My A to Z

A is for Apple. They make me burp. I wonder if this is normal? I think my sister suffers from the same affliction - perhaps it is genetic. As I sit and listen to Destiny's Child sing (chocolate covered strawberry) apple pie a la mode, I wonder what it is that makes the humble apple England's favourite fruit.

Is it because there are so many to pick from? Everyone loves a Pink Lady - Braeburn is popular too - but my extensive field research at apple festivals and Kentish fruit farms alike has found that nothing beats a rosy-red Jazz. Provokers of the I-just-sucked-a-lemon face, the tangy, almost unbearably sweet and sour flesh of a Jazz apple is far too sharp to be used in cooking and one should only eat a Jazz if they have ample time to appreciate it. Never on the bus, or whilst walking.
A close second is Venice's far mellower but dreadfully pale (giant) Melinda apple. So crisp that they 'snap' with every bite, I once ate four in one day which led to a rather serious case of the tummy gurgles. Melindas were my friends for the ten weeks I lived in Venice and I was sad when I once saw one bobbing in a canal. 

A word for apple crumble: to leave out the cinnamon and sultanas is tragic, and if you get one where the sugary, golden apple goo oozes out of the sides of the dish, you've hit the jackpot. The best part of a crumble is the sticky, chewy mess leftover after everyone has already gorged themselves silly - always leave room for it, and don't forget to scrape the sides of the dish for traces of crystallised cinnamon sugar.

*Just read on '' that an abundance of air in apple cells is to blame for apple burps. So I am merely the product of science at work

B is for Bussola. Oh god. I’ve just seen a recipe for bussola, my favourite Venetian biscuits. 11 egg yolks, 250g butter, 600g sugar, a kilo of flour and a splash of rum for good measure. That’s one seriously hardcore biscuit. But as George Bernard Shaw says, “there is no sincerer love than the love of food” and what kind of foodie would I be if a mere 1,000 egg-calories put me off a batch of bussola?

Baked by fishermen’s wives every spring in the old days to build up energy levels after winter, 
buranei are rich, extremely nourishing and heavy enough to sink a gondola. It was love at first bite for me and the bussola, a treat I discovered on the very first day of my 10-week stay in Venice.

Like Krispy Kremes in America and chelsea buns over here, you’ll find bussola in every bakery in Venice – bar a few disreputable and shady spots – either shaped into ‘O’s (‘bussola’ is Italian for compass, you see) or 
esse (literally, like the letter S).

I flitted between two Cannaregio bakeries before finally picking my single favourite bussola, a canary yellow number with a strong lemony aftertaste from 
Panuficio on the Strada Nuova. So loath was I to leave the island and its bakeries that I ate three Panuficio bussolas on the trot on our last day. I am now a legendary figure among the locals.

Such was my addiction that an empathetic group of university friends baked my name in bussola when we were back home in Warwick, and on my annual returns to the lagoon I always come back with a bulging suitcase full of bussola. No trip to Venice is complete without them and if you’re feeling very brave, take a water taxi to the nearby island of Burano where, no joke, they bake bussola the size of bin lids.

Bussola (makes at least two dozen)
1kg plain flour
250g butter, softened
11 egg yolks and 1 egg
600g caster sugar
1 lemon, finely grated zest only
2 tsp rum

Preheat the oven to 180C. Pile the flour on a clean worktop and make a well in the middle, adding the butter into it.

Beat the eggs and sugar together, then pour over the butter. Add the lemon, rum and a pinch of salt. Mix everything together with clean, cold hands.

Roll the dough into long fingers and shape into circle or S shapes. Bake for 20 minutes and store in an airtight jar.

C is for Cuppa. Never mess with a tea fiend. As far as addicts go, tea-aholics will do anything to get a cup of the sweet stuff and – trust me – they do not find it amusing if you hide the teabags.

I must confess that I suffer from this unfortunate affliction. Can I go a day without a cup of tea? I skipped my daily dose this morning and by 11am my eyes were itching. By midday, my head felt cloggy. But I could have survived, had it not been for the cherry scone at lunch. To deny a scone its coinciding cup of tea is just plain cruel.

You can tell a lot about someone by the kind of tea they make. Take my mum: rushed off her feet and always on the move, she doesn’t even have time to add a splash of milk, let alone wait for the tea bag to infuse. So it’s a hearty squeeze and then straight down the hatch for her.

But dad, the perfectionist of the family, will happily wait the ideal infusion time of 2.5 minutes before adding an exact quantity of milk, thus creating a perfectly pale-coloured cup of tea (I prefer a stronger, honey-shade brew). Dad is therefore the official tea-maker of the family, and it is a talent he should be proud of.

And another thing: why, when it’s pushing 30 degrees outside, do people still crave cups of tea? Prime time BBQ weather last weekend and what does my mum want to polish off an al fresco dinner? A scorching cup of tea, of course. And a few scoops of ice cream on the side.