In the Octave

Another Easter has come and gone, and we in Lewisham have recovered from our Paschal exertions. We had a good Holy Week. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday saw three remarkable preachers at the Sung Mass. We had been studying St John’s Gospel on Wednesday lunchtimes in Lent and I rashly invited three people to answer the question ‘Why read John?’

It was only after I had sent out the emails that I realized the risk I had taken. What if they all said the same thing? Mercifully three very different personalities came up with three very different – and I have to say impressive – sermons.

Colin Buchanan, the Bishop of Woolwich gave a spirited defence of the traditional understanding that the gospel is a work of the Son of Zebedee. Donald Minchew, Vicar of St Michael’s, Croydon and one of the hidden treasures of FiF, related John to the contemporary crisis of faith. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, spoke powerfully about listening to the music of the gospel (‘hearing secret harmonies’, as Anthony Powell might have put it). We were well served.

The Triduum was well attended and Easter Day saw the baptism of two little boys both called Daniel. The father of one of them, Moses, is a recent convert from Islam, who was himself baptized and confirmed only recently. Another Muslim convert at the same confirmation had taken the name Elijah. The bishop, understandably, thought I had a hand in their choice of names. But no: as with the two Easter Daniels, the sense of humour was divine, not human.

Gastronomically the highlight of Easter 2003 was Easter Monday – always a relaxed day for serious cooking, when a leisurely lunch can occupy most of the afternoon. Guinea fowl this year, preceded by cold vegetables and followed (because the dish is a rich one) with a bowl of mangoes and raspberries.

Vegetables first. We had artichoke bottoms filled with broad bean puree; avocado salad with squid, coriander, lime juice and chilli; papaya with Parma ham; leeks sautéed in butter with crème frâiche and tarragon.

First buy your artichokes. The bottled ones from Syria, in a light brine, are excellent. They come from the Turkish grocers, eight or ten to the bottle, for less than four pounds! Lightly cook some frozen baby broad beans in butter, with lots of mint. Puree in the blender, adding a little double cream as you go until a suitably unguent consistency is reached. Season with pepper and salt to taste (and lots of lemon juice). Pour onto the artichokes and cover with plenty of parsley.

Buy baby squid ready cleaned and prepared, remove the tentacles and set aside. Lightly sautée the squid rings and set aside. Chop the avocados into more than bite-sized pieces. Roughly chop plenty of fresh coriander, And finely chop three or four bird’s eye chillies. Combine all these ingredients in a suitable bowl, season and sprinkle liberally with lime juice. Fry the squid tentacles quickly in hot olive oil, and decorate the salad with them. Add further olive oil to taste.

Choose a large ripe papaya of the kind with deep orange flesh. Cut it into long thick slices. Cover with Parma ham and black pepper.

Slice the leeks, and sweat in butter until tender. Add the crème fraiche and lots of freshly chopped tarragon. Blend over a low heat. Allow to cool and serve.

The combination of these dishes should look varied and refreshing. I suggest a Sauvignon de Touraine (cheap and cheerful), or a Sancerre if you want to be more modish and spend more.

Now for the main course. Joint your guinea fowl into four pieces and allowing a quarter per person brown in oil. In a suitably sized cast iron pot with a heavy lid also brown half a pound of lightly smoked bacon cut into small chunks. When the fat of the bacon is running, add four ounces of chopped walnut pieces and the same quantity of golden sultanas. Allow the flavours to blend over a low heat. Put the fowl into the pot and half-cover with a good dry cider. (The supermarkets now do French varietal ciders which ensure a good apple flavour.) Add double cream to taste (I suggest half a pint for six people), raise the heat until the pot is simmering, cover and cook on a very low heat until the meat is tender but still on the bone. Remove the pieces of fowl, reduce the sauce if necessary, and pour over.

You will want lots of good bread to mop up the sauce, a green salad, and perhaps a few small waxy steamed potatoes smothered in parsley. Nothing too fancy, I think, by way of a red wine. Perhaps a Bourgueil.

To follow, I think you would enjoy some English cheese. A sharp white Wensleydale, a toothsome Cheddar and a ripe Stilton. Dress the mangoes and raspberries with lemon juice, and a little black pepper if your guests are up to it.

Conversation this year, I have to admit, took a rather philosophical turn. We began with a remembrance of Easters past – of the happy days when David Jenkins was still Bishop of Durham and waxing eloquent over ‘conjuring tricks with bones’. We moved on, naturally enough, to Chuck Bennison and the sinfulness of Jesus. They had, we concluded, jointly done for Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. And since Zwingli long ago kicked Maundy Thursday into touch, that competed the entire Triduum.

Over the cheese we began to ask ourselves what future is open for liberal Christians when they have finally rubbished all the doctrines of the Catholic Church. Where does the ivy cling when it has killed the tree? On what does the parasite subsist when it has consumed its host? The only happy conclusion to which speculations, I have to report, was coffee and a Marc de Bourgogne.

Geoffrey Kirk celebrates and cooks in Lewisham, South London