I’ve owned Petunia for years. Over time I’ve created some rather elaborate histories about Petunia and her friends, several of which were at one time available on-line through my old website. Needless to say I’m a big fan of Grayson Perry and of his teddy bear Alan Measles. You may follow Alan’s twitter feed here or his blog here. Petunia does not have a twitter feed, although her friend Lydia Behr, who also lives with me, does have a gmail account. You may friend her on Google+, although she’s oddly timid about posting status updates. I believe her paws are too big for the keyboard . . . The Petunia and co. stories have something of Yoknapatawpha county about them: an ongoing and ever growing micrososmos with some very real-world attributes projected onto a group of fictional beings. Walt Kelly’s Okefenokee Swamp inhabitants are also conceptual kin.

Petunia is an artist, scientist, and chef (she started out making jam). She’s also a skunk. For years she’s been coming up with  “recipes” and art projects, most of which horrify her friends or get no attention in the art world, despite immense amounts of thought and labor. Petunia is withdrawn and hard working, with unique powers of imagination, and an almost overwhelming need for external validation. Lately, however, things have been changing. Paging through Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine (blog here, Amazon listing here) I felt as if Petunia’s recipes weren’t so crazy, a sentiment re-iterated after looking at Cooking Science. Condensed Matter. The latter even contains a periodic table of preserves!

Petunia’s recipes are based on a system of triangulation: 3 components, in opposition to each other. Baked salmon skin, with marshmallow, and salted prune, for example. Coming up with the recipes has always been a fun exercise: a bit like filling in the correct elements of a Sudoko to complete the puzzle. Always the same framework, but with different components. But I’ve realized this is a system I often use in my own cooking and art making. Ice cream, sound, and sculpture, for example (not the three added together; these are just 3 examples of media where I apply this technique, although an ice cream based sound piece might be fun . . . Contact miked ice creams being licked by cows, for instance,). More than 3 elements and the dish or piece gets too busy; only 2 and its a rather boring binary argument.

Dark chocolate ice cream with creme de peche and flaked red pepper
From memory.

The wonderful thing about ice cream is that there’s not much change in taste between the before and after freezing stages so its very easy to make things “to taste”. Adjust according to yours.

1. Do this step only if you have access to a nice ripe peach. Otherwise omit, as this also breaks Petunia’s triangulation rule.

2. Peel the peach and then puree it to the point where you have mostly liquid with some small solid bits.

3. Follow the directions for a custard based (eg, uses egg yolks) dark chocolate ice cream recipe. Look online or perhaps you have a book of recipes (I own and love Lola’s Ice Creams and Sundaes by Morfudd Richards. Its a great book but all of the portions are metric so you need a good metric scale and measuring cup). I use High Lawn cream from the milk of Jersey cows and do equal parts milk and heavy cream. I also recommend good quality bittersweet chocolate with a high cocoa content. And use a thermometer when making the custard.

4. Once the custard is in the Bain Marie (ice bath) and prior to refrigerating the mix, add the peach puree, several tablespoons of Creme de Peche, and a teaspoon or so of dried Red Pepper flakes. You should be able to taste the Creme de Peche, but don’t overdo it, in part because the stuff is so damned expensive. Don’t overdo the pepper flakes, either, but also don’t be a wimp . . .

5. Refrigerate the mix for at least 6 hours and preferably longer and then churn in an ice cream maker. You’ll need to to churn it longer because of the alcohol, which lowers the temperature at which the mix will freeze.


W. made his special version of corned beef and hash this weekend: finely sliced and diced potatoes, onions, poblano pepper, carnitas, secret flavoring agents (secret because I forget what they are but they include concentrated lemon juice and a dash of maggi sauce), and a fried egg each.

Tomorrow it is my turn and my proposed dish also involves eggs: Eggs en coucottes with leeks, based on the recipe from the Silver Spoon cookbook. I’ve made this before and love the taste imparted to the leeks by cooking them with a pinch of finely grated nutmeg. Nutmeg makes an excellent stealth flavoring, as does cinnamon, both bringing out some marvelous complexity in foods.

I’ve been buying Ameraucana (aka “blue”) eggs when possible. Their yolks are gorgeous: rich orangey yellow, and the shells are fun too. I think I would like to have my own chickens: a nice little family, perhaps without the noisy papa, who would welcome my periodic ova purloining and regard me with a mix of admiration and fondness based on my assurances to consume only their eggs, and not them.

In reality I know virtually nothing about chickens and have never even owned a pet as allergies and a childhood split between two countries made owning them difficult. I understand that chickens smell, can go broody, and probably don’t make for good neighbor relations. Chicken ownership must be preceded by various other “desired future state” requirements, particularly: a home in the country (preferably in England, with neighbors who won’t shoot us, near public transportation, with seasonable weather, but without poisonous snakes). For now, the trek up the hill to Whole Foods is a suitable alternative.

Husk Cherries

We were wary and precious. We put the husk cherries from the Farmer’s Market in an airtight plastic tub and waited for the right moment to use them. First we made risotto, topped with grilled heirloom tomatoes and 10 tiny husk cherries each on the side, sliced in half but otherwise left alone to compliment the risotto. The slightly tart, slightly sweet husk cherries cut through the musky mushrooms and cheese perfectly. It was fabulous. And then we waited again.

Something horrible has now happened to them. Fruit flies have bored their way through the sides of the plastic tub (or, more plausibly had already buried their larvae in the paper of the husks). The husk cherries will be tossed as soon as I can take a photograph of them. I think they have also started to rot. Food does not, and will not, wait. In cooking, as in art making, you must rely on impulse and forge ahead. I leave you with my dream recipes. None have been attempted.

  • husk cherry and lime zest sorbet, (possibly topped with crumbled pistachios)
  • grilled steak, topped with shaved parmesan, flat parsley, and sliced husk cherries
  • something boozy with a bit of husk cherry juice. Gin? Pepper vodka? Gin, St. Germain, prosecco, and husk cherry juice? I’ve never experimented much with making cocktails so these have a high chance of being vile. Maybe just add some to a Pimms Cup.
  • husk cherry jelly, with red pepper flakes. In my opinion, when in doubt add red pepper flakes, even if you’re making ice cream.

Oh, right. And what are they like?? . . . “well, you know when you first heard the awful, unbelievable truth that tomatoes were fruits? Husk cherries taste like that. Or perhaps sweet tomatillos. There is something unsettling in the fleshly, slightly salted, languorous squirt of flavor they emit as they receive their final unction.”  -W (my co-chef)