Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bitter greens from a fallow field

Bricolins.  I've bought these greens, or something like them, from a local veg box scheme, and they can, it seems, still be had on the markets in this part of France, though I don't remember seeing them.  They are the spring shoots of field or feed cabbages, loose small leaves and sometimes the start of a flowering head.

The name is a curiosity, a hybrid false analogy perhaps, from the Italian-derived broccoli (sometimes they're called bricoli), and the French verb bricoler.  Bricolage now is a fairly respectable activity, and large retail outlets bear the word in their names, it's DIY, home improvements.  But it also has had the sense of rather desultory pottering, of cobbling something together from what's to hand, of making do perhaps in a rather shoddy way.  The grasping peasant family in Georges Sand's Miller of Angibault is called Bricolin, and it carries the sense of shabbiness and skimping, although perhaps there's a cabbage stalk connection too, and casual farm labourers were also sometimes called bricolins.

And as a foodstuff, these greens really are much to do with making do, with using what meagre resources come to hand in a lean time, even to resorting to raiding the cows' fodder to supplement one's winter diet.  One of the few recipes I've found for them comprises not much more than the chopped greens, potatoes, water and some butter, if you're lucky, or else lard.

They're also known, in Gallo anyway, which is the old dialect of these parts, Breton wasn't spoken here, as guernissons, I can't find much out about that, except Gallo seems to contain a lot of words beginning gue-.

The local farmers are planting more feed cabbages these days to supplement the lack of nutrients in the junk-food-for-cows which is maize, since destroying rainforest savannah a mile-a-minute by buying imported soya is getting more expensive. A small step in the right direction I suppose though it doesn't quite constitute reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. So there are plenty to be found; these ones however were even more scarcity food, or playing at it anyway, as I do, since they were foraged not from a planted field but from self-seeded wildings in a fallow field just up the road.  I'd picked a few before and they'd been good, usually mixed with other greens, but these proved to be uncomfortably bitter, and even the addition of balsamic vinegar, sugar and salt couldn't offset that enough to make them pleasant on their own, even to me, and I quite like bitter. Tom, who isn't a bitter man, couldn't eat them.  I'm afraid I'm something of an intolerant and unreasonable solipsist about people's taste preferences if they aren't the same as mine.  I regard Tom's rejection of a number of foodstuffs as being bitter as a wilful refusal to grow up and train his palate (children naturally reject bitter tastes to avoid toxicity, which is why they won't eat their greens), as well as being inconsistent since he enjoys burnt sausages.  

This coincided with Rouchswalwe's post about Brussels sprouts (or Rosenköhlchen as they are delightfully called in German) and the comments it raised about taste.  Bearing in mind my aforesaid unreasonable solipsism, I am sceptical about the 'supertaster' idea, and I certainly hope no one ever tells my step-grandchildren Benj and Emily about it or they will feel justified in continuing to allow never so much as green pea to pass their lips on the grounds that they are supertasters and anything of vegetable origin is intolerably bitter to them, with the possible exception of garlic and potatoes, in the form of chips that is.  One of the best things about Brussels sprouts for me, which fully justifies their place in Christmas dinner, is that they make the best ever bubble-and-squeak, and this is what I did with the bricolins in the end.  Our friend the Quiet American once said it was a bafflement to him the things English people call food, either reducing the delicate and appetising such as 'sorbet' to something as dreary and off-putting as 'water ice', or rendering dishes completely opaque and droll by giving them such names as 'spotted dick' or 'bubble-and-squeak'.  

So for those who don't know, bubble-and-squeak is a development on the Irish colcannon (a lovely name) or, as I understand it, the Australian champ potato: leftover greens, primarily of the brassica type but can include leeks, onions, and indeed any other veg, even steamed nettles, mixed with mashed potato, then (and this is the point of departure from colcannon and champ) bound with an egg (optional, but a better result) and fried, at which point it presumably makes the sound which gives it its name.  The potato reduces the concentration of greensy bitterness, which can also be softened by the inclusion of sweeter elements such as carrot or parsnip - I included some pumpkin and chestnut puree in this instance.  Served with bacon (the ideal) the salt and savoury creates a further harmonious balance, and if you then wish for a touch of sour, fry some tomatoes or add a dash of ketchup or brown sauce on the side.  In fact acid is the taste group I had to work hardest at getting to like, wouldn't even eat mayo or anything with a taste of vinegar for years, and still regard Worcestershire sauce as a culinary thug.  But after long practice of including small amounts of sharp against other contrasting flavours to offset them, I have reached the point where I can eat gherkins straight out of the jar with pleasure, though I still prefer the sweet-and-sour ones to the just plain sour.

I still wouldn't be able to get Tom to eat it, so bubble-and-squeak aux bricolins is portioned out and in the freezer. 


the polish chick said...

i'm with you in the culinary solipsism, and have always found the idea of super tasters to offend my sensibilities. like you, my usual response to that sort of thing is to grow up already. hurray for us and our willful ways!

the bubble and squeak sounds delicious!

Zhoen said...

There is a test for supertasters.

Not all children prefer sweets. I liked sour best of all. The first time given spinach (fresh, cooked, by my Aunt Alma) I was in love.

Dale said...

Spinach and romaine lettuce are about as bitter as I go, and it took me years to get accustomed even to those! Brussels sprouts fill me with an unconquerable horror :-)

Bubble and squeak! I had heard of it, but yes, it was just another of those totally opaque English food names. It sounds quite tasty!

the polish chick said...

zhoen, my little niece was in love with lemon wedges - one of her favourite treats.
my mom, on the other hand, used to find the white vinegar that her mom hid in the pantry, and drink it by the bottle.
i get that! i love sour things too!

herhimnbryn said...

Brussel sprouts are one of my favourite veg. Lucy, have tried them sliced and stir fried? Divine.

I prefer sour gherkins and have to hunt them down here in Australia, as most have loads of sugar added to the vinegar. Likewise mustard pickles. I have been known to spent far too much on a jar of uk Piccalilli, just because they are so wonderfully vinegary.

Roderick Robinson said...

En passant:

Does solipsism (and its variants) ever figure in conversation or does it belong to a category of words that's easier to write down than to say? I cannot for instance imagine it cropping up in one of those "Eat your greens" exhortations you touch on so beguilingly but then on reflection there would be no call for it; it would hardly advance your cause.

As far as I can remember Americans have a horror of rechauffage, believing it to be evidence of extreme poverty as well as carrying ill-defined health threats. B&S would therefore only be acceptable - and then dubiously - if the cabbage were cooked specially for the B&S, spoiling the concept of something for nothing.

Taking B&S a stage further, it's even better with sweetheart cabbage which is now the only cabbage we eat - mainly lightly fried in butter, thereby undermining all the good that greens are supposed to give. But then I've never heard anyone deny the presence of Satan in the kitchen. And I agree about sprouts in B&S except that brussel tops (incredibly rare in Britain) are even better. Each stage was an epiphany as when VR demonstrated that hot-cross buns were superior to bread in B&B pudding. Leading to problems of taxonomy.

Fleur de blé noir said...

Whaou! Il faudra que je révise mon anglais pour vous comprendre!
Nous mangions des guernissons à cette époque. Nous allions autrefois les cueillir des des champs ou les agriculteurs cultivaient les choux pour les vaches. Autrfois lorsque nous étions plus jeunes, mon mari en mettait dans le jardin pour les lapins. ça fait bien longtemps que nous n'en avons pas mangé.
Thank you for your visites on mines blogs Fleur de blenoir ou Lise.line

Lucy said...

Thanks all. It turns out champ is Irish too, and consists of spring onions (scallions) mixed in with mashed potato. There is a wonderful Irish expression 'as ignorant as champ at a wedding', though I think if I were getting married I'd rather like the idea of a big steaming oniony potato dish...

PC - I suppose it's a bit pointless arguing about how people taste things - after all, no one else has my/your taste-buds, palate so it is entirely subjective. It does seem to me though that it's not entirely about how and whether one perceives certain tastes - I can taste bitter in things where Tom can't, so it's not that he has more fungiform papillae to experience the bitterness, it's just he objects to it and I don't. I accept the bitterness as part of the experience, he rejects the least trace of it.

Z - thanks for the link, I enjoyed that, especially when they dyed his tongue blue. Interesting that he. like your D loves hot chilli stuff, it's clearly not strong tastes they object to, but bitter ones. It is clearly a complex matter, this article

goes into it in quite a lot of depth and urges caution about both the 'supertaster' term and the tests used to establish it - the PROP receptors, for example, which the tab test establishes are the result of

'a single specific gene that detects bitterness in PROP. But it is just one gene out of 28 bitter-receptor families, which all detect different bitterness compounds. You might be a non-taster of the PROP but have other bitterness receptors working just fine for you'

Anyway, as I say, there really is no point in telling other people what they should and shouldn't like, in food of all things. I'm just a bit intolerant that way, as I say, but I don't actually try to force anyone to eat anything they don't like. Any deficiencies STs may suffer from are probably offset by the health benefits of not drinking alcohol, and if you don't like veg you can always eat fruit.

I wasn't mad for sweets as a child either, but still struggle with very sour things, I reassure myself that sucking lemons and vinegar is bad for the tooth enamel. My greatest love was and still is the complex carbs, potato especially, so I tend to put on weight as a result.

Life without garlic though, oof...

HHB - stir-fried Brouts are good too! Tom is a total piccalilli (always struggle to spell that) fiend too, we have a large stash of it in the larder, but it really has to be Heinz. I've tried making it and it was OK but not really enough 'bite'. I don't care for it too much, prefer sweeter, spicier fruity chutneys, Branston's OK. I came to like mustard over time.

RR - I suppose if Benj were to accuse me of being a solipsist when I tried to make him eat his greens, I'd be impressed enough to let him off. In fact I don't try to make them or anyone else eat anything they don't want to.

In fact I did end up cooking the bricolins specially for the B&S, but always make plenty of extra mash.

Bun-and-butter pudding sounds like an excellent new culinary concept.

Lucy said...

Lise - bonjour, et merci! (J'ai perdu votre commentaire d'abord, je l'ai retrouve maintenant). Les bricolins sont disponible chez 'Voisins de Paniers' a Tredaniel, et j'ai trouve deux recettes en-ligne, en soupe et en croute ('chaussures') mais c'est sur un site plutot 'ethnologue'.

Ceux-ci j'ai ceuilli moi-meme dans un champ en jachere par ici, ou ils se sont semes tout seul - je suis amateur(e?) de fouiller comme ca!

Desolee de l'absence d'accents ici et a votre blog, le truc pour les ajouter par mon clavier ne fonctionne pour les commentaires, apparemment...

Lucy said...

Dale, sorry, mislaid you! I draw the line at dandelion greens, though perhaps if they were blanched on the plant, and well dressed with bacon I could... Spinach is wonderful.

Unknown said...

Those bricolin leaves remind me of radish and turnip leaves both of which I have eaten when they are spared by the flea beatle.

Lucy said...

Hello Joe, we just had a bunch of radishes with really good tops, and I added them to a stir fry with the Chinese greens from the garden which are beginning to sprout. They were very good, with a nice zingy colour.

Lise - chausson, peut-etre, plutot que chaussures!

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

We had colcannon for supper tonight, made not with cabbage or kale but with a giant bunch of parsley that when chopped fine and added to the roughly mashed potato, turned it a wonderful green. Served with portobello mushrooms cooked in butter in the oven and fried eggs. Optional Dijon mustard. (Never touch the English stuff that makes me sneeze uncontrollably!) Winter comfort food!

Rouchswalwe said...

A few weeks ago, a new Sushi shop opened near workplace. I gave it a shot and was appalled at the sweetness of the rice mixture. The new owner happened to be walking around and stopped at my table, "how do you like it?" I probably said too much, explaining that I'd lived in Japan and that this rice wasn't vinegary enough, that the balance was off. He protested, "but young Americans like sweet!" I told him he should have opened an ice cream shop then.

Balance is important to me. That's why I don't enjoy IPA's. A good ale should have a balance of malt and hops, as a good meal should have a balance of the five flavours (I'm including Umami). So I suppose that's where my intolerance lies. Bubble & Squeak sounds like a balanced dish and I expect I would like it very much.

theresa said...

I loved this post. This time of year, I always long for bitter greens -- dandelion leaves, peppery watercress, the tiny shoots of perennial arugula, whatever is left in the garden after winter. When I lived in Ireland, it was wild garlic -- and I almost understood why Rapunzel's mother had been (reluctantly) willing to give up her child for a taste of wild greens after a long winter...

Crafty Green Poet said...

such an interesting post,

I love the German name for brussel sprouts, must remember that to add to my German

Bubble and Squeak is more or less the same as stovies are in Scotland.

Lucas said...

I can't think of a nicer way to "eat my greens" than in the Bubble and Squeak which you describe.

missHLiza said...

Never heard of bricolins or bricolage before, not a big fan of veggie myself!

Lucy said...

Clive - parsley is wonderful stuff for introducing healthy greens, and your dinner proves that vegetarians need not go without that yummy umami goodness with mushrooms and eggs!

R - you don't mince your words do you! Vinegary rice sounds strange to me, but too much sweetness in savoury food is a wrong note too.

Theresa - thanks and welcome. Those green shoots are a treat, aren't they?

CGP - aha, I'd heard of stovies.

Lucas - I think it's how I first came to enjoy cabbage-y things.

Hliza - never mind, you can always eat (durian) fruit!

Marly Youmans said...


After reading this entertaining bit of cookery-talk, I feel that I must confess to you that as a child I like only raw vegetables. I liked raw green beans, raw butter beans, raw black eye peas, raw lady peas, raw bell peppers, raw carrots (my nose was a rosy orange in my Southern tan), raw potatoes (though they are said to be bad for you), raw corn, etc.

I also liked dessert.