For more than 50 years I have taken a camera with me on trips; short ones and long ones. Far more than a diary (especially if captioned properly) photos bring back people and places that have almost faded from memory. Today, of course, keeping a picture collection is easier than it ever was because all the images can be kept on a computer (making sure, of course, that they are all carefully copied on to a separate disc, in case of accidents). Of the pictures on this page, four are mine and the vines and beef photos are library.


A great sporting pastime of the English, especially in the industrial cities of the north, is the breeding of what are called “homing pigeons”. These birds are trained to be taken away from home and then, by instinct, to find their own way back to their “residence” (“loft”). They are often taken considerable distances away – even across the English Channel to France. The majority do find their way back successfully. Here are two men at the point of releasing their pigeons, to fly back home 25 kms away.

I took this in 1991 in the West of England. I understand bets are taken on which pigeon gets home first.


Until we could find land away from our house in the Troodos foothills, we kept the unwanted donkeys we had “collected” close to home, like on a plot next to the house. Sometimes the noise they made woke us up extremely early. In 17 years, almost 400 came through our gates. We first encountered these delightful animals when we were newly arrived. Across the road from the house we were renting was a mother and foal, pictured below – it was one of the first photographs I took in 1991 when we settled in Cyprus. After a few years, the young one became unwanted and came into the sanctuary we had by then started, where it was later adopted by an English woman then resident in Cyprus. Eventually she returned to England and had “Petal” as we called her and another donkey transported across Europe in a horse-box trailer. By an amazing coincidence, she now lives a kilometre away from us in England! So we are able to see our former donkey whenever we feel like it.


As well as lots of donkeys we also had a great many pigeons, attracted by easy access to the barley in the donkeys’ food bins. Faced with a surfeit of these birds, we arranged a “cull” and reduced the number by about a hundred.

I phoned a French restaurant in Limassol to see if they were interested in offering them to their customers. They happily accepted and a day or two later I delivered the birds, which had been plucked and prepared for the table by a fellow foreign resident in the village who had great experience of game birds and butchery. However, the Cypriot customers were not attracted and none was ordered. We froze them and used a fair number in pies, terrines and stews. The only meat on them that was really worth-while was the breast, which was a nice firm, close-grained, gamey bit of meat.

On a trip to Saudi Arabia, when we were lucky to get a visa for my wife, who is very fond of horses,

we were invited to the stud and farm of a very wealthy Sheikh, to have a look at the mares, stallions and racing animals, most of which were valued in millions of Dollars. We sat, cross-legged, on fine Turkish carpets and the thoroughbred creatures were brought past for our inspection.


From the heat of the Arabian desert, to a cold cellar in Austria in deep mid-winter, in the 1990s..

Contracted to re-popularise Austrian wine in Britain, as part of our education and indoctrination, we went on a delightful “research” programme, visiting winemakers and sampling wines. The days were cold, but the inner man and woman were warmed by the country’s delicious sweet wines. On one day, we tasted 67 wines and were quite merry at the end of it, because no facilities were offered to “spit out” (eject) most of the wine tasted. Our guide and driver handsomely enjoyed all the wines and hurtled us along the icy roads to the next winery at high speed. This photo is taken in the cellars of one of Austria’s finest wineries, with the owner/winemaker Willi Bründlmayer. (My camera, but not me taking the photo)


Below: Bründlmayer’s vineyards in the Langelois hills north-west of Vienna.

You can have fabulous wine and food tours in Austria. The cooking is good, too, though rich. The great beef dish of the country is called Tafelspitz and I give the recipe below. It’s very similar to the old English dish (with its song of the same name): Boiled Beef and Carrots.


Tafelspitz Recipe – Ingredients

325 g/1.5 lb beef topside (or other quality boiling beef, such as center cut rump,

Chuck beef or brisket) plus some beef bones, if desired

· 3 large carrots

· 1 large parsnip

· 1 small celery root

· 1 leek cut in half

· 1 large onion with skin

· 1 – 2 bay leaves

· a few peppercorns

· salt

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1. Slice the unpeeled onion in half across and turn the cut side in a non-stick pan until fairly well browned.

2. Put about 3 litres of water into a large saucepan.

3. Add the root vegetables, leek, halves of onion, bay leaves and peppercorns and bring to the boil.

4. Add the washed meat and bones and, depending on the type of meat, allow to cook until softened, in gently simmering water, which will take around 2 ½ – 3 hours.

5. Meanwhile add more water as required and skim off any scum which comes to the surface.

6. After at least two hours, season well with salt.

7. When the meat has softened, remove it from the pan and keep it warm in some of the liquid from the soup.

8. Season the remainder of the soup again with salt to taste, and strain it, if preferred. Serve with semolina dumplings or frittata and freshly chopped chives as a starter.

9. Slice the boiled beef by carving across the “grain” and put the pieces on warmed plates. Alternatively, you may serve it in the hot soup in a suitable bowl or tureen.

10. Serve with roast or sautéed potatoes, a bread-crumb and grated horseradish mix, green beans in a dill sauce, or creamed spinach and chive sauce.

11. If the root vegetables are to be served at the same time, cook some of them separately to be served al dente.

Cooking time: approx. 2 ½ – 3 hours


And a rare day in England. A long lunch outdoors, with fruity chilled white and rosé wines, for once uninterruptedly enjoyed without rain! Accidentally, the picture resembled a 19th century French water colour!





A cook book I was browsing yesterday, purchased from a company specializing in “remaindered” items (i.e. publishers’ unsold stock and therefore at a “bargain” price) jogged my Mid-east memory cells and I thought, “Yes, there’s an idea here for this week’s column”.

It was in the 1960s. I was in a car on with no air-conditioning on a very hot July day climbing eastwards up the mountains of Lebanon on the busy, windy road to Damascus, the capital of Syria, and onwards to Amman, Jordan. It was exciting, because it was my first such trip (my second was also exciting – see Note) An older book about Lebanese cooking, some years in my possession and a great favourite, describes this journey with the stunning view as you breast the ridge of the hills much better than I can…

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“A few miles beyond the lovely tree-lined main avenue of Sofar, the highway reaches its summit at the 5,000-foot-high Dahr al-Baidar pass, which on winter weekends would be alive with skiers and fun-loving Lebanese out for an excursion in the snow. After Dahr al-Baidar the road descends abruptly into the peaceful Bekaa Valley, but not before one is rewarded with an unforgettable view of its long patchwork quilt of colorful square fields nestled between the protecting ranges of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon.

The excitement engendered in us by this majestic sight was due partly to our now being only a few minutes from our destination, for as soon as we came down into the valley we would be in Shtora. With its invigorating climate and pleasant surroundings, the town was a popular health resort and a favorite haven for honeymooners. Situated at nearly the midpoint between Beirut and Damascus, it had long been an ideal resting place for travelers”. From “Recipes and Remembrances”, which is still available on-line. It is one of just a few books I read, re-read and follow recipes from regularly.

Most obligingly, Ms Uvezian then offers a regional recipe, which I cook now and then and love dearly.

Ground Meat Kebabs with Sour Cherry Sauce

Kabab bi Karaz Hamud

Variations of this dish are to be found all over Lebanon and Syria, especially around Aleppo. This recipe comes Sonia Uvezian’s Shtora kitchen, where she used to make it with tart, juicy, black cherries from the family orchards and serve it with warm flatbread, plain or saffron rice, or bulgur pilaf.

Ingredients for 4 – 6 servings

700 g /1½ pounds lean boneless lamb or beef, ground (minced) twice

1 medium onion, grated

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 scallions, finely chopped

Fresh coriander or spearmint sprigs

Sour Cherry Sauce (see below)


Ideally this is cooked on an outdoor charcoal grill. But under your gas or electric grill will be good, too.

1. In a bowl combine the lamb or beef, onion, cinnamon, and salt and pepper and knead the mixture vigorously until it is well blended and smooth.

2. Cover and chill for one hour.

3. If using, prepare charcoal grill.

4. Divide the meat mixture into 36 balls.

5. Moisten your hands with cold water and form the balls into 4 cms/1½-inch-long sausages around flat-bladed metal skewers, pressing and molding the meat mixture to the skewers and leaving about 5cm / ¼ inch between each sau­sage.

6. Grill the meat on an oiled rack set 2 to 3 inches above glowing coals, turning frequently, 10 to 12 minutes or until it is evenly browned on all sides and cooked through. Alternatively, the meat may be broiled (grilled.)

7. With the side of a knife or fork, carefully slide the kebabs off the skewers onto heated individual plates.

8. Sprinkle with the scallions and garnish with the coriander or spearmint sprigs.

9. Serve at once with the Sour Cherry Sauce.


Add 2 tablespoons pine nuts to the meat mixture.

When the kebabs are done, remove them from the skewers and add them to the Sour Cherry Sauce. Cook gently about 5 minutes and stir in the scallions, if desired. Omit the coriander sprigs. Serve over a bed of pilaf or pieces of warm flatbread.

Sour Cherry Sauce

Salsat al-Karaz al-Hamud

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

pounds sour cherries, stemmed and pitted

½ cup water

3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste

Salt to taste


1. In a medium enameled or stainless steel saucepan melt the butter over moderate heat.

2. Add the cherries and cook, stirring, about i minute. Add the water and bring to a boil.

3. Cook the mixture, uncovered, a few minutes or until the cherries have softened and given off most of their liquid.

4. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens.

5. Season with the salt. Serve hot with ground lamb or kibbeh kebabs or with poultry or game birds.

6. Makes about 1¾ cups

Note: If sour cherries are unavailable, substitute ripe fresh cherries, pitted and add ¼ cup freshly squeezed and strained lemon or lime juice along with the sugar and cinnamon. Do not use canned cherries for this recipe.

Lamb and Tomato Tarts

To serve six


ABOVE: Not Elizabeth David’s “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine”, but a Lebanese Pastry and a glass of Arak, which is anise flavoured and similar to Greek or Cyprus Ouzo, but a lot stronger. As with Ouzo it turns white when water is added. It is a splendid aperitif and with water a most suitable companion for Arab food.


400g plain white flour 1 teaspoon caster sugar 1 sachet baker’s yeast Half teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil


200g minced lamb

250g tomatoes

1 small onion

A few drops of pomegranate molasses, or juice.

Salt and pepper

To accompany: natural yogurt (“Strangato”)


1. Dissolve the yeast in 250ml warm water.

2. Place the flour, sugar, oil, salt and yeast mixture in a food processor.

3. Pulse slowly for a couple of minutes. The dough should come away from the sides; if it does not, add 1 tablespoon flour.

4. Take the dough out of the processor, sprinkle with a little flour to stop it sticking to your hands, place on a work surface, divide into 6 equal parts, cover

and leave to rise for at least 30 minutes.

5. Generously flour-She work surface. Flatten the 6 dough balls by hand, turn over and flatten again with a rolling pin. Cut out 6 circles, 8cm in diameter,

and lay on a baking tray covered in greaseproof paper.

6. Leave for 15 minutes.


7. Preheat the oven to 200°C (gas mark 6-7)

8. Blend the tomatoes and the onion with salt and pepper, add a few drops of the pomegranate.

9. With a fork or pestle, combine with the minced meat.

10. Divide the filling among the pastry circles and spread evenly.

11. Cook in oven for 7 minutes.

12. Serve with yogurt.

NOTE – “Royal Wings and a Royal Roller”


A few months after my car trip from Beirut to Amman, I had occasion to make the trip again. That time, I flew; on a “Caravelle” jet of Royal Jordanian Airlines, a pretty aeroplane like the one pictured above. Security was always noticeable at Beirut airport, but it was extra heavy. After take-off we knew why, when this announcement came from the flight deck in Arabic, French and English: “Good Evening ladies and gentlemen. This is the captain speaking. Tonight I have the honour to tell you that my co-pilot is His Majesty King Hussein, who will be flying us to Amman” His Majesty made a good landing.

A week or so later, I was returning from Jerusalem to Amman (this was before the 1967 “6-day War”) in a somewhat ramshackle taxi. It was about 50 miles, across a mostly flat, sandy terrain. About half way, we encountered a dusty Rolls-Royce coupé, stopped at the road-side. Sitting on the lowered canopy was the sole occupant, H.M. King Hussein, chatting to a desert Bedouin, whose camel was a few metres away trying to sniff out something to eat from the sand.

Greetings and chat were exchanged. Security? Who needed it then?



In the “old days” (say fifty years and before) farmers used to keep a proportion of the flocks of their sheep for several years. They would produce several lambs in this time. After which they would be killed and eaten as “Mutton” (any animal of more than one year qualifies for this definition). This was […]

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At Last! Cyprus Wine on the Web


Many years have elapsed before Cyprus wines have become properly represented on the Internet. It doesn’t seem long – a few months, perhaps – since I searched the Web and there was not a definitive source of information about the vines, wines and winemakers of Cyprus. Looking recently I found one. It is called Cyprus […]

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As yet another year comes to a close (where did it go to?) I realise that I have now been writing professionally about food and drink for almost 55 years. At 85 I wonder if I am – or on the way to be – the world’s oldest food and wine writer? Who cares! Not […]

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Patrick Skinner’s FOOD, DRINK AND OTHER MATTERS–November


    THE MEZE TABLE The sight of a meze table fully set is an inspiring one. “How on earth have they done all that?” you ask yourself; but if you look, on closer inspection a lot of the little dishes have come out of jars, cans, packets and the freezer. And you can produce […]

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