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Learning how to eat an artichoke

I have never watched an episode of the Great British Bake Off. All that buttercream icing and school girl innuendo leaves me cold.

I do love eating cake, preferably Claudia Roden’s Orange and Almond one, but baking – well that has always seemed like too much of a faff.

My first (and almost last) attempt at baking was at the age of 12 and resulted in a chocolate cake so hard and inedible even our greedy chickens wouldn’t eat it. And they ate anything.

And while I have made the odd cupcake, or two, with my eldest grandson, my passion is for cooking, not baking.

I love food.

I love shopping for it, whether in Lidl or a Greek island fish market.

I love planning menus, choosing wines, feeding friends and family.

I love cooking, and above all, I love eating, in or out.

So while the purpose of our journey round the European Union is not primarily about food, it will play an important part in our daily life, not least because we are on a limited budget.

And as a peasant born and bred, I am keen to learn more about the working class food of each country we visit.

My childhood diet was dominated by potatoes, cheap cuts of meat (dressed up as Irish stew) and seasonal vegetables – home-grown peas in the pod in the summer and Brussel sprouts in the winter.

My first taste of food that was not Scots-Irish peasant fare was again when I was 12, this time on my first foray to mainland Europe.

I was on a school trip to Paris, and can still savour my first mouthful of real coffee and buttery croissant.

And I discovered artichokes. None of us had the faintest idea what these strange looking vegetables were, with their inedible leaf tips, or how to eat them.

But once we were shown how to tear off a leaf, dip it in butter and garlic sauce, then nibble its tender bottom, I was hooked on the possibilities of food.

Even Vesta Beef Chow Mien couldn’t put me off discovering new and exciting tastes and textures, and I have spent the last forty years delighting in food, and of course wine.

No meal, apart from breakfast of course, is complete without a glass of wine.

I am looking forward to spending the next 12 months learning all I can about the peasant cooking of the 28 EU countries, from the rice dishes of Valencia to Bulgarian pastries.

I will attempt to cook some of them on our van’s gas stove (no oven), and of course I will have great fun hunting out local (cheap) wines to complement the dishes.

And on those days when we have beans on toast for tea – well, sometimes you just can’t beat good old British working class food.

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