I love train journeys. I don’t hang around railway stations with video cameras or anything (I’ve seen this. It’s a Thing), but I do enjoy watching the mist evaporate off the fields whilst other, more mad, people battle down the M4 at rush hour. It allows me to feel slightly better about having to spend hideous amounts of money every month just to get to work.
I particularly love taking the train through places I don’t know. For me, there’s no better peek into a country than winding my way up through its countryside as the locals start their mornings; or changing lines on the Italian/Swiss border, between the efficient silence of the Swiss trains and the Italian ones packed full of animated, chattering groups.
At home, on my usual journey, my favourite thing to do is to peer into people’s back gardens from my (not so) secret vantage point. People aren’t generally doing anything very interesting in theirs before breakfast, but halfway to work the track passes right by a little allotment plot, and I’m always delighted by the contrast between the neatly regimented plots and the straggly unkempt ones.
If I ever get to the top of the allotment waiting list, I know for sure which kind mine will be. I mean, I’ve tried my best to bring some order to my vegetable patch, but each year it seems like the plants hold a council among themselves – humans not invited – and decide who gets to survive and who doesn’t.
I’ll admit, this hits me hard. I was crushed when my borlotti beans were eaten by slugs overnight, and elated when the fig tree made it through the winter. However, regardless of the impact on my mental health, I’ve ordered a plum tree, among others, and I really hope it survives. Then I will eat this, all the time.
As long as the lemon verbena lasts the winter, anyway.
Recipe after the jump.
plum and lemon verbena clafoutis
Recipe from Jekka McVicar’s Herb Cookbook.
500g plums, washed and stoned
3tbsp lemon verbena leaves, shredded
60g caster sugar
50g plain flour
300ml creme fraiche
2tbsp icing sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease an ovenproof dish about 20-25cm diameter (I use a tarte tatin dish), and arrange the plums on it, cut side down. Sprinkle over the lemon verbena leaves.
Whisk the eggs with the sugar and flour until well mixed, then add the creme fraiche and brandy and mix thoroughly. Pour this mixture over the plums, and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and no longer wobbly, turning halfway through the baking time.
Sprinkle with the icing sugar and serve.