Frances Bissell was one of the most acclaimed cookery writers in England in the 1980’s. She wrote regularly for The Times for over thirteen years, as well as Harpers Bazaar, the New York Times and Homes & Gardens. She also managed to fit in over two dozen cookbooks to date – that’s a tad more than Nigella, if track records float your boat. My own favourite remains Modern Classics, published in 2000.

In an episode of shameful expediency, her casual dismissal by the less than gallant antipodean Rupert Murdoch, as ‘no longer reflecting the needs of the readership’ must be the epitome of partiality, if not fake news, gracelessly issued from the News Corporation’s redoubt in Wapping.

The Times newspaper was founded in 1785 by one John Walter and a more equable quote from the editorial of his first edition read as follows – “…The Times, like a well-covered table, should contain something suited to every palate”, a early culinary note, conveniently struck here.

Maybe Bissell wasn’t launching enough ‘slugs’ of olive oil, or sprinkling enough ‘jewel-like’ pomegranate seeds over her ‘coquettishly buttered quinoa’. Did it ever cross her mind that rare-cooked Kangaroo Fillet might have been a possible career-saver?

Or could it be that News Corps was losing readership for entirely different reasons?

Her recipes then as now are inspirational and accessible, home cooking her mantra. Easy to chime with her very first paragraph in Modern Classics“The kind of food I write about is the food I cook at home, often just for the two of us; my husband Tom and me. And because good food is something to be shared, I sometimes cook for three or four friends; only occasionally do I cook for more than six, as our home is a small one.” 

Some food writers nail highly pertinent context without any fuss at all.

I feel a little miffed at not having read more of Frances Bissell’s regular columns in the Times, due in considerable part to my petulant boycott of Murdoch titles back in the day (like our outgoing PM, I often felt that he conducted an imaginative relationship with the truth). But given that some of my political embargoes were a little half-hearted even then, I did manage to peruse some of her inspiring articles. Of those I clearly enjoyed, I am surprised to find a fair few were cut out and kept – surprised, as I’ve never seen myself as having a natural scrapbook personality. Most are now faded to the colour of the Dead Sea Scrolls – Diana Leadbetter’s vibrant illustrations too, grow ever more pallid – yet many still see plenty of daylight in our kitchen.

If you are a fan of quintessential French paysanne cooking, are clinging less resolutely to an earlier carnivorous stance, already an audacious vegetarian, or, like my son Matthew, running with a vegetarian, this is a consummate tart that makes frequent appearances in our kitchen as the passage from spring to summer supplies a cavalcade of the sweetest seasonal vegetables.

Summer Vegetable Tart. Times Newspapers (1991)

455g mixed vegetables (see below, but please add what seasonally inspires)
230g shortcrust pastry
3 large eggs
280ml double cream
85g Gruyère cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
Grating of nutmeg

Prepare the vegetables as appropriate; peel and thinly slice carrots, break broccoli into florets, rinse asparagus and break into three or four pieces.
Slice courgettes, shell broad beans and peas, and top, tail and slice green beans.
Drop all the vegetables into salted boiling water for two minutes only.
Drain and refresh under cold water.
Roll out pastry and line a 25 cm flan tin.
Blind bake in a pre-heated oven at 375F/190C for eight to ten minutes.
Arrange the vegetables in the pastry case.
Beat together the eggs, cream, grated cheese and seasonings and pour over the vegetables.
Bake at 200C/400F for about twenty-five minutes.
Serve warm.

Wine thoughts

Amongst the many lighter styles of red wines from Provence, alongside some serious barrel-fermented Rosés, Bandol Rouge is something of a heavyweight down in the warm south.

Our particular choice, a Domaine du Gros Noré, was built from the brooding Mourvèdre grape and cultivated near the port of Toulon, with the vine roots burrowing deep into the warm amphitheatre of limestone that curls its way down to the Mediterranean. We served it with the tart, after a brief 30 minutes chilling in the refrigerator door.