Cornichon Tongs

by Gethin Thomas December. 17, 2020 320 views

[134-365] 17th. December 2020- When you are retired and move to the country, and you need to buy some little object, either a necessity or a luxury it becomes an excuse for an expedition. In the year of the Great Pandemic, at moments when it has been legal to have expeditions they have been life's little highlights. So it was we went to Bovey Tracey Mill today, which is the home of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen. We have wanted to pay a visit all year but there has always been some reason why we never got there, even getting to their door at one point and finding they were closed.

Today the mill was open and had some very nice things in it but as we are in decluttering mode not acquisition mode, we think very carefully before adding, spending most of our life subtracting. I did however spot a miniscule hand made ceramic light pull, which was something we actually did need as the one we had, had broken the other day and it is difficult to find miniscule light pulls around here, most being seemingly life size dolphins or lighthouses in garish colours. Using a life sized dolphin to switch on the bathroom light might be a novelty but is not that practical.

The restored Riverside Mill building in the centre of Bovey Tracey is home to the Devon Guild of Craftsmen. The building was never used as a mill but was built in 1850 as a stable. The waterwheel simply collected water from the river for use in the stables and Bridge House

The café of course was closed so we had to venture into the High Street where someone has cleverly created a 1970's café re-enactment museum. At least I think that's what it was. The table cloths were lace, sealed in with some sort of sticky plastic sheet over the top, the seats were spindle chairs designed by the local chiropractor to drum up business and the menu could only be described as idiosyncratic, just like most of the 1970's.

My word for the day, Idiosyncratic- An individualizing characteristic or quality. : Characteristic peculiarity (as of temperament) broadly : eccentricity. Early 17th century (originally in the sense ‘physical constitution peculiar to an individual’): from Greek idiosunkrasia, from idios ‘own, private’ + sun ‘with’ + krasis ‘mixture’.

I think the key words are peculiarity and eccentricity. I say eccentricity as I have never walked into a café anywhere in Britain where a bacon sandwich is not on the menu. After Chicken Tikka Masala it must be the most quintessentially English comestible available nationwide. But we were out of luck, because having hand sanitised, masked up, Covid Apped, unmasked and taken off our coats and sat down, we suddenly realised we had been duped. No bacon sandwiches. Now sometimes circumstances allow for lack of bacon when you wander into a Jewish café, or a Muslim café, or a Vegan café for example, but none of these were the case in this instance because they had bacon. You just weren't allowed to have it in a sandwich, you could only have it in a scone, and with cheese. Why? I suppose we will just have to put it down to being in a 1970's café re-enactment museum.

This phenomenon of being in an establishment and being able to see the food you want right there but being disallowed from having it in the format you want is something unique to Britain in my experience.

It reminds me of a small station buffet in Gloucestershire which actually was a re-enactment of a thirties railway buffet because it actually was a steam train museum, I was lying about the one in Bovey Tracey in case you hadn't detected the sarcasm. Here we perused the menu and fancied a Breakfast Bap, this is two levels above a bacon sandwich having sausages and fried egg in it too, the bap being a large flattish soft floured bun. We went up to the counter and ordered two Breakfast Baps only to be told they were no longer serving breakfast as it was after 11.30, it was 11.35. So looking bereft she comforted us in the knowledge that she could offer us, from the lunch menu a sausage and bacon bap. Yes, that's right, it's a Breakfast Bap without the fried egg. You work it out.

Then there's the pub we stopped at one Sunday lunchtime in Norfolk, we just wanted a sandwich, and this time we weren't fussy about what was in it. So we go up to the counter and ask if we can get a drink and a sandwich. No. We don't do sandwiches on Sunday. Why? We are doing Sunday Lunch, and there's a choice of pork, turkey or beef. But we don't want a meal just a sandwich. Do you have bread? Puzzled look, Yes. Well can we have either some pork, turkey or beef in between two slices of bread? No, we don't do sandwiches on Sunday. This place probably sat 150 people and there were about 12 people in there and as many staff, ready roasted pork, ready roasted turkey and ready roasted beef, plus loaves of bread, but we left with nothing.

By now you are starting to wonder if I am ever going to get around to Cornichon tongs. Well these are they. Old ones on the left and new ones on the right.

Having left 1970's re-enactment Bovey Tracey we headed home, only to call in at Dartington Craft Centre and Shopping Mall. (my description) home of everything overpriced (in my opinion). We discovered that after my last scathing Tripadvisor review where I had to explain that because there was only thirty minutes free parking after which you have to pay, that we had left without looking around any of the shops because our free thirty minutes involved getting a lecture on the environment and climate change before we were handed our coffee in cups made from recycled moss and regurgitated wholemeal pasta or something equally unlikely. I am presuming someone had read my review because there is now two hours of free parking, that's the popular uprising for you.

As a consequence we actually spent some money this time, so the free parking paid off in spades. Now we are getting to the Cornichon Tongs. The first thing we spotted were the most expensive place mats in the world, made from recycled flip-flops, found washed up on beaches. OK, sounds really awful, not to mention unhygienic, serving up a luscious pannacotta to your dinner guests on a place mat made from someone's old flip-flop, but actually they were rather nice, no I don't mean the person who owned the flip-flop.

The beach plastic fragments are mixed with cork fragments, presumably having been washed thoroughly first, these are from Portugal, hence the cork, and then bonded together in some wonder material to make a rather attractive finish, probably more plastic. As a consequence they do actually end up looking like a heavily plastic polluted beach in The Gambia. Nice. They should sell large sheets of this stuff so you can lie on it at home imagining you are on beautiful palm fringed, plastic coated beaches in warm places.

But I still haven't enlightened you about the Cornichon tongs. About forty years ago, Cornichons were unheard of in Britain and we first sampled the delectable little pickles in France where they usually came served with a handy pair of Cornichon tongs, so of course we bought cornichons to bring back home and with them our favourite little wooden pair of cornichon tongs, which we bought from an 1880's ironmonger re-enactment shop in a side street in a small hamlet in rural France somewhere near the Loire. Cornichons have the advantage over the traditional British pickled gherkin, which is the size of a salami, in that they are sweet and crunchy and dainty and slightly tangy with vinegar, whereas the pickled gherkin is more useful should you find your car battery acid levels running a bit low. We had noticed lately that the cornichon tongs were a little worse for wear having done sterling service in the cornichon serving world. So while we were in Dartington and buying the world's most expensive place mats we also picked up a quite stylish pair of tongs made of wood which look like a reliable replacement. I somehow doubt they will last 40 years but as I will be about 100 by then I will not worry too much about that for now. Currently the Queen sends a special message to anyone who reaches 100, if this tradition lasts I may be getting mine from King William, now there's a thought. I was being a bit presumptuous here in assuming Prince Charles was not going to reach 112 but you never know, all that organic food and Malvern water he consumes might just pay off.

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Camellia Staab 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I am half way home but not fully home. Having some time on my hand, decided to pick one of your posts to read. You ask....only one???? But, but.....I have written so many! That is my point, you have written so many that it will take me a while to read all. This particular one grabbed my attention. Firstly because of the pic # 1...curious to see what it actually was. And like all your posts, one can not just open, look at pic, and fly out....one has to read, and read and read, because with each paragraph or two some new comment, or thought pops into your mind/writing that keeps the reader's interest.
Moving on.......Cornichons came into existence in this country just a few years back. Just like England, most pickles here are the sausage type and most people still have no clue what  cornichons are, which is great, more for me. As to  your new tongs, those really look like toast tongs, with one exception, yours have some "teeth" on them. 
Anyway, as always enjoyed reading. 
Wishing you a very Happy New Year and looking forward to getting caught up with all your posts.

3 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Gethin Thomas Replied to Camellia Staab 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I hope you had a great Christmas and four hours later are maybe all the way home. Unless you have been in Hawaii or further afield. I am hoping you have been snapping away wherever you were and when you have got some food in and one load in the washing machine and a good nights sleep and got over any possible jet lag you will be showing us the highlights.grinning You are right about the toast tongs, someone else has pointed that out too but I don't discriminate as far as tongs go, so for my purpose they should do the trick. I shall just have to keep my wits about me and not accidentally end up dropping cornichons in the toaster. Which has just reminded me that somewhere recently we were offered tempura fried pickles which was a new one on me. Happy New Year to you to.

3 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Chuck Staruch 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Very informative, I love the humor.
Got a real chuckle out of the battery acid analogy!smile
Great photos as well!!

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Brian Scott 3 months, 3 weeks ago

🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣👍 thank you Gethin, I'm with you on some of your Britishness comments and I love comestibles, the word. And plethora

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
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