

However, win he did and in true style. Metro reported:

The 36-year-old father of two is the 14th amateur cook to claim the prize – beating 55 other hopefuls from the current series to the title after seven weeks of culinary challenges.

He ultimately fought off competition from fellow finalists Nawamin Pinpathomrat and David Crichton to take the title.

And he did it by impressing Gregg Wallace and John Torode with a three-course meal which was described by the judges as ‘restaurant-style perfection’ and ‘make-my-heart-thump fantastic’.

Kenny wanted to present the judges with three courses that showed techniques he had learned at the restaurants where he and the contestants cooked during the series to reflect his MasterChef journey:

Kenny kicked things off with roast scallops, smoked cauliflower, shimeji mushroom and pancetta.

His main course was a Squab pigeon breast and bon-bon, heritage beetroot, baby turnip, spiced cherries, bread sauce and game jus, followed by a bitter chocolate, ale ice-cream, malt tuile and smoked caramel.

The judges were impressed, to say the least:

‘Today we watched Kenny coming of age,’ Gregg said of his win.

‘We have just witnessed Kenny having his best round on MasterChef and he saved it for the final. His starter was a stunningly beautiful dish, it was quality restaurant-style perfection and his main course was even better.’

John said:

I think Kenny’s journey has been extraordinary. He has come a long way. His food has got more and more refined and his main course was make-my-heart-thump fantastic!

Kenny said:

I have put my heart and soul into it and it’s been an absolute pleasure. It’s up there with the happiest days of my life!

More on Kenny and MasterChef tomorrow. This series was so memorable in so many ways.

On Saturday, January 6, 2018, Newsbusters posted an article about a BBC interview with Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury, which is about President Donald Trump.

Incidentally, the book is currently available for free online. As such availability likely violates copyright law, I have not posted the link.

Nicholas Fondacaro’s article, ‘Wolff Touts Book “Will Finally Bring Down…This Presidency”’ recaps a BBC interview Wolff gave to the BBC’s Nick Robinson last Saturday. Excerpts follow (emphases in the original):

In an interview with BBC Radio on Saturday, Michael Wolff, the author of the dubiously sourced gossip book targeting President Trump, boasted to host Nick Robinson that “the story” that he told, “will finally end…this presidency” once and for all …

Now, all of this is fascinating, it’s an insight, it’s gossip some of it, it may not be enough to stop him from being president. Whereas, the allegations about Russia may be,” Robinson prefaced. “Do you believe that anything in the book will actually change the chances of the allegations of collusion with Russia being found to be true and therefore leading to the impeachment of the President?

Wolff said:

You know, I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect. That, the story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job. The emperor has no clothes. Suddenly everywhere people are going: ‘Oh my God, it’s true, he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end this – that will end this presidency.

As retired courtroom lawyer Lionel says, such talk is potentially dangerous:

Incredibly, Wolff told Robinson that Trump hardly has any staff and that he will do little as president. Despite stellar economic results in 2017, Wolff said:

The economy is booming possibly because you’ll have someone who’s not capable of actually implementing any policies or regulation.

In a way, that makes no sense.

In another, such a statement implies that the economy does better with less government interference.

Trump’s insistence on rolling back Obama era regulations has helped the economy improve. Trump was also busy last year negotiating various trade initiatives, such as coal.

In June, the New York Post published an article on coal by Salena Zito, who does an excellent job of covering small town life in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

‘Don’t be so quick to dismiss Trump’s coal mining initiative’ is an eye-opener. For the first time in a decade, a new coal mine opened in Acosta, Pennsylvania. Trump sent his congratulations via video shown to local residents (emphases mine below):

The Acosta Deep Mine in Somerset County marks a dramatic upturn for the area. And while President Trump cannot claim that he brought the industry back here personally (this new mine was already being developed before the election), he is an effective cheerleader for folks who’ve been discounted by the political elite.

“We will begin by employing 70 to 100 miners and we hope to open a total of three new mines in the next 18 months — and that will mean additional hiring,” said George Dethlefsen, CEO of Corsa Coal, which owns the mine.

More than 400 people applied for the first wave of jobs that will pay from $50,000 to $100,000, Dethlefsen said.

In a region where the median household income is $29,050, and nearly 12 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the economic injection is huge.

It also creates a ripple effect: For every new job generated by the mine, even more jobs like waitresses, hotel workers, barbers or grocery workers are needed to support the community.

Absolutely.

Furthermore, the coal mined in Acosta is being used for steel production:

The coal from this mine is not going to be used for energy — instead, it will be used for the production of steel for the next 15 years. (According to the World Steel Association, coal is used to make 70 percent of the steel today.)

Every single one of us relies on steel in our daily lives. It’s found in our cars, bikes and public transportation. Those wind turbines so loved by environmentalists? Made of steel. The utensils we use to eat? Steel. Medical devices used to save lives? Steel.

Roads, bridges, appliances and even iPhones and computers all contain steel.

Exactly.

This is a great move.

And there is more good news on the coal front. In July, The Conservative Treehouse reported on the increase in American coal exports. This came as news to me:

U.S. EIA data shows a gain of 60.3% so far this year in exports of both steam coal (used to generate electricity) and coking coal (metallurgical coal used for steel manufacturing) as a direct consequence of President Trump’s common sense energy policy.

Interestingly, the largest destinations for the growth in American coal export are the U.K. (+175%) and a doubling of tonnage to both France (+100%), and Asia (+100%). High transport costs to ship coal to the EU are being offset by U.S. coal manufacturing efficiencies and improvements in mining productivity.

Reuters has more:

“Simply to know that coal no longer has to fight the government – that has to have some effect on investment decisions and in the outlook by companies, producers and utilities that use coal,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

Shaylyn Hynes, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Energy Department, said: “These numbers clearly show that the Trump Administration’s policies are helping to revive an industry that was the target of costly and job killing overregulation from Washington for far too long.”

Coal could also be a major economic weapon used against North Korea, one of China’s principal coal suppliers.

Recall that China’s president Xi Jinping met with Trump at Mar a Lago on April 6 and 7, 2017. On April 11, Reuters reported:

Following repeated missile tests that drew international criticism, China banned all imports of North Korean coal on Feb. 26, cutting off the country’s most important export product.

To curb coal traffic between the two countries, China’s customs department issued an official order on April 7 telling trading companies to return their North Korean coal cargoes, said three trading sources with direct knowledge of the order …

The Trump administration has been pressuring China to do more to rein in North Korea, which sends the vast majority of its exports to its giant neighbor across the Yellow Sea …

North Korea is a significant supplier of coal to China, especially of the type used for steel making, known as coking coal.

To make up for the shortfall from North Korea, China has ramped up imports from the United States in an unexpected boon for U.S. President Donald Trump, who has declared he wants to revive his country’s struggling coal sector.

Eikon data shows no U.S. coking coal was exported to China between late 2014 and 2016, but shipments soared to over 400,000 tonnes by late February.

This trend was exacerbated after cyclone Debbie knocked out supplies from the world’s top coking coal region in Australia’s state of Queensland, forcing Chinese steel makers to buy even more U.S. cargoes.

I digressed from Wolff. However, he and his fellow ilk in the media deserve to have their collars felt by the authorities. What Wolff is doing with his book and what the media have been doing with fake news could be construed as advocating the overthrow of government, or, as Lionel tweeted, sedition.

In December 2016, BBC Two broadcast a fascinating animal documentary called Wild Tales from the Village.

I’m not much on animal documentaries, but this is a must-see. Children will enjoy it, too.

Filmed in the French village of Puycelsi, the hour-long documentary looks at the everyday life of squirrels, dormice, hedgehogs, pigeons and more, starting in winter and ending the following autumn. You see a year’s worth of activity beautifully filmed. Here’s a short clip of two squirrels. Their love life is traced through the seasons:

Wild Tales from the Village was made by the BBC Natural History Unit and is narrated by Tchéky Karyo from The Missing.

It’s witty, charming and gentle. It might be shown on PBS in the US. If so, do watch or record for later. Budding film-makers will appreciate the lush slow-motion close-ups. This film deserves an award.

Puycelsi is one of Most Beautiful Villages of France. Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is an official designation, not a mere soi-disant marketing slogan.

Puycelsi is located in the Tarn region in southwestern France. It has an interesting history of destruction and rebirth.

It had inhabitants well before the Celts lived there between the 8th and 2nd centuries BC. The Celts named the settlement Celto Dun, a wooden fortress on a hill. The Romans came and named it Podium Celsium, raised platform. Part of the road that the Romans built is still visible and ramparts can be found in the nearby Grésigne Forest. Puycelsi — originally Puycelci — is probably Occitan, which would have been spoken in that region many centuries ago.

Benedictine monks from Aurillac built an abbey in Puycelsi in the 10th century. The earliest document relating to the village dates from 1180, involving the sale of the land by Abbé (Abbot) Pierre to Raymond V, Count of Toulouse. Raymond V saw the strategic significance of Puycelsi and his successors built a fortress and a château.

Regional wars took place. The Counts of Toulouse were able to fend off their enemies from the city of Albi and the Montfort family. In 1229, Raymond VII signed the Treaty of Meaux-Paris with King Louis IX. The treaty stated that Puycelsi’s château and fortifications had to be destroyed.

They were later re-erected. Puycelsi was under siege by enemies from nearby noble families in 1363 and again during the Hundred Years War, when 450 English troops tried to capture it. Incredibly, all of the attacks on the village failed.

The ramparts from the 14th century are now among Puycelsi’s tourist attractions as is the château built in the 15th century. Other attractions include the many buildings — including St-Corneille Church — from the 15th and 16th centuries.

Between 1586 and 1652, Puycelsi had four plague epidemics. The villagers decided to erect a chapel — St-Roch — to fend off illness. The lack of roads to the town no doubt contained the epidemics. Until 1850, there were only mule trails leading to the village. In fact, during the 18th century, Puycelsi women who worked as embroiderers walked 25 to 30 kilometres on foot to markets to sell their products.

The other artisan industries in the village were wool spinning and glass making. However, those ended in 1850, when a coal mine opened in the town of Carmaux. The young and able moved there and Puycelsi entered into gradual economic decline.

This was further exacerbated during the Great War, during which 55 young men died in duty by 1918. Puycelsi went into a long decline after that. People died. Their houses were left to stagnate. It turned into a ghost town and remained that way until the 1960s, when French couples looking for a second property began buying the houses and refurbishing them.

Today, nearly all the houses have been restored and Puycelsi is a popular destination for tourists. The English have a particular fondness for it. There is plenty to see. Cafés and artisan businesses are thriving.

Someone at the BBC knew what they were doing when they chose Puycelsi as the location for Wild Tales from the Village. Perhaps that someone has a holiday home there.

BBC logoIf you’re a home cook who peruses the BBC food site for recipes, it’s time to print copies now before it closes.

On May 17, The Guardian reported that recipes and food articles are already being ‘archived’ and eventually will no longer be visible.

The site has 11,000 recipes, some of which have been available for 16 years. After these food pages are ‘mothballed’, one of the only ways to see them will be via the Wayback Machine using this link, which a Guardian reader helpfully shared:

https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://Www.bbc.co.uk/food

Of course, you won’t be able to search on it and will have to remember approximately when you saw the recipe first appear.

Recipes from current television programmes will be on the BBC site for 30 days after they are broadcast.

The move comes after George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the BBC was being ‘imperial in its ambitions’ by having so much online content. Articles on travel destinations and local news output are also likely to disappear or be scaled back in the coming months.

Other BBC services, channels and coverage could be consolidated or even ended as the broadcaster attempts to save money.

It is odd, though, that an online recipe collection — and the travel archive — can’t be saved. The pages are static. The British people paid for that via their television licence.

Guardian foodies are dismayed, to say the least. As I write at noontime on Tuesday — 12 hours after the article was published — there are already 1,859 comments!

However, there might be a glimmer of hope: a change.org petition to save the recipe site already has over 41,500 signatures of the 50,000 needed for consideration.

The Spectator reports that Helena Kennedy — Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, QC* — recently presented a two-part programme on human rights for Radio 4.

The magazine’s Theo Hobson was bemused by the fact that Kennedy overlooked Christianity as being at the heart of human rights even when one of the interviewees said that religion was paramount in this regard:

but Kennedy failed to pursue this with real curiosity.

Furthermore:

No Christian theologian was consulted.

Instead, Mesopotamia and Buddhism were invoked by human rights lawyers and non-Western participants. One imagines they mentioned the Code of Hammurabi, named after the ruler of Babylonia who developed it, in 1754 BC. Babylonia was part of Mesopotamia. Incidentally, the ‘talk‘ page of the Code of Hammurabi has an intense discussion about its relationship to Mosaic Law. Revisionists claim Moses took his codes from the Babylonian.

Kennedy grew up in a devoutly Catholic home, yet did nothing to defend the faith despite the fact that she remains a practising Catholic.

As Theo Hobson points out, it was only the spread of Christianity, greatly aided by the Reformation and the Enlightenment, which saw human rights become what they are today:

It was the Christian West that gradually heaved such aspirations into politics. It was in Protestant lands, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that the crucial right to freedom of conscience took root – modern citizenship flowed from this. And as one of the contributors said, it’s only within nation states that rights are really secure.

Absolutely.

It’s a pity Hobson couldn’t have been on instead. But, then, that wouldn’t have fit into the BBC’s agenda. Or Kennedy’s, one suspects.

*Queen’s Counsel

Today, BBC1 broadcast the Queen’s 90th birthday walkabout from Windsor.

Tens of thousands attended and Her Majesty unveiled a plaque at The Queen’s Walkway, which is 6.3km long and marks 63 significant points of interest in the town.

Although the majority of well-wishers were British, a number of them, especially women, came from Commonwealth countries and the United States. One British-American group of women met in the crowd at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They have kept in touch ever since and made plans to attend this historic event.

Queen Elizabeth looked resplendent in a ‘spring grass green’ coat and matching hat trimmed with fresh white and yellow flowers. She was all smiles as she accepted cards, flowers and gifts from young and old alike. She deftly handed them to her lady in waiting. Groups of schoolchildren and adults sang Happy Birthday as she walked along the route. Prince Philip kept a discreet distance behind his wife and also talked to the crowds.

As one commentator put it, when it comes to meeting the public, the Royal Family say, ‘We’re in the happiness business’. The BBC interviewed a variety of celebrities and authors who have met the Queen. Everyone said that they were in awe of her but felt at home at the same time. They added that she puts you at the centre, however briefly.

Most people lining Windsor’s streets have never known any other British monarch. Sixty-three years and counting is a very long, intergenerational time — the longest any sovereign has ever ruled over our nation.

During that time, the world has seen rapid change and upheaval. One pundit said that the Queen’s presence gives us a sense of stability and continuity. No matter what happens, she is there with us as our head of state.

The mayor of Windsor and the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire acted as hosts for the walkabout and tea party at the town’s Guildhall. At the Guildhall, the Queen and Prince Philip met several nonagenarians. The Queen then cut her birthday cake, made by last year’s Great British Bake Off winner Nadia. Another Bake Off contestant from the same series, Martha, also baked cakes for the party guests.

After spending time at the Guildhall, the Queen and Prince Philip stepped into a brand new custom Range Rover which has a large open-top roof, allowing both of them to stand and wave to the crowds as they were driven down streets in Windsor town centre. Someone dubbed it the Queenmobile.

This evening, the Queen will celebrate her birthday at Windsor Castle with 60 people, family and friends. Entertainment will be laid on.

A discussion took place as to whether the Queen knew what was being planned. Those in the know said that she probably did. She does not like surprises. She likes an orderly plan for everything.

They also said that while Queen Elizabeth presides as head of state, Prince Philip is the head of the household. He gives the orders for everything, including when to clear plates from the table. Servants watch him for the cue.

Commentators said that Windsor Castle really is the nexus for the Royal Family. Everyone feels comfortable there. They also consider Windsor as their home town. They know a lot of people there and feel an affinity with all the residents.

In closing, RMC (French talk radio) announced the walkabout on their morning news broadcasts. One of the talk show hosts also mentioned the new Royal website. He added that part of the job description for the site’s community manager, who also is in charge of tweets, is to have lunch with the Queen whenever she is in residence. How wonderful!

On Holy Saturday, the last day of Holy Week, Catholics and Protestants look forward to celebrating our Lord’s resurrection and preparing a feast for family and friends.

You might find my past posts about Holy Saturday helpful in understanding its significance:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Last week, I summarised the first part of English food journalist Mary Berry’s look at Easter food traditions in various countries and denominations, encompassing those in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland.

The second, concluding part of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 aired this week. Berry’s enthusiasm for Easter as both a religious and gastronomic feast matches mine, which is part of what made the programme so enjoyable.

Christians make special breads at this time of year to recall Jesus as the Bread of Life. Lamb is also popular, as He is the Lamb of God, the once perfect sacrifice for our sins. As the Archbishop of York, the Right Revd John Sentamu explained, ‘Easter is the Passover of the Lord’.

Greece – tsoureki

Berry visited St Sophia’s Cathedral in London, a breathtakingly beautiful Greek Orthodox church.

Fr Savas, the priest who gave her a tour of the cathedral, said that 1,000 faithful normally attend Midnight Mass on Holy Saturday. Everyone takes a lit candle home and blesses their home with the light of the Resurrection.

Fr Savas’s cousin Katarina made the traditional Easter bread — tsoureki — for Berry. It is a plaited (braided) bread with a red coloured hard boiled egg at the top. The three plaits symbolise the Holy Trinity. The egg symbolises Jesus Christ, and the red colour represents His blood that He shed for our redemption.

Tsoureki dough is an enriched one, resembling a brioche. It is flavoured with two spices: one, mastiha, which comes from tree resin and the other, mahlepi, from ground cherry stones which gives it an almond flavour.

Before baking, the tsoureki is glazed with egg wash and topped with sesame seeds. My Little Expat Kitchen has a recipe that looks like the one Katarina used.

The Netherlands – Easter Men

With the help of her grandchildren, Berry showed us the Dutch Easter Men recipe that she makes every year.

She saw them many years ago on a trip to Holland around Easter and was intrigued.

Berry likes the simplicity of the one-rise bread dough used to make this charming little bread of a man holding an egg — the risen Christ — in his arms.

Once the dough is risen, Berry portions it out and cuts into each one to shape the head, the arms and the legs. She secures a raw egg in the folded arms and decorates the heads with raisins or blackcurrants for simple facial features. She glazes the men with egg wash and bakes them for 25 minutes. The egg cooks as the bread bakes.

This is a simple, straightforward recipe that children will enjoy. They can help shape the limbs, once cut, and decorate the faces.

The Philippines – lechon

Berry visitied a Catholic Filipina, May, who made her a roast pork dish called lechon, an Easter staple in the Philippines.

May explained that, traditionally, lechon is a whole hog roast. Her father used to roast several hogs at Easter when she was growing up in the Philippines. Friends, neighbours and family would then join in for a massive Easter feast.

For home cooks, May recommends pork belly. She brined one with thyme, crushed lemongrass and bay leaves. After several hours, she removed the pork belly from the brine and patted it completely dry, enabling it to crisp when baking.

May laid it out flat, skin side down, and, in the centre, placed a few stems of crushed lemongrass, several spring onions cut lengthwise in half and added a lot of crushed garlic on top before seasoning well with salt and pepper. She then rolled the pork belly tightly and tied it well with butcher’s string.

Once roasted, the lechon had a glossy, dark outer skin. Inside, the meat was moist and tender. The belly fat had cooked out, with some going into the meat. As this recipe has no crackling — the outer skin is too hard to eat — it might be suitable for cooks who prefer less fatty, yet succulent, pork.

May explained that the Spanish introduced lechon to the Philippines centuries ago.

The dish is also popular in Cuba.

England – roast lamb

Berry went to York to watch the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu — a political prisoner from Idi Amin’s Uganda who moved to England 42 years ago — make her own recipe for roast lamb.

Sentamu and his wife Elizabeth both talked about how important Easter was for their large families in Africa. Sentamu’s mother taught him and his siblings how to cook. His father insisted not only on roast lamb on Easter but also curried goat and curried chicken.

He and Elizabeth have been using Berry’s lamb recipe ever since they saw it on television years ago. Berry confessed that she’d long forgotten about it, but it looks very tasty, especially with the touches the Sentamus have added over the years.

The Archbishop cut the main bone out of the leg of lamb. He took several thin slices of deli ham, spread a herb (predominantly rosemary leaves) and garlic mix over each slice and layered them neatly one on top of the other. He rolled the layered ham neatly and inserted it into the middle of the lamb.

He layered his roasting tray generously with tarragon and placed the lamb on top. Around it he put several onion halves. He took a bottle of white wine and poured it until it just covered the onions.

Once the roast was resting, he strained the juices from the roasting pan and made a sumptuous gravy. My mouth was watering. The Sentamu family must surely look forward to lunch on Easter!

Italy – Easter dove bread

Colomba di Pasqua is a traditional Italian bread made in a dove mould, although it can be made in a round one.

The dove symbolises Christ, the Prince of Peace.

To see it made, Berry visited Maria, who cooks for the priests and visiting clergy at St Peter’s Italian Church in London’s Little Italy.

The dough is enriched, as for a brioche, and contains currants and orange peel. It requires a 12-hour rise.

Maria placed the dough into a dove-shaped mould and topped it with whole almonds and crushed sugar. This recipe, which includes a picture, resembles Maria’s. The sugar bakes into the top of the bread leaving an appetising topping.

I wished I’d been with the two very happy priests when she served it to them. They tucked in with gusto.

Easter feast

Nearly all of the show’s participants and their families gathered at Berry’s parish church in the Home Counties not far from London for a sumptuous Easter feast.

They brought their special dishes and Berry brought hers. If you can see the hour-long episode, you’ll agree with me that it was a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable occasion. I would love to have been there.

Everyone got along famously and tried to learn each other’s language. It was a beautiful sight as many promised to keep in touch with each other.

I hope that everyone’s Easter feast is as special as Mary Berry’s.

As we eat, may we remember the risen Christ and give thanks for His resurrection from the dead and His promise to us of life everlasting.

On Monday, English home cook, author and former food journalist Mary Berry — star of The Great British Bake-Off and her own television shows (BBC) — introduced the British public to the traditions behind Good Friday and Easter foods.

The first of two episodes of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 saw her explore traditions in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland. I highly recommend it. Below is a synopsis of the first programme with additional information from other sources.

Berry, an Anglican, told us that she is a regular churchgoer. She said she goes to Sunday services because ‘it is important to give thanks’. Easter is her favourite religious feast. (Finally, there’s someone who loves Easter as much as I do.)

Easter is the Church’s greatest feast. It has always been celebrated, from the earliest days after Christ’s death and resurrection. Christmas celebrations did not come about until much later.

Hot cross buns

Berry went to St Albans Cathedral to find out more about hot cross buns.

The cathedral’s historian explained that, in England, the precursor of this bun was the Alban bun. In 1361, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a monk at St Albans Abbey, made highly spiced buns which the monks gave to the poor who appeared at the refectory door on Good Friday. The historian added that Brother Thomas was likely making peace with the locals who resented the Church. Monasteries at that time held an enormous amount of power.

St Albans Cathedral website tells us that their hot cross buns are still made locally — at Redbournbury Mill, which the abbey once owned. Anyone interested can find them the old fashioned way, by going to the Abbot’s Kitchen. They are available throughout Lent to Easter Monday.

The historian gave an Alban bun to Berry, who said it was much spicier than conventional hot cross buns. There is also no pastry or paste cross on the Alban bun, rather one which is formed with a knife before baking.

Although Berry and the historian did not discuss the significance of the bun’s ingredients, the spices symbolise those used to embalm Jesus after His crucifixion. I cannot find anything about the meaning of the dried fruit in them, but years ago, I read that it represents the gentle character of Jesus. I have also read that the fruit pieces suggest the drops of blood He shed for us.

For centuries, people ate hot cross buns only on Good Friday in contemplation of the Crucifixion. These days, sadly, they are available nearly all year round.

During the Reformation, England’s Protestants — and, later, Puritans — condemned the eating of hot cross buns as Catholic superstition. During Elizabethan times, one could only purchase them in London on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials.

Historians point out that fruit breads with a cross existed in ancient Greece. The cross made it easier to divide the bread into four pieces.

A number of superstitions about hot cross buns abound. As for them not going stale, I can assure you that they must be eaten within 12 to 18 hours. They get hard as a rock after that. And, yes, they also go mouldy.

Mary Berry makes hot cross buns for her family during Lent. The BBC has made her recipe available.

Jamaican bun

Berry spent time with Bettina, who is originally from Jamaica and belongs to a Baptist church in Nottingham.

Bettina makes Jamaican buns for the ladies at her church during Lent. They are actually large cakes, served in thin slices, often with Jamaican cheese. The buns are also very dark, because they have stout in them. This recipe looks like the one Bettina uses.

Escoveitch fish

Bettina also made a standard Good Friday dish of escoveitch (ceviche) fish for Berry to try. After marinating in a ceviche manner, Bettina pan fried the fish, basting it regularly. It looked delicious.

She served it with peppers, chocho and chilis. This recipe is like Bettina’s.

Bettina explained that marinating fish in vinegar dates back to the Moors, who introduced it to Spain. The Spanish, in turn, took the technique with them to the New World.

Russian devilled eggs and pascha

Berry met with a Russian Orthodox home cook and a priest, who explained how their Church observes Lent.

Father Peter explained that church members continue to follow the centuries-old vegetarian Lent, which starts two weeks earlier than the Catholic and Protestant one. They do not consume any food at all on Good Friday. Lenten fasting does not end until the Easter Vigil service ends, which is sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. Afterwards, everyone — including children — enjoys a feast.

Holy Thursday, which the Orthodox call ‘Clean Thursday’, is a busy, yet contemplative day, Father Peter said. It is the traditional spring cleaning day and it is also when the Easter cake, pascha, is made. Pascha is the word for Easter.

Pascha is a cheesecake with dried fruit. It is put into a pyramid mould with a Russian Orthodox cross on one side and ‘XB’ (‘Christ is risen’) on the other.

Another Russian Easter favourite is the devilled egg. A home cook made this for Berry. It involves peeled hard boiled eggs which are left to steep in beet juice. The programme did not mention this, but the red juice symbolises Christ’s blood. After several hours, the eggs are cut in half, the yolks devilled and piped back into the egg white centres. Caviar is a favourite topping.

Babka

Berry went to meet a Polish family in Cambridgeshire. They explained the importance of getting their Easter food blessed at church on Holy Saturday. I wrote about that in 2010.

In addition to coloured eggs, onto which the children were busy etching designs, olives are also an important Easter food for the Poles, probably because of their egg-like shape. Both symbolise life.

The husband made Berry a babka, the traditional Easter cake, which takes three days to make properly. Most of that time involves the rise of the enriched dough, similar to a brioche. He used a babka mould, similar to a kugelhopf mould, and added a chocolate insert. You could use a bundt cake mould.

Those who do not care for chocolate can add dried fruit instead.

A number of babka recipes exist, however, I have not been able to find the one this man used, which is the traditional one. He used his mother’s and, watching him make it, that’s definitely the original. Beware of ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ babka recipes. If anyone can point to one, please share the recipe or a link by commenting below. Many thanks!

Incidentally, he explained that ‘babka’ is also a complimentary word for a woman and a gracious name for a grandmother.

I’ll watch next week’s show and let you know what else Mary Berry discovers in the world of Easter food traditions.

Anyone who finds a certain romance in bread will want to watch the recently-aired three-part series Victorian Bakers (BBC2), if they haven’t already.

(Photo credit: BBC)

The series charts the role and work of the baker throughout Queen Victoria’s reign.

The week episode 1 was shown, television critic Alison Graham wrote in the Radio Times:

… come on, it’s bread. Just bread. It pretty much all looks the same, so it’s not televisual. They aren’t making artworks like they do on Bake Off. What emerges from the magnificent bread oven is no-nonsense stuff; fortifying, dull, heavy; a bit like Victorian bakers itself.

“For me this is actually tasting history,” says one of the historical experts.

But it’s not though, is it? Again, it’s just bread, but the participants are encouraged to melodramatise, to over-empathise with their baking ancestors. “It’s like retreading history,” says one. But, yet again, no it isn’t …

After the series ended, Graham wrote an apologetic blurb in her column saying that, actually, the series was rather informative after all.

I enjoy watching bakers make bread. SpouseMouse and I are currently watching the first series of La Meilleure Boulangerie de France (‘The Best Bakery’) on M6 which takes the viewer to 84 family-owned firms to find the very best in the nation. I am applying many of their techniques at home in my own bread and pastry making.

Back now to the UK and the Victorian bakers. The first episode takes us back to 1837. Three modern-day bakers and one cake maker are put in a restored bake house to make dozens of loaves by hand. Two historians tell them they must use a large, deep trough to mix and prove the dough. There is no machinery, so two of the three men try to cope with heavy bags of heritage wheat flour, getting the contents in the trough and, after water and brewer’s yeast are added, getting everything combined to a smooth, even consistency. Not easy. It involves bending down into the trough and a few hours of back-breaking kneading. The third baker was in charge of the oven, stoking it with wood and maintaining it at the right temperature. If I remember rightly, the cake maker was allowed to help shape the loaves before baking. Overall, it was man’s work.

An Independent reader indirectly — politely — stated the men should not have added all the flour at once:

The method for hand mixing dough in a trough is to work a little at time from end to end , I learned that from a bakery tutor in 1982 who had actually done it for a living and delighted in making my class of fellow bakery students perform the exercise.   I believe the procedure for checking the oven temperature was to wet your hand and touch the oven sole (oven floor for non bakers). They were fit tough folk in those days too, probably why they didn’t live as long as we do now.

Every loaf had to be consistent and edible because most Britons relied on bread as their main foodstuff — every day. The bakers also had to sell their loaves door-to-door. There was no shop. So, after all the backbreaking work, they had to walk around their village or, if in town, their local district. After that, it was back to the bakery to begin all over again.

The 21st century bakers surmised that the heritage wheat, whilst making a dense loaf, would have been more nutritious than most wheat available today. They pointed out that there were no gluten allergies then, possibly for this reason.

Episode 2 put the bakers in the 1870s during the Industrial Revolution. Although the historians said that bakers’ conditions had improved, the bake house — at the Black Country Museum in Dudley — did not look much different. The huge trough was still there and one of the bakers did what some did in the 19th century: knead the dough with his feet. There was no mechanisation, although there were now coal-fired ovens, which the 21st century bakers said were a huge improvement. By this point in history, being a baker was not considered a very good occupation. Society looked down on bakers in general, possibly because of the additives they had been forced to add (e.g. chicken feed and other questionable substances) when there were poor wheat harvests. However, the historians explained that Canadian wheat was being exported to the UK in the 1870s and sugar from the West Indies was becoming cheaper. The cake maker was delighted to be able to experiment with the new wheat as she made London buns, the closest one could get to pastry or cake at the time.

Another change that was taking place during this period was the movement of poorer people from towns and villages to cities for work in factories and mills. Yet another was a demand on the baker from the middle class for lighter, sweeter creations. These two developments meant more business for bakers but much more work. Our 21st century participants found they had to bake through the night to satisfy their customers.

In Episode 3, mechanisation finally arrives in the form of the electric dough mixer in 1900. The bakers could not have been happier. The cake maker was able to finally take charge in this episode as she taught the bakers how to make cakes and sandwiches for afternoon tea. They said they were quite relieved they did not have to do that in real life. Bread making was much more their thing — and much easier.

We saw how the late Victorians craved brightly coloured icings — the gaudier, the better. The trend persists in commercial British baking to this day. The look was also rather inelegant, which did not bother the Victorians. The unrefined appearance remains the same today and its familiarity reassures Britons of continuity through the generations.

(Photo credit: Bakingmad.com)

Another development in the late Victorian era was the insistence of trade unions on new health, hygiene and safety rules. These brought about a much better working environment. With that came an increased appreciation for bakers, and it was at this time that the number of Master Bakers began to grow. Bakeries now had a clear hierarchy of a knowledgeable boss with assistants who specialised in one task every day. Hats and caps were worn, and the Master Baker had the floppy toque.

Some readers will remember the respect and awe they felt when buying bread in the late 20th century and seeing ‘the man in the white hat’ walk from his place by the ovens into the bake shop. Nowadays, nearly all of us buy bread from the supermarket. Another slice of history has vanished.

Spa towns in England still have vintage tea rooms which are more popular than ever. If you have the opportunity, make time for afternoon tea.

And, if you enjoy bread and history, Victorian Bakers is an excellent series. Watch now to avoid disappointment. It might only be on iPlayer for another few weeks.

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