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The Caterer

Bread and Oil

24 August 2006
Bread and Oil

This little book is not for everyone. Written by the son of poet and writer Thomas Graves, it's not really a cookbook, although there are traditional Majorcan recipes at the back. Rather, it's a look at the culture in which he grew up through the food most closely associated with the island - bread and olive oil.

As Graves acknowledges, bread and olive oil are staples all around the Mediterranean, but for him they unlock a key to his childhood. So, the book is part-memoir as well as an extended essay in conjuring up the essence of Majorca through the locals' love of "pa amb oli".

Being the son of a poet, it's no surprise that Graves scatters poems, references to Greek gods and local adages among the pages. But don't let that put you off: there are plenty of accessible nuggets about the history and customs of Majorca that will keep you interested.

The discussion of how to slice bread is an evocative vignette that will ring bells with anyone who has ever visited Greece or Turkey. The Majorcan farmer's wife will clutch a loaf to her breast and slice it there - never on a breadboard.

The "real" Majorcan bread, like its counterparts elsewhere in the Med, is made with olive oil and natural leaven, is cooked in a wood-fired oven and is traditionally eaten with olives, tomatoes and olive oil, and a glass of local red wine. From here, Graves muses on the decline of the Majorcan olive oil industry, the island's wines, how differences in eating bread and olive oil reflect class status, and so on.

The recipes are very rustic and simple. Pickled samphire, cucumber and beetroot, various chutneys, aromatic oils, etc. The final chapter (punningly titled "The Oily Pages") has details of where to find the best producers on Majorca (from wood-fired bakeries to millers and cured meat and olive oil suppliers) and, most importantly, the best cafés in which to eat the island's traditional fare.

Bread and Oil
Tomás Graves
Grub Street, £12.99
ISBN 1-904943-52-7

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