I'm seriously organised for the current Cook the Books round! It doesn't close until late July, so if you have been tempted to join our merry band of bloggers with a book in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, you have plenty of time!
We're reading Sarah Addison Allen's first novel, Garden Spells. It's a magic realist novel set in North Carolina, and I found it quite charming.
Claire Waverley has been living alone in the family home for some years since her sister ran away and her grandmother died. She has made her peace with the Waverley "gifts" and runs a successful catering business, centred on dishes made from the herbs in the magical family garden. She is much sought after for the way her dishes affect the eaters, but no one gets close to her. It's a quiet life of contentment, until her sister returns and an attractive man moves in next door.
I thought the magic realist style fit very well with the Southern setting. There is something about the slightly quaint, mannered English (which I can only assume is an authentic Southern voice) that you find in books set in Dixie that lends itself to this treatment: a sort of timeless quality that makes magic likely, more than possible.
On the other hand, I also deeply sympathised with Sydney's flight from the family Gifts. Even reading about a town where your fate is determined by your family name was stifling enough to choke me.
What I wanted to cook to celebrate this book was decided pretty much as soon as I looked out my kitchen window. Our apple tree is very well-mannered. It provides shelter for many birds (and Urchin when she pursues birds) but it never tries to intrude, and under it one of my rose bushes was just coming nicely into flower.
Crystallised rose petals
I crystallised (beaten eggwhite, caster sugar, dried out over night) the petals from a couple of our (unsprayed, fragrant) roses. And I used them to garnish a rose and lime pannacotta.
Rosewater and Lime Pannacotta (serves 2)
170ml double cream
1tbs caster sugar
zest of a lime
1 heaped tsp gelatine
Sprinkle the gelatine over the cold water and leave to sponge. Warm the cream, lime zest and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the water and gelatine and stir until the gelatine melts completely. Stir in rosewater to taste. It absolutely must be to taste - the slightest hint too much and it is like grandma's knicker drawer.
Strain into two wetted ramekins, cover with cling film and chill over night.
Turn out (and truth be told, I took a picture of it in the ramekin as well, in case the whole operation went tits up) onto serving plates. Serve with rhubarb and strawberry compote (also delicately flavoured with rose) and some of the crystallised petals. Utterly sublime.
Edited to add: oh bollocks - I was just googling for something else and came upon this remarkably similar recipe from Diana Henry. I regularly read her column so that must have been floating away in the back of my subconscious. I wonder if there are any genuinely original ideas out there now?