A Feast of Sussex
Laura Cartledge meets Tangmere’s Rosemary Moon who doesn’t just make a meal of Sussex – she’s planning a feast.
Rosemary Moon’s culinary career spans 30 years and, as of March 3, 19 books.
In this time she has travelled the world for Kenwood, worked with Waitrose and delighted audiences with her demonstrations.
However one of the tales I like best is Rosemary’s experience of testing the then new microwave.
“With the roast dinner?” she asks. “Oh yes, we’d put it in for four minute intervals and let it rest for ten. It seems silly now but we had to work out what the microwave could do. Even now I don’t think people know – other than using them to reheat their coffees.”
While the technology and trends may have changed, it is clear Rosemary’s passion for what she does is as strong as ever.
“Food isn’t important for everyone but I think I am happier than they are, I hope I am,” she grins. “There is so much more which needs to be done and there is something about passing on your love of it.
“Nobody knows everything there is to know about food – that is impossible,” she adds. “Food is a craft, it is about learning by doing.”
With this in mind it is surprising to learn Rosemary wasn’t always set on following the foodie path.
“I wanted to be a trumpet player,” she reveals, “but I found a letter from the orchestra that said I was ‘reliable’, which I figured meant I was good but not great.
“I mucked up my O-Levels so my mum said to go and learn how to cook – I owe it all to her.”
More than 25 years have passed since Rosemary penned her first book, and her latest release has a key ingredient which is very close to her heart.
“It has been really nice. I haven’t written a book for some while so I was questioning if I wanted to do another one,” she admits. “So much of what makes me tick is local, so working with a local publisher was the temptation.
“Now is the right time for A Feast of West Sussex to come out,” says Rosemary. “15 years ago buying local was a bit like buying Fairtrade from the church – you could feel the tannin in the teabags rotting your teeth.
“It was ethical, you were doing it for the right reasons, but it wasn’t great.
“The bottom line has got to be flavour and that is where local will always score,” she adds. “For me, eating the seasons started by having a local veg box – it was challenging.
“There is such a risk of becoming really bored if you eat the same carrots all the time.”
Whether it is inspiring others on her courses at West Dean to mucking in at Tangmere Community Garden, Rosemary practices what she preaches.
“I have dedicated the book to my friends at the garden,” she smiles. “Food has got to be fun. Digging and weeding is not fun but if you are having a natter and cups of tea while you do it…
“We have a fantastic cooker down there – it is a washing machine drum turned on its side with a car wheel on top and a fire underneath,” she explains.
“While it used to be a case of ‘I don’t like mushrooms’ and ‘I don’t like that’ it is now always people asking ‘if there is any more?’
“I find people either crave flavour or they are scared of it – these can both be addressed by eating locally sourced food,” enthuses Rosemary. “Did you know there is a rhubarb field in Pagham which can trace its roots back 100 years? Those are the stories which need telling.
“I’ve been experimenting making apple and rhubarb jam, using the same recipe with forced rhubarb and the natural stuff,” she explains.
“The difference has been remarkable. The forced is a Barbie pink but, while the other might not look as appealing, it has so much more flavour.
“I think because it [the natural variety] has had its knocks along the way it has grown to be everything it can be.”
Food, like fashion, has its trends and one currently gathering momentum has Rosemary’s support.
“I think the idea of guerrilla gardening – like planting a villages’ flower boxes with vegetables – is brilliant,” she beams. “It is something we are ripe for in Chichester – perhaps in the beds by the railway station?
“A lot of the excitement of food comes from the herbs. I have an Aga but when that is off and the weather is good I have the fire pit I built outside with a pot, like a witch’s caldron, above it,” she explains.
“Often I have more trouble opening a packet and reading the instructions than I do starting from scratch so it is great to be able to walk around the garden picking herbs and wild garlic which you can just throw in.”
While this sounds idyllic, Rosemary is fully aware of the challenges local food faces and is currently helping to build an exciting and revolutionary initiative to help – knowing that Sussex consumes more produce than it produces is at the core of this.
“We have to get more from the land,” she says simply. “People are starting to realise this and it is the energy of these people which are such an inspiration to people who have been banging their heads against a wall for so long.”
Photos by Makaela Papworth/Shutters Photography and Louise Adams
Chinese-Style Lamb with Rhubarb
Serves four to six
I have cooked this mix of ingredients as a roast and as a casserole: it is delicious both ways, according to your cut of meat. To roast, have the butcher remove the blade bone from a shoulder, and fill the cavity with the vegetables
4 large sticks of rhubarb
2 large onions
2 cloves of garlic
100g preserved or crystallised ginger
750g diced lamb, leg holds its shape best,
shoulder is sweeter
2 tsp Chinese five spice
3–4 tbsp sweet soy sauce
Freshly chopped salad onions and coriander
1. Finely slice the rhubarb, dice the onions, crush the garlic and finely chop the ginger.
2. Heat a flameproof casserole until hot, add the lamb and cook quickly on all sides to colour. Add the Chinese five spice, stir and cook again for one minute, then add the prepared ingredients.
3. Cover and cook slowly for 20 minutes, stirring once.
4. Add the soy sauce and 1–2 tbsp syrup if using preserved ginger, plus sufficient water to barely cover the meat. Cover again and simmer for about an hour, until the lamb is tender, or for longer if it suits you (casseroles are so tolerant).
5. Season to taste, either with salt or more soy sauce. Reduce the sauce slightly if necessary by boiling hard after removing the meat from the pan. Return the lamb to the sauce and serve, garnished with onions and coriander.
March 13, 2014 Food and Drink