Honey from a Weed
“In the time of the Lion…” begins one of the evocative passages about summer food collected from around the Mediterranean by the late writer and artist Patience Gray in her vintage autobiographical cookbook ‘Honey From A Weed’. This August, I’ve been dipping in and out of her world reading about, and then cooking, the simple foods of Catalunya, Puglia, and Tuscany. Written in the 60’s and 70’s when Ms. Gray and her husband sculptor Norman Mommens lived in the rough outcroppings of rural villages never far from the Mediterranean Sea, and published originally in 1986 the book is like a good vintage shop of foods and meals, esoteric ingredients, and the everyday familiar foods. It is this August summer bounty from markets and gardens that inspires a feast of paella that I cooked for friends here at Camont.
In a story about some time spent in Vendrell near Tarragona, Spain, Gray describes an outside kitchen where Anita, the Catalan cook who inspired Irving Davis to begin his landmark collection of recipes; she later edited these recipes after his death in 1967 in A Catalan Cookery Book: a collection of impossible recipes, 1969.
“Beyond the fountain and the Papyrus plants stands an old fig tree which casts a dense shade at midday over a table made of old maiolica tiles, and further is an outdoor kitchen, its hearth built against the high wall for grilling and nearby a charcoal installation.”
My own outside kitchen, shaded by a lacy acacia tree has a Portuguese beehive oven, a Spanish grill, and a French gas tripod. It is often the inspiration for a certain kind of meal; one that I like to cook where friends can gather, move, and work around the outside tables in the garden. Who knows, maybe they'll do some weeding? Whoever does show up first gets put to work so-Colin soon has a fire going; Julia and Maurine set up the bar and apéros of house-made Spanish style vermouth, gin-tonics, and the ubiquitous icy cold rosé; Justine and Vicky make the salad and laugh at my brocante salad spinner; Steph arranges the dishes and a pile of serviettes; Steve sorts out the chairs, and in between talking and catching up, I make Anita's Paella.
The Paella recipe is on page 84 of Honey from a Weed, a simple one page explanation that is easy enough for even a beginner to follow. I left out the meat and chicken this time and used all fresh seafood: shrimp, prawns, mussels, and langoustines. Using 100 grams of rice per person and 2 liters of broth made from the shrimp heads and shells, some little fish, and seasoning, there was ample servings for seconds all the way around. The rice only takes 20 minutes to cook over the hot fire, and gets a nice crusty edge where it hits the flames.
Here’s a little slide show of making Paella in the Outside Kitchen at Camont.
For more information about Patience Gray and her cooking, join me on Facebook as I moderate the Saveur Magazine Cookbook Club this month and read the book, make the recipes and meet like-minded cooks. I’ll also be posting recipes and other inspirations from Catalunya next week on my Instagram Stories. Intrigued and want to know more about Patience Gray and her books? Read Adam Federman's great biography Fasting and Feasting: the Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray. All books availabe here.