From the castle east

Where, (un)naturally, I have sited my laboratory, my experiments on the very stuff of life continue.  Given that I have no current desire to restore a semblance of life to the flesh of the dead – either to sate my o’erweening ego or to furnish myself with an obedient minion to do my bidding (a desire which in both cases could probably be better provided by the living – and would you trust one of the undead with the complexities of Acol and Blackwood?) – my experiments remain confined to the culinary sphere (for the time being).  As a result, dear readers, you can leave your pitchforks and brands (unlit) in the shed where they belong.

Today, inspired by a recent trip to 10 Greek Street, I have turned to my retorts and alembics and the wise words of Hermes Trismegistus to transmute base cornmeal into polenta.  Actually, my raw material was organic maize flour – which is a slightly more ground state of cornmeal which I figured would react more rapidly.  Maize, of course, we owe to the hard work of generations of ancient Mexicans taming the wild teosinte at great personal risk.  Given their lack of imperial presence in the new world, the Italians do seem to have adopted much of its plant produce in their cuisine (OK then, at least two examples spring to mind: maize and tomatoes) – still, I suppose Columbus was Italian by birth so maybe he smuggled a few dainties back to his homeland.

The educational remit of this post fulfilled, I shall now return to the nonsense.  The advice from the followers of Paracelsus suggested that I should add my flour slowly to a boiling admixture of milk and water, whisking all the while.  I should then continuously stir the resultant suspension (colloid?) widdershins for 35-45 minutes – which I did (providing you are willing to assume time is substantially more granular than is currently in vogue among serious scientists).  As if by magic, this process did indeed produce a substance which looks, quacks and, indeed, tastes very much like polenta – and so I think I am going to call the experiment a success.

I wanted to be able to slice my polenta for later frying or grilling and was expecting the default product of my labours to be rather runny (not unlike semolina to which it is related – just a different grass seed).  To help combat this situation, I once again visited the haberdashery department of John Lewis and returned with half-a-metre of muslin.  As it has transpired this was unnecessary, even during production the proto-polenta was pretty viscous and its stirring provided a surprisingly decent workout for my right arm.  Upon cooling it quickly achieved a state of apparent solidity: it may, like pitch, flow if given enough time – but the set was more than sufficient for my purposes.   As a result I have learned an important lesson: I should decant the fully-formed polenta into a vessel from which slices can easily be obtained whilst its viscosity (μ) still permits pouring – so probably immediately.

Despite this minor hiccough, the polenta when placed atop some freshly baked asparagus, grilled with a decent lump of burrata and sprinkled with fried mushrooms and black pepper made a very satisfactory lunch.  Todd (of 10GS) probably doesn’t need to fear for his position just yet (at least partly because the career of professional chef holds rather limited appeal for me), but I think with my second attempt I should be approaching a condign mastery of polenta manufacture.  Maybe it is time to prepare my slab, sewing kit and electrodes – all I need is a passing thunderstorm and a suitable “volunteer”!


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