Light up the Fire

The inner city heat of Lewisham drives the urban vicar to his garden.

Mine, I should add, is a narrow strip between a seven foot brick wall and the adjacent Parish Hall (a wooden construction of the sixties which is used by every community group under the sun, and even occasionally by the area bishop). But we pack a lot in little space. There is a Victoria plum, and a flourishing and fruiting apricot, with everything from magnolias to foxgloves besides – and even the occasional fox.

Gardens in these parts mean barbecues.

From the balcony outside my dining room window I look down on a row of backyards which are wreathed with smoke of an evening like an Australian beach at Christmas. One tries not to look, of course, at what people are cooking. But judging from the contents of the baskets which precede one at the supermarket it is a load of unimaginative bangers and some distressingly marinated chops.

You will not want to hear about religion as the temperature soars, and the prospect of women bishops raises it even higher; so here instead is a menu.

First Course: Red mullet with a melon salsa.

Second course: Lamb chops and Moroccan lamb sausages, with courgettes, grated carrot, roasted red peppers, tsatziki, couscous and preserved lemons*.

Third Course: Peaches, plums and cherries.

This is what you do.

Twenty-four hours before the meal buy the lamb and the sausages. If you cannot get the Moroccan variety try Tesco (as I do) who have a minted lamb sausage which is a perfectly adequate substitute. Selfridge’s and Soho have the real thing!

Pour a little olive oil over the lamb chops and rub into them a paste of crushed garlic, mashed with equal quantities of ground cumin (very biblical!) and ground coriander. Sprinkle liberally with lemon juice, cover and refrigerate.

Next morning, take a small Charentais melon and chop the flesh into bite-sized pieces. Place in a bowl. Add one finely chopped shallot, two cloves of finely chopped garlic, a large tomato skinned, seeded and chopped. Add three finely chopped bird’s eye red chillies. Mix. Squeeze over the mixture the juice of two limes, and fold in the grated rind of one. Sprinkle with chopped coriander. Cover and refrigerate.

That evening, gut and wash the fish. (One per person will do unless they are very small). Salt the cavities, fill with a little chopped coriander and sprinkle with lemon juice. Set aside.

Grate half a cucumber into a sizeable pot of Greek yoghurt. Add lethal quantities of fresh mint, finely chopped, and lots of black pepper. Cover and refrigerate.

Chop the courgettes into decent chunks. Finely chop two large cloves of garlic. Heat some good olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the garlic to the hot oil, and (to about four courgettes add two heaped tablespoons of golden sultanas, and two of pine kernels). Add the courgettes and fry until browned and al dente. Set aside. At the last minute fold in some chopped parsley and pour over the juice of a lemon.

Grate three or four carrots. sprinkle lightly with salt and add pepper to taste. Pour on them the juice of one orange and half a lemon. Fold in the grated rind of an orange. Strip an orange, cut into segments, and add. Refrigerate.

Cook the couscous. Season with lemon juice and lots of chopped coriander. Keep warm.

Put the fruit into a bowl. Cover with ice cubes and set aside.

Light the fire. (Wood charcoal – those disgusting little briquettes will not do!) When it is hot (about fifteen minutes) bring the fish to the heat and cook very quickly, close to the fire. Sprinkle with lemon juice during the process. Take to the table as soon as the fish are slightly blackened. The skin will be crisp and delicious. Moisten with oil and lemon. Serve with the melon salsa, preferably still chilled. A bed of rocket will encourage the modish.

Meanwhile, place the chops and sausages over the fire at the greatest distance possible. Turn them as you go, whilst enjoying your fish. Roast the peppers (the long thin ones are especially tasty) alongside. You can blacken the sausages (which respond rather well to ill-treatment!); but watch the lamb chops, which should not be allowed to dry. Serve with the courgette and carrot salads and with the tsatziki, couscous and preserved lemons.

Eat the chilled fruit.

I recommend a Kir before, a Beaujolais with (chilled if you like); and an ice cold glass of Baumes de Venise with the fruit. You will enjoy several espressos because by now it will be cool.

In order to make your party a thorough success you will need a list of things not to talk about:

1. Jack Spong and Richard Holloway.

2. Divorce, remarriage and Scott-Joplin.
3. Jane Dixon and Christ Church Accokeek.

4. Bishops’ expenses.

A useful party game is to ask guests to name the next Archbishop of Canterbury and to outline the theological opinions of the next Pope but one.

*To preserve the lemons: thinly slice a dozen lemons (the thin-skinned variety for this purpose). Place them in a colander, layered, with generous amounts of rough salt between each layer. Put a plate and some weights on top of the lemons. Leave to drain for twenty-four hours. The lemons will loose liquid and soften. Wash them thoroughly and turn the slices in a two or three dessert spoons of sweet paprika (the Portuguese type is very good). Pack the lemon slices into a large kilner jar and cover with a mixture of 2/3 sunflower oil, 1/3 olive. Cover and keep for at least three weeks before using.

Geoffrey Kirk cooks in Lewisham.