Thursday, 25 August 2011

Cobnut, cherry and goats' cheese salad

There's no getting around the fact that I'm an unashamed pedant. Ever since Lynne Truss made it cool to be finicky about spelling and grammar, I wear my pedantry colours with pride. Although, having said that, it's more of a curse than something to be proud of. On the average day I will spot at least ten linguistic or grammatical mistakes in my vicinity, whether I find them on the internet, in a book I'm reading, or on signage. Each one sends a slight shudder down my spine, but I just bristle with suppressed disgust and try to carry on with my day, having realised long ago that it'll take more than Lynne Truss's book to reform the world of language. I used to correct people mid-conversation if they said "faster" instead of "more quickly" - it's possibly my biggest grammatical bugbear - but I since realised that it's not really socially acceptable to do that, and I don't really want to alienate myself and end up with only Lynne Truss's book for a friend.

There's a definite positive correlation between my annoyance and the context of these mistakes; the more high-profile (signs in major supermarket chains, the backs of cereal boxes, magazines), the more likely it is to make me feel slightly sick with the state of humanity. The humble and much-maligned "greengrocer's apostrophe" no longer upsets me, probably because if I'm looking at it, I'm usually about to purchase some tasty fruit and veg, which is a happy enough experience to quell any stirrings of grammar-based rage. But if there's no food involved, it's highly likely that I'll be sent into a very middle-aged mental tirade about the state of the world and what on earth is it all coming to. Et cetera, ad nauseum. 

One culmination of all this suppressed rage was a heavily sarcastic poem I wrote when I was doing A-level English, which I will be kind enough to share with you all here.

Those with bad grammar have all my respect
Nothing is better than spelling unchecked.
Literacy plummets and ignorance soars
When no-one knows the difference between the two types of "your".
Apostrophes run riot on adverts and signs
They bring a smile to my face, do those quaint little lines,
For what could be better for the pride of our nation
Than ignorance of correct pluralisation?

Who knows the difference between the two types of "its"?
Just throw in an apostrophe wherever it fits,
All employers adore a mis-spelled CV
With a token misplaced apostrophe.
You'll go up in the world with no grasp of words,
It's a surefire way to get yourself heard.
For what could be better than things no one can read
To attract attention and to get what you need?

The internet's a blessing if you're grammatically poor,
Just abbreviate words til their meaning's unsure,
It makes so much sense and it saves time too
To change "of" to OV and "do" to DU.
There are thousands of ways to make your life better
But here's an example: try writing a letter,
Swap T.H.E.I.R for T.H.E.R.E
And your world will improve, that I guarantee.

In the plurals of words it's the right thing to do,
To shove in an apostrophe when you think you need to,
In Asda one day they put one in the word "pears",
(An effective advertisement for their edible wares
As there's nothing like illiteracy to attract consumers
Or misplaced punctuation in a sign for "satsuma's").

Join in the club and massacre your speech,
No mistake is too great to be out of your reach,
Add commas, hyphens and apostrophes galore,
And perhaps the odd colon if you need something more.
For what gets more respect than an illiterate mind?
Grab your pen and start scribbling or you'll get left behind.

Not only can I cook, dear readers, but I'm clearly a budding poet. I bet you didn't know that.

The reason I bring up my pedantic streak is that I was just writing the title for this post, and I had to stop. Goat's cheese? Is that right? Or should it be goats' cheese? It occurred to me just now that this has puzzled me every time I write the phrase in a blog post, but I've just ignored it and used one of those two variations. You'll probably find the apostrophe in a different place every time I've mentioned this delectable dairy substance.

Goats' cheese surely makes more sense. After all, the cheese probably didn't come from a single goat, and unless you can guarantee that it did, the plural seems most correct. Sometimes I think about just writing "goat cheese" and eliminating all this apostrophe-based anxiety altogether. However, now that I've addressed the issue, I think we're safe to carry on.

Incidentally, I absolutely love goats' cheese. How could anyone not? Its tangy, sharp flavour, reminiscent of lemons; its creaminess (ITS, ITS, NOT IT'S), its slight crumbly texture. The way it goes so well with almost anything, from meat to fruit to veg. Its delicate chalky whiteness. Delicious.

This salad arose out of a long-nurtured desire to cook something involving the pairing of cherries and goats' cheese. While the cheese works well with a lot of fruit, I thought the magenta juices of the cherries would look wonderful against its pure whiteness. I found some really gorgeous fat, juicy specimens in the market which had just the right amount of sweetness to partner the tangy cheese.

I also wanted to use some Kentish cobnuts, which have been in the market for a couple of weeks now and have quite a short season. They're a type of cultivated hazelnut, grown in orchards called "plats". Apparently the Victorians considered them a delicacy, and would eat them with after-dinner port. Unlike most nuts, they're sold fresh (I actually just wrote "solled". What on earth is wrong with me? I think this post about bad spelling and grammar has infected me with the disease itself), meaning you have to faff around cracking and peeling them before you can use them. I decided to roast mine, as they were a bit bland raw, so I put them in the oven. They turned soft - apparently if you leave them in for about an hour they go hard again, like hazelnuts, but I didn't know this. They were still delicious, though.

I can't really give you a recipe for this salad, as it's really just a load of things chucked in a bowl that happened to taste delicious together.

Firstly, I sliced a bulb of fennel really thinly on a mandolin. I dressed it with lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, a tiny tiny drop of sesame oil, and lots of salt and pepper (raw fennel with crunchy salt is truly delicious). I mixed in some chopped cherries, then piled this onto a bed of salad leaves. I then scattered over a few more cherries, the roasted cob nuts (hazelnuts would work well too, if you can't find cob nuts), the fennel fronds, and finally placed two big slices of goats' cheese on top (the kind you can buy sliced from a big log in cheese shops). I also, because I'm an exhibitionist, melted the cheese slightly with my kitchen blowtorch, but this isn't entirely necessary.

The result? A really excellent lunch for two. It's quite filling on its own, but is also really good with some tasty sourdough bread or a crusty baguette. It might sound like an odd combination of ingredients, but they really work - the sweetness of the cherries (try to get juicy ripe ones) counterbalances the acidity of the fennel and the cheese, as does the liberal use of salt. The nuts provide some crunchy texture, along with the fennel. I might have to make this again soon.

Do you have any particular grammatical bugbears? Or do you find people like me incredibly irritating and think we should just calm down and get a life?

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  1. You wouldn't end up with Lynne Truss as your only friend, you'd be able to count on me as well. There are so many things that irritate me, currently 'different to' instead of 'different from' and not merely from the hoi polloi but also respected writers. Unfortunately for me, since I retired from paid employment, I read a great many blogs with bad grammar and linguistics and find that the incorrect spellings and useage (usage?) stick in my brain as correct. You see, I don't even know how to spell useage any more. Perhaps I should stop reading.

  2. Love the salad, looks salad and healthy, must try. Love your blog.

  3. I saw somewhre writteN:
    I don't want to sound slutty,but please use me wherever you want,whenever you can...Your Grammar
    Great poem:)
    And goats cheese loves fruit;)

  4. Toffeeapple - glad it's not just me! Also your not knowing whether it's 'useage' or 'usage' (I think it's the latter) made me feel better about my inexplicable writing of "solled" in that post. Perhaps there is such a thing as over-thinking one's spelling and grammar...!

    Tres Delicious - thanks so much! I just had a look at yours, those peach photos are beautiful.

    Dzoli - I love that.

  5. Actually, I also find grammatical errors to be quite irritating. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one. Thank for that. However, that being said, I would like to point out a few errors in your own text, above, such as the following: 'Although, having said that, it's more of a curse than something to be proud of,' which should be, 'Although, having said that, it's more of a curse than something of [about?] which to be proud.' 'I bet you didn't know that,' which ought to be, 'I'll bet that you didn't know that.' 'Its tangy, sharp flavour, reminiscent of lemons; its creaminess (ITS, ITS, NOT IT'S), its slight crumbly texture,' thus: 'Its tangy, sharp flavour, reminiscent of lemons; its creaminess (ITS, ITS, NOT IT'S); and its slightly crumbly texture.' Furthermore, if we are to be technical (which is seemingly no longer necessary in modern prose), fragments do not equate to sentences. Yet, although I correct, I will have you know that I find your work to be quite beautiful, and your writing overall is a treat, elevated as it is above the common order of food blogs. Please continue your most excellent work here.

  6. I forget which writer said "my best friend is the waste paper basket"

  7. Lovely blog. Lovely photography too. I used to fret on grammar too until I accepted that some of the grammatical mistakes and other lingual mistakes contribute to the evolution of the language itself.

  8. I love your pictures!!! They are so beautiful!!! I am bound to make mistakes because English is my second language, BUT mistakes involving its/it's, their/there etc make even me shudder. Great emphasis was placed on these distinctions when I was in school. :-)

  9. Baltic Maid - thanks! From what I've seen of your blog your English is perfect!

  10. This looks excellent. I'm only confused as to the complete nonchalance with which you throw this together. Are you secretly French?

  11. The Salted Aubergine29 July 2013 21:59

    I see this is an old post, but it caught my eye because the other day I tried for myself the combination of goats' cheese and cherries. It was not premeditated; indeed the cherries were an afterthought, which I shoved in because my whole fridge is full of the things and I was trying to use them up. As I ate, I tried to convince my brain that it was working, but my brain was not too sure. I have not rushed to do it again. BUT, reading about your delectable salad has given me the confidence to try it once more... For the record, white cherries might not work so well, and I can confirm that no cherry pairs well with tomatoes.

    But hey, where would we be without experimenting?


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