I’ve got lost, circa 1977.
I’ve become mislaid in a moment that I know just bits about.
It’s before I was even a twinkle in my father’s eye. It’s before my sister was born. Before The Empire Strikes Back.
I think it’s about then that devils on horseback had their hay day.
These days it’s a phrase just as likely to convey deadly deviants in Darfur (it’s what Janjaweed directly translates to).
But as much as my Mum might like me to return to the days when I spent my time musing about intricacies of international politics (yes, I really was once National Vice President of the United Nations Youth Association in Australia – possibly one of the geekiest things around), right now I’m talking about food; more specifically; prunes, wrapped in bacon.
There’s some speculation about where the dark title for this salty sweet bite comes from.
Some suggest it stems from Cornwall, where at the turn of the first century Norman raiders would protect themselves with rashers of bacon. It made for grotesque suits of armour that would frighten villagers (and once the spot was appropriately sacked, the bacon could conveniently be cooked for tea).
Somehow wrapping in bacon became known as being on horseback. Hence oysters wrapped in salted pig became angels on horseback and their surlier (yet much sweeter) cousins on the hors deoveurs platters became devils. Prunes were stuffed with mango chutney before wrapped in streaky bacon and grilled. Sometimes people went rogue with the richness and added stilton cheese to the prune’s bellies (gilding a lily if ever I’ve heard it). They were traditionally served as snacks with drinks, probably at cocktail parties where people weren’t quite sure what to do with their car keys.
I invited them around on a midweek night. I stuffed some soft prunes with smoked and salted almonds and wrapped them in the best streaky bacon my money could buy (from my lovely Kiwi butcher Scot, down at The Ginger Pig).
I grilled them and let their aggressive two-step of salt plus sweet dance with a plate of pork medallions and a puddle of carrot puree. A few coriander leaves gave a nod to the spicing of the mango chutney- and a few drops of Pedro Ximenez vinegar pulled the sweetness back from a sticky edge.
Devils on horseback might be reserved as a dish that ironic nod and a wink to the past- like fondue pots or taking one too many nips of cooking sherry while making a celebratory trifle.
But just how the strains of Simon meld with Garfunkel, or the way flares balance out a wider derrière, some good things remain good, no matter when they’re served.
I think it’s time these sweet devils were brought back.
Are you with me?
Devils on horseback (with spiced carrot and pork medallions)
8 toothpicks (or, if like me, you haven’t got toothpicks, use long matches, but be sure to lop off the flammable end). 1 fry pan. 1 baking tray. 1 stick blender for the carrot puree. 1 mandolin or grater.
8 large prunes, pitted (if the prunes are unyielding, soak them in sherry or tepid water for 30 minutes before constructing)
4 slices of the best quality streaky smoked bacon you can buy, halved horizontally.
8 smoked almonds, or 8 almonds, toasted
Drizzle of Pedro Ximenex vinegar or Sherry Vinegar
Pork medallions and carrot puree
300 grams of pork fillet, sliced into medallions
3 large carrots, grated
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 heaped teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 cup of orange juice
1 handful of coriander leaves
Here’s how we roll
1. Preheat oven to 200 C or 400 degrees F . Place the toothpicks in a small bowl filled with water; let soak for 5-10 minutes.
2. Prep the prunes. Halve prunes lengthwise being careful not to cut all the way through. Take out their seeds. Place an almond in their bellies. Wrap a piece of bacon around each. Secure bacon with a toothpick.
3. Make the carrot puree. Sautee the onion in a tablespoon of olive oil until translucent. Add the grated carrot, cumin and sautee for 5 minutes. Add the orange juice and put a lid on, allowing the carrot to cook through for 5 more minutes. Check the seasoning, add a little salt and blitz with a stick blender.
3. Cook the pork and the prunes. Season and brown the pork medallions in a fry pan. If the fry pan can go in the oven, add the bacon prunes around the edges of the pan and transfer to the oven. Otherwise transfer both the prunes and the pork to a baking dish and bake for 15-20 minutes. You want the pork to still be slightly pink in the centre and the bacon to be cooked through.
4. Plate up. Dot coriander leaves around the plate. Put the warm carrot puree in the centre of the plate. Add the cooked pork and the pigs in blankets around the edge. Drizzle with Pedro Ximenex or sherry vinegar (or balsamic if you have neither).