Saturday, 28 June 2008

Supper # 38 - Molland, Devon

Molland is really old fashioned. It lies up towards Exmoor coming away from South Molton; a small cluster of houses all looking like they're ready to drop into the road from their high up positions on the bank. As I drive along I lament my lack of horn - you can't see a thing and putting the chimes on is hardly much of a warning blast. If anything it confuses people and they look around, unsure of where the amplified music box sound is wafting in from. I curl around the corners, past the village pub and the tight group of teenagers hanging around on the side of the road and pull up to the Dart's farmhouse. They've said I can plug Jimmy in with their Red Devon bulls while I stay with my uncle Marius down the hill.

I arrive to hoots of delight from Mrs Dart and her daughter and get ushered into their huge, slightly retro kitchen. "You must be hungry", they say and bring out pineapple cake, carrot cake, still-warm quiche - and a large pot of clotted cream to dollop onto anything I fancy. Tea is poured and I get chowing, unable to resist almost anything anymore. It just all tastes so good and how often in London does one get offered cake as part of the daily, domestic routine? Not I and I'ma get mine while I can - before I know it I'm going to be back in that gym surrounded by slightly demonic individuals and craving such things as cake with clotted cream.

The Darts prepare great greedy lunches for the local shoot. A dozen or so men will come tromping down in their plus-fours and tweeds, chomping at the bit to blast those pheasants to the ground. Apparently it's now becoming trendy for city boys to come and have a pop. I suppose it's part of the rolling-around-in-the-mud-together in the woods impulse; a quick flight from the concrete to indulge the primal. Heck, I'd do it just for the big lunch at the end. They make all their pastry from scratch, cook their own cream, rear their own beef and grow all the veg in the garden. Heaven.

Uncle Mal turns up and can't turn down the cake either. We munch and chat and then settle Jimmy in and head off down the hill.

THE SET UP: My uncle and aunt have been given this house by my aunt's older sister. Sort of given's complicated. Anyway, Marius comes down here all the time from London for work. The house has been part of the Molland estate for centuries, you can practically smell the goat shed. It's brilliant and wonderfully far from civilisation.

Marius goes into the house swinging a cloth bag full of shop-bought goodies: Lincolnshire sausages, bagged lettuce, packaged veg and I am quietly surprised. Normally it's a lot more rustic and there's a hare hanging about somewhere or a partridge laying ready to be plucked. Needn't have worried though as the window of opportunity for a hearty - some might say challenging - supper soon presents itself when we discover that the fridge/freezer has been turned off. Off we troop to the stone back room to investigate the damage. We sniff and dunk and prodd and soon have an 'in' and an 'out' tray: out with the gassy grapefruit juice, the defrosted dog food and the filthy melted ice, in with the defrosted pheasant, the lamb stew and the sliced brown bread.

It really does bond you when you're not sure whether what you're about to eat is going to make you both ill or not, but in my family it's almost a test of strength to see who's constitution can withstand the least likely of offerings. In no time at all the pheasant is perched atop a piece of dripping-slathered bread and roasting in the oven for another time and the lamb stew is bubbling innocently away on the hob, veg roasts in the oven and zucchini softens in a pan.

WHAT WE ATE: Defrosted borscht given an artistic flourish of scissored chives start the ball rolling. Tastes like the earth. As earthy as anything I've had in a long time. Soon enough we're onto the main thrust of the meal - the defrosted lamb stew. There it sits, surrounded by jewel-like veg: zucchini sauteed with tomatoes and oregano, peppers and squash from the roasting pan, streaked with rosemary, chunky discs of carrot - it's quite a sight to behold. We tuck in, our wine glasses at the ready should anything untoward start to occur in our stomachs...all fine we proceed with gusto.

Next we enjoy some salad, reassuringly clean and perky and fresh from the bag. Some camembert accompanies it along with...oh, what's this? The pheasant is out of the oven and it's fatty bed is being touted around as a possible partner to all this clean-cut fare. "It might be a bit greasy" warns Marius, which means that it's going to be so far beyond greasy I probably shouldn't. But, heck, I do and am soon transferring it onto his plate where it'll receive a much better reception.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: Intrigue and suspicion over previous ancestor's misdemeanors, my grandparents and their barny when my grandmother discovered my grandfather had bought a house without telling her, Marius tells me about being sent out of London as a boy to stay on a farm in Cornwall and what a thrill it was for a King Arthur loving kid, more family disection. We get the map out a lot. I love going over maps - especially with people that really understand them. We gaze over Lincolnshire and its vast tracts of unadulterated farmland. We revel in the possibilities of the ancient kingdom of Arkenfeld. We slap each other on the back and pour more wine.

THE PUD: Venezuelan truffles and whiskey from the Co-Op. I bite mine tenderly, Mal tosses them back like popcorn. They're only just set and so perfectly supple. I love the way the cocoa powder acts as a serious case for the dreaminess within.

MY BED FOR THE NIGHT: Marius marches round the house pulling back bed covers, investigating what lies beneath - not that different to the inspection of the fridge in fact. Eventually we find a bed that I can sleep in, complete with sheets, pillow cases and blanket. One more discussion on the history of the house and where things have been put in/taken out and off I trot clutching (embarrassingly) OK!, full of pics of Wayne and Colleen having a right old knees-up.


Anonymous said...

Priceless, your stay at Molland sounds hilarious especially as I can imagine it all so clearly... Good ol' Marius, hope there weren't any unpleasent repercusssions the next day!

Petra Barran said...

I held my own in the stomach stakes - could have been shady. Mind over matter matey! But Mal is such great company isn't he - total G.D.