It was getting cold. The sea had leaked through my wholly inadequate aging leather boots and a frustrating hunger was beginning to nibble away at my belly. I was most definitely on the edge of a full-on grump.
The GF was still taking pictures, seemingly keen to fill up the entire 8 googabytes of memory that her camera was capable of.
‘Can you just get a shot of me taking a picture of this limpet?’ she asked, very sweetly, it must be said. I trudged over and snapped away, well aware that we’d left the car two miles away across decidedly swampy marshland. Lunchtime had been and gone and the kipper I’d eaten for breakfast but a distant memory apart from the occasional fishy burp. Even less pleasant than it sounds.
More photos for her magazine. I poked a few of the tenacious shellfish to pass the time, making a mental note to check HFW’s Fish Book later to see if they were edible (turns out that they are).
‘All done, come on, I’ll take you for something to eat at Badgers Tea House, it’s really good.’
Nod. Ok then. Trudge, trudge, trudge. the kitbag beginning to instil a niggling and deep ache in my shoulders.
The sight of the car was enough to lift the spirits, as was the promise of sandwiches, tea and cakes. But what really blew the fug away was Alfriston itself, a small but perfectly formed village in East Sussex, home to a quirky independent bookshop, numerous eateries and a village store that could have been yanked determinedly out of Edwardian England.
It was disconcertingly close to my own personal Elysium.
By the time we arrived at Badgers it was mid-afternoon and there was no way a sandwich would suffice. Something warm and hearty was required, stat, and the soup of the day seemed like the ideal option, despite the addition of fennel – a flavour I haven’t seen eye-to-eye with since discovering the debilitating effects of Pernod in my early teens.
Two bowls arrived, cauldron like, mine ‘garnished’ with a chunk of bread and a wedge of brie the size of a generous slice of pizza. It was delicious. A slightly jokey, but mostly serious request for the recipe was met with a frustratingly dismissive laugh and the words ‘Ooo, it’ll cost you, it’s top secret I’m afraid.’
The only disappointment of the meal (followed by tea and mince pies) was that this wasn’t mere banter. The recipe really was not forthcoming and there was no hastily scribbled list of ingredients on the back of the (very modest) bill.
But gosh darn it, I think I cracked it and I’ll be a little more open with the knowledge. Here you go. Merry Christmas.
Tomato and Fennel Soup
The fennel here is magical – it offers up none of its medicinal, aniseed qualities, merely backing up and boosting the rest of the flavours to the extent where you’d really notice if it was gone. A bit like a bass guitar. Ideal if, like me, you're not too keen on it of itself.
Two small carrots, peeled and chooped
Two small onions, diced
A single rib of celery, diced
A fennel bulb, roughly chopped
Three tins of tomatoes
A litre of vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
In the manner of Gordon Ramsay: vegetables, olive oil: fry. Tomatoes. Stock. Simmer. 40 minutes.
Blend. Seasoning. Serve. Tomato and fennel soup with homemade bread and squidgy cheese? Done.
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