I must apologise for my neglect and the lack of Cooksister post last week, dear readers. But allow me to explain and I hope you will forgive me.
As the rest of South Africa was settling down to watch the opening match of the Rugby World Cup, half a world away I was receiving a text message from one of my oldest friends in Joburg to say that her brother Peter, my first love back when I was a teenager, was in hospital for tests. He had a swollen lymph node in his neck and had been diagnosed as anaemic so they had done a biopsy on the lymph node and a lumbar puncture. I texted him immediately and he said not to worry – it was probably an infection of his lymphatic system. But when they had not allowed him to go home from the hospital almost a week later I did begin to worry. On 14 September Alison let me know that the test results were back – cancer. By 16 September Peter was allowed home for the night and I could finally call him and talk privately. He sounded so weak and unlike himself as he told me that he had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and that he was unlucky on two counts: the cancer had spread to lymph nodes on both sides of his diaphragm, and it was a particularly aggressive form of NHL. Still, the doctors seemed hopeful that it would respond well to chemotherapy and had decided to start Peter on a 6-month course as soon as possible.
During the next week, we exchanged text messages regularly as he was readmitted to hospital to prepare him for chemotherapy. He told me how emotional he was finding facing his own mortality and told me to be grateful for every morning that I woke up and could get out of bed with no problem. But the conversation still ended on a positive note and we both sent our love. My weekend was busy and I only got home again late on Sunday, when Alison called me out of the blue and in tears to say that Peter had become incoherent sometime between when she left him on Saturday evening and returned on Sunday. In desperation she had tracked down his doctor who told Alison as gently as possible that the cancer was marching on relentlessly and that Peter probably had days rather than weeks left to live.
Peter passed away peacefully on Monday evening, 24 September 2007, having spent his last day surrounded by his family and close friends.
My brain tells me quite cheerfully that this could not have happened. Obviously there must be some mistake! When the Rugby World Cup started on 6 September, he was having tests for some unspecified infection and worrying about getting his fourth years’ projects marked on time, and before we even got to the rugby quarter finals, he was dead? How the fuck does than even begin to happen?? Surely bright, cheerful, clever, funny Peter must be OK? Surely there was far too much life-force in that body and optimism in those eyes to fade so fast and so soon? But sadly this is not a nightmare from which I can wake. He is gone and an ocean of tears can’t change that.
One of the things that will always remind me of him is a recipe that he gve me probably abotu 10 years ago now, and which I still make with reasonable regularity. I will leave you with the recipe, and when you make it, please take a moment to remember Peter.
Having grown up in South Africa, I have never regarded the avocado pear as a great delicacy – I mean, in season you could buy bags containing ten (admittedly not enormous) avocados by the roadside for R10 (less than £!!). I remember my father scooping the flesh loose from the skin and then mashing the flesh together with salt and pepper to spread on his toast – what a treat that was, but not exactly gourmet fare. However, since landing here in London, I have become accustomed to the silly prices charged for avocados here and as a result we eat them only as a treat.
I have often seen recipes for chilled avocado soup, but I must admit that the idea of chilled soup has never appealed to me. I mean, soup is associated (in my mind, anyway) with chilly winter evenings and I don’t imagine chilled soup will bring you much pleasure there! (I suspect that the idea behind chilled avocado soup is the fact that avocado becomes bitter if you boil it, so by serving it chilled you avoid this problem.) Anyway, as a result of my dislike for cold soups I never really bothered with avocado soup until Peter made me dinner one night and served up a warm avocado soup – I was instantly hooked. It fulfilled all my criteria for a great recipe:
1. It’s easy.
2. It features a raw ingredient I really, really like.
3. It’s easy.
4. It’s something a bit out of the ordinary.
5. It’s easy.
I admit that Peter’s original recipe does not include the biltong, but biltong and avocado have a long tradition of being served together in South African cuisine (biltong and avo salad; steak with biltong and avo topping etc etc). The soup turned out to be absolutely delicious – even better than I remember. It was creamy to the point where I was tempted to describe it as an “avocado veloute”, but then I took a step back from the abyss of pretentiousness and stuck with plain old soup
PETER’S WARM AVOCADO SOUP WITH BILTONG
2 large, ripe avocado pears, mashed
1T butter or margerine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk
A dash of Tabasco sauce (optional)
Diced biltong and chopped parsley to serve
Peel, stone and mash the avocados, adding a little lemon juice to stop them from going brown. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and when it is melted, stir in the flour to make a paste. Add the chicken stock bit by bit, stirring to prevent the paste from forming lumps. After the chicken stock, add the milk and stir. When the milk has been heated a bit, add the mashed avocado and stir well. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Do not let the avocado boil as this will make it taste bitter! At this stage, I also give the soup a quick whirl with my beloved Braun hand mixer to get it really smooth and creamy. Dice some biltong (about a tablespoon per serving of soup) into small blocks, chop some fresh parsley and sprinkle on each bowl of soup before serving. Serves 4 to 6 people.
If you add lemon juice to the avocado, go easy on it – you don’t want its taste to interfere with the soup. You can substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock if you are cooking for vegetarians. The Tabasco can also be replaced with a couple of chilli flakes, but both are entirely optional. If you can’t find biltong, you could also use crispy bacon bits for a similar effect. The most crucial thing is NOT to let the avocado boil!
Popularity: 4% [?]