Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Val Jenkins here – TV’s “Curious Cook”… Cathy Ace

‘How lovely of you to come to visit me at the bookshop I run with my father, “Crooks and Cooks”. As you know, downstairs he has just about every crime book you could imagine, or want. That’s his passion, you see – murder and mayhem – on the page…not in real life. He wouldn’t like that at all. But up here, on the first floor, this is the “Cooks” part of the bookshop. Come on in and make yourself comfy. I know a lot of people want to ask the same questions when they arrive, so how about I tell you a bit about myself, and then you can browse the shop? Lovely.
Welsh lamb with roasted tomatoes

Well, I dare say you remember me from my time on TV as “The Curious Cook”. It ran for a few years on BBC Wales, and across the UK. I had great fun making the shows, because my love – my absolute passion – is, and always has been, food. When I was invited by the BBC to create a series of progammes featuring the traditional recipes of Wales, I jumped at the chance. A lot of people seem to think all we eat is cawl….that’s soup to those not from Wales, by the way…but traditional recipes have sprung up all around Wales and, like most traditional fare, they represent the ingredients that were fresh and local to those who developed the recipes over hundreds of years. So, yes, bearing in mind there are many more sheep in Wales than people, we have a lot of recipes featuring lamb and mutton. However, Wales has a long coastline, considering its landmass, so there’s a wide variety of seafood and shellfish recipes too. We’ve also always grown staple crops of grains, vegetables and fruits too, so there are a good many recipes for baked goods.

Locally produced in Wales
I enjoyed traveling Wales hunting down all the old ingredients, then developing recipes home-cooks could use today. It’s interesting to note that most cultures have a range of recipes not only dictated by their local ingredients but also often influenced by their local cooking fuels. For example, the Scots and the Irish tend to cook slowly for long periods of time, due to their ability to gather peat and thereby have a free method of cooking that produces relatively low levels of heat for long periods of time. In Wales, once we’d got beyond chopping down trees, our main source of cooking fuel was coal; coal fires were set beside small iron ovens allowing for braising and baking. Because of the fumes from coal, it wasn’t a suitable fuel over which a person could place an open rack for grilling, so griddles or flat iron plates were used, allowing for pots to boil happily for many hours, or for items to be cooked directly on the flat-topped griddle.  

"Murder & Mayhem" bookshop
I explained all this in my cookbook – and I still have copies on sale here, as well as other cookbooks, and all the paraphernalia a home cook could wish for. Please feel free to browse, and I’ll be happy to sign books for you. If you’re off downstairs to hunt about in Dad’s “Crooks” part of the bookshop, feel free to make your purchases down there. Don’t worry if Dad gives you a bit of an odd look – we’ve had a few strange things going on downstairs for a while now, so he’s on his guard. But there, I’ve said too much already. Thanks for coming, and have a lovely time here in Hay-on-Wye – it’s not known as Wales’s best Book Town for no reason – it has dozens of bookshops and we enjoy it when book lovers like you come to visit.’

At "Murder & Mayhem" bookshop in Hay-on-Wye - an inspiration!

Find out more about the odd things happening at the “Crooks and Cooks” book shop run by Val and her father Bryn Jenkins in Hay-on-Wye in THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS COOK published on March 1st: the ladies of the WISE Enquiries Agency are called in to investigate by Val and her father and, as they try to unravel this puzzle from their base at stately Chellingworth Hall, they then get embroiled in another when they come across a valuable book of miniatures which seems to be the work of a local famous artist, murdered by her own brother. Are the cases linked and why do both mysteries lead to a nearby old folks’ home? The WISE women are on the case – and nothing will get in their way . . . Or will it?

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  1. I've enjoyed Welsh food in Wales, and would dearly love to see Hay-on-Wye (the last time I was in Wales I'd never even heard of it). But I'm wondering if you've put the cart before the horse with the peat question. Most Irish didn't have access to much fuel at all apart from peat (especially after the British cut down all their trees!), so they were forced into slow cooking over low and uncertain heat. The results are great, though!

    1. Glad you like Welsh food, and you should definitely get to Hay! As for the Irish and peat - the point I was trying to make is that all traditional meals/cooking tends to be influenced by the cheaply or freely available fuel in the area. Thus, because the Irish had peat available, they cooked long and slow. Other examples would be fast-burning, high-heat fuels in areas where fast, hot cooking in a wok became the standard.

  2. I was fortunate enough to be able to have read this book.......It Is Terrific. The characters, the setting, in fact everything is just right.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to tell me that, Annette - I'm thrilled to read your kind words, and delighted you enjoyed the book :-)

  3. Sounds interesting! Have to add to my tbr list!

  4. This sounds really good...I have been to Wales and a Father/Daughter combo sounds like a winner in your plot..

  5. Thank you for a lovely post. Appreciate the heads up. Looks like a great series Della at deepotter (at) peoplepc (dot) com