Sun, sea, crab and more crab. A blissful week in Mousehole, Cornwall thanking our lucky stars to be away from the stresses and strains of London (not to mention the hideous and dangerous traffic jams in Chiswick caused by the empty new road carve-up).
Oh what a joy to wake up to sunlight streaming through the curtains and to look out and just see sea splashing up around St Clement’s Island, the craggy, uninhabited isle that looks different wherever you view it in Mousehole. We have a lovely breakfast of fruit salad and coffee outside in the little garden high above the rocks and sea below. Yesterday, we’d walked to Newlyn to stock up for meals. Lunch is dressed crab with a green salad, pot of mayo and crusty sourdough (made daily by the much admired ‘Hole Foods overlooking the harbour) with a bottle of Whispering Angel, The B’s favourite pink wine. What a treat, what a wonderful treat to be here, the sun shining, Red stretched out in the sun and The B having a couple of days without being folded over his lap top. We had bought a small chicken from the butcher in Newlyn and roasted it for supper with ersatz bread sauce made by crumbling the remains of stale loaf brought from London and 4 cloves scrounged from the ‘Hole Foods kitchen. With very crusty roast potatoes (par-boiled and peeled), the two cooked in our new friend, the Aga-like Ever-hot.
The B is up early, hard at work in the kitchen and after another lovely fruit salad of berries, apple and fresh orange juice, Red and I set off for the farmers food market in the Soloman Browne Hall. Named after the life boat that went down with fatal consequences in the Penlee Lifeboat disaster way back in December 1981, the building is another fish store, big and open plan like ours. It was semi-derelict for years, mainly a store for the famous Mousehole Christmas lights but now converted and much in demand for community and village events like this. Covid restrictions mean a mask and check in with phone details and name. I’m immediately recognised by the lady on the door, Sylvia Pezzack, one of Mousehole’s key locals, who along with husband Leon, started the Sea, Salts & Sail Festival (www.seasalts.co.uk) way back in 1996. It’s an amazing occasion, when the harbour is full of traditional sailing craft, the luggers, gaffers and crabbers which were once a common sight. I used to give cookery demonstrations, quick and simple ways of cooking local fish and then a paella demonstration with our gas-fuelled huge Spanish paella dishes loaded with saffron-scented rice and local seafood, in those early days, Zach and Henry and friends helping me. It was great fun all round and hopefully will happen again this summer. Upstairs, the big room of the Soloman Browne Hall is not well attended, with a one-way system round tables flanking the room but very few actual stalls. I buy smoked haddock, pale cured anchovies (so delicious on toast) and dressed crab in a pack rather than loaded into a shell from local bigwig fish merchants Stevenson’s stall. We have a table for lunch in the garden at 2 Fore Street, where they are open continually from noon to 9.30 and fully equipped against the elements with huge umbrellas, wall-mounted heaters and several socially distanced tables in their sheltered patio garden. I begin with a wonderful pile up of sticky chicken wings with Korean barbeque sauce and pickled red cabbage. The B tossed up between crispy devilled whitebait with tartare sauce but settled on salt and pepper squid with sweet chilli and soy dipping sauce and pickles. My that was good, battered and deep fried in long strips, very tender and served coiled over salad with pickled bright yellow-stained thin courgette strips with a spicy dipping sauce on the side. We both clocked someone else having plaice goujons over minted pea puree, with rosemary and sea salt skinny fries and mayo. We couldn’t resist. The portions are very generous and huge goujons curl up from their pea puree bed as if trying to escape. The breadcrumb is crisp and delicious, the fish spankingly fresh. I love this combination of flavours and textures and just had to search out my own recipe for Gurnard (or Plaice) Goujons with Minted Pea Puree. I hankered after raspberry crumble with clotted cream but managed to resist. We bought a loaf of sliced sourdough from the St Ives Bakery (2 Fore Street sell it every day but I think the ‘Hole Foods Deli (www.mouseholedeli.co.uk) daily-made sourdough is better) and wandered off feeling very happy to have had a meal out. Minimal late supper of baked potatoes, leftover roast chicken salad.
I walk to Newlyn again, along the coast with Red while The B tackles his paper load. I try again to track down Cornish asparagus and Cornish early potatoes but fail, coming back empty handed. We have the dressed crab I’d bought at the farmers market for lunch with a crisp green salad, bread and butter and mayo but disappointed it was mainly white meat, so a tad dull. ‘Hole Foods, the deli and erstwhile café opposite the harbour has introduced a lockdown takeaway menu which can be ordered between noon and 7pm. I’ve heard good things of their seafood paella (son Zach and family where here for a long weekend just before Lock Down 1 started and ending up staying for the whole Lock Down and had it a couple of times) but we both craved curry. Lamb Rogan Josh with flatbread, kale, dahl and riata was piled into 2 cardboard boxes, the takeaway designed to be bought and eaten with disposable cutlery. It wasn’t designed to eat as we wanted, on a plate in a cosy front room but it was extremely tasty, the lamb very tender but the flatbread was a disappointingly stiff, thick slab and not the soft, malleable Indian bread we were hoping for.
On the way back from my morning walk, I nip into The Mousehole, the most tasteful gift shop in the village. They allow dogs, so Red was on a short lead when I shrieked with pleasure at the sight of a pile of my Pasties books. When I introduced myself to the owner, she said she’d just sold one. Eureka! I tell her about the Fish Store book and hope she’ll contact Grub Street. We are lucky to have a second table for lunch at 2 Fore Street and this time I have their Bouillabaise, a wonderful bowl of seafood with mussels and a huge fillet of bass (as they call sea bass down here) with garlicky aioli with a thick slice of garlicky, buttery, parsley-flecked sourdough fried bread. If you ever find yourself in Mousehole, are able to get a table at 2 Fore Street and this is on the menu, do order it. You will not be disappointed. We’d invited friends for drinks in our little garden but plans were complicated by their guests, so it was simpler to go to them. How lovely then, to be sipping Champagne (then Whispering Angel) snacking on toasts with those little anchovies I’d bought at the market, unbelievably good combination. How we gossiped about the comings and going, the nastiness and the generosity of village life during the various Lock Downs. More snacking – this time smoked salmon on Ever-hot toast – for supper. Early night.
Our last full day here in Mousehole. I buy scallops from Trelawny in Newlyn, intending to cook a simplified version of Rowley Leigh’s stupendous scallops with pea puree and minted vinaigrette. Instead, it’s our favourite dressed crab and salad, bread and butter lunch and scrambled egg on toast for supper after a big clear up and pack, so we can leave as close to 8am as we can bear it. I plan to take the scallops and a thick, buttery stewed tomato sauce I’ve cooked up our squashy not very tasty tomatoes and stashed in the butter bean jam jar back to London and leave the last of the anchovies in the fridge for our host and hostess who are returning tomorrow.
We’re up early, the sun streaming through the windows and bouncing off the sea now turned into a golden sheath, blindingly bright. Sad to be leaving and heading back in good time for an appointment at the Health Centre for a jab. Hurrah. So glad my turn has come around. We are all packed up, beds stripped, fridge emptied and head for Warrens in Newlyn to buy a couple of their well-loaded steak pasties for lunch. Warrens claim to be the oldest bakery and pasty shop in Cornwall and their pasties can be magnificent; flaky short pastry wrapping a good filling of tender chunks of steak with a moist gravy caused by the salt and pepper seasoning, chopped onions and swede). I wrap the separately bagged pasties in a towel to preserve as much warmth as possible, noting the special greaseproof paper bag they use. The smell as we drove was almost unbearable but the canny Barrister had bought a sausage roll for elevenses; my that was good too! By about 12.30 we could bear it no longer and pulled off the motorway for petrol and phone checking. Lunch was consumed in silence, mouthful after mouthful of one of the best pasties I’ve ever eaten and that is saying something. Lucky Red got my gravy-soaked ridge.
After my jab, I called at the butcher for 3 pork chops and bought 2 bunches of Norfolk asparagus, a punnet of very bright red strawberries and more Jersey Royal potatoes. They were supper. I asked the butcher to nick the skin that runs down the side of the chops, so that it splays as they cook to prevent the chops from buckling. The butcher had recommended roasting them in the oven (rather than grilling or griddling which I would have done), so that was how I cooked them. Smeared with a little oil on both sides, salt and pepper then snuggled up in a small, shallow roasting tin, they went in at 180C/gas mark 4 and cooked for 30 minutes as instructed. A brief rest so the meat could ‘relax’ with minted, buttery Jersey Royals and boiled asparagus with a pot of English mustard. Delish (as my brother Adam always says as he smacks his lips). But before I started making supper, I set too trying to regain order in my newly decorated kitchen. For as long as I could bear it, I loaded and unloaded the dish washer and tidied away china and glass, trying to bring order to my beautifully freshly painted kitchen, still done in its original custard and cream colour scheme.
More kitchen work, then off to Bloomsbury for a hair cut! What a joy that was and I now have a new short bob which I really like. Made a very late lunch by slicing the third pork chop very thinly, adding the slices to a salad of pickled cucumber half moons, crisp strips of Cos lettuce heart in a mayo-stirred vinaigrette. Casting around for something to lift the flavours, I remembered rocket and mint now growing luxuriously in pots in the garden, so added them with a few lengthways-halved wrinkly black grapes. I wish I’d taken a photo, it was so very good and this combination is highly recommended and doesn’t really need a recipe. Lunch was so late, neither of us wanted a proper supper, so had baked potatoes with grated Cheddar. Lovely.