Saturday, February 08, 2014


Far be it from me to criticize my fellow tobacco-mavens in the local pipe-club, but this quarter's social event involves a jam-session. Not, as a rational person might expect, a celebration of fresh fruit preserves on scrumptious hot scones with clotted cream, or golden toast with melted butter, or wedged in between layers of angel-food cake, or folded into flaky pastry shells, or even simply sampled straight out of the jar with a clean spoon, but something involving instruments and attempts at melody.

I am not a musical person. Can't hold a tune or play any instruments. My very presence causes strange echoes, creaking noises, and off-key singing. Consequently I shall not be there.

Also, it's on a Saturday. My Saturday routine is set in stone. Return from Marin County, have dinner in Chinatown (mmmm, I can already mentally TASTE the bittermelon and pork over rice ...... wait, I actually had that this evening!), after which I join the conversation at a place where a few friends gather to relax while enjoying fine tobacco products in good company. Altogether a very civilized thing to do.
Which is extremely pleasant until it gets crowded.
Apparently tobacco attracts flies.
Buzz, buzz, buzz.

So no, not planning to be part of the quarterly event.

Scones, toast, melted butter, flaky pastry.

I might be there in spirit, but it is more likely that I will be dreaming of warm spring rain, in a grove of trees near verdant pasture, on a still and quiet night. There is a light breeze that slants the falling water slightly, and though I am underneath the leaves, some of the downpour is never the less noticeable.
Pipe filled with a hearty English flake, something from Sam Gawith.
Book clenched under left arm. I was planning to read a bit later, but the serenity of this deserted rural location and the restfulness of the scene have distracted me.

In the village there is a café-restaurant with lots of books along the walls, and a rented apartment where there is soup, along with fresh clean sheets. The local library is open till twelve o'clock at night, and there are wooden benches underneath the oak trees on the green.
On dry nights one can read there, the streetlights provide enough light. Occasionally a middle-aged person wanders past with their dog, sometimes a bicyclist utters a salutation on their way home.

Did I already mention the delicious fruit preserves and lovely bakery products? Their existence is fundamental to this dream. One cannot sustain oneself solely with these items, but that they are so easily within one's grasp is comforting. And how nice that there also is a Cantonese restaurant here, which, miracle of miracles, has bittermelon, long beans, gai lan, miu choi, and other delicious snappy vegetables.

Yes, the local establishments now have signs that say smoking inside is no longer permitted -- the long arm of disapproving puritans is present even here -- but there are overhangs and awnings, and there is seating in the green areas. People honestly don't mind a whiff of tobacco; the air here is rich with the fragrance of forests and pastures, redolent of natural fermentation.

The library still has the standing ashtrays from long ago at the end of each bank of shelves. They'll open a window for the solitary reader.
There are no children or pregnant women there after nine anyway.

Coffee and tea at the aforementioned café-restaurant on the terrace, or a spot of sherry. There are usually no children or pregnant women there either, though they may wander past sniffing appreciatively.

Everyone remembers a wise family doctor who smoked, a retired sea captain, or a beloved schoolmaster and his cigars.
Even children and pregnant women.

Hot tea. Buns and cream. Fruit preserves.

Jam session.


While we were discussing upcoming events at our recent gathering, the retired surgeon read the cautionary text on a pouch of pipe tobacco.

"WARNING: This Product Contains/Produces Chemicals Known to the State of California To Cause Cancer, and Birth Defects Or Other Reproductive Harm."

He found the all-knowing wisdom of the State of California (the most perspicacious of these united states) to be rather amusing. And we all agreed that pregnancy among pipe-smokers is a rarity. Nor is it likely that tobacco has been much employed in reproductive practises.
If you wish, you may rub it on yourself beforehand.
It's very spiritual. Rather like marijuana.
But better for the brain.

You will be pleased to hear there are no children or pregnant women who are members of our pipe-club. We've tried to include them, because we want them to feel happy too, but they demurred.

Flaky rolls. Keemun tea. Strawberry spread.
Lapsang Souchong. Devonshire cream.
Buttered bread. Peach preserves.
Possibly, a crumpet.


One of our members gave a talk about the calabash pipe, which is popularly associated with the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.
But that is just one use of bottle gourds; in much of the world they are employed as vessels for liquids, dry storage, and, in northern China, to make small containers for pet crickets. A decorative lid with airholes keeps the beastie within, and you can tuck it into the folds of your clothing to keep it warm when Autumn turns to Winter. The friendly chirping during the cold will remind you of Spring and Summer. Perhaps your little friend will survive the season, and help you welcome the return of better weather.

Bottle gourd can also be eaten. You must peel it and remove the seeds before cooking.


Two cups coarsely shredded bottle gourd.
One cup cane sugar.
Two TBS lime juice.
One TBS finely shredded ginger.
Miniscule pinch salt.

Put the shredded bottle gourd and the minute pinch of salt in an enamel saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn low, and simmer till translucent, about fifteen minutes. Drain, reserving about half a cup of the liquid.

Mix the reserved cooking liquid with the sugar and the lime juice. Cook while stirring till the sugar is fully dissolved. Now add the bottle gourd shreds and ginger, and simmer, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, for an hour or two. It is done when the syrup is thick and gluggy.

Decant into a glass jar and seal as you would any other home-made preserve, or store it in the refrigerator where it will keep for several months.

Many squashes and vegetable melons can be treated similarly. Winter melon makes a lovely subtle preparation, and so does pumpkin.
If instead of using lime juice, you add vinegar -- up to nearly as much as the other liquid -- you will have a chutney. In which case you can increase the quantity of ginger also, and add raisins and a little cayenne for interest. But a chutney is not as good on buttered toast.

Remember to simmer till thick and gluggy.


NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

No comments:

Search This Blog


One of the all-time best lines I ever wrote on this blog was "there is no rampant perversion here, I need to stress that". Friends...