Thursday 18 July 2019

You Are What You Eat 14

Some kind of supper with cold meat and pink or white shape and stewed prunes. (Crewe Train, Rose Macaulay, written in the 20s. “Shape” was cornflour blancmange.)

Letters to the Editor (Times)
Sir, the correspondence on baked beans reminds me of an incident one morning at the Royal Marines officers’ mess in Poole years ago. I had barely taken my seat when. White-coated and white-gloved member of mess staff arrived silently at my side to take my order. “Good morning,” I said. “May I please have baked beans on fried bread.” I turned to read my newspaper when I realized that he had not moved. Believing that he had not heard, I repeated my order. “yes, Sir, I heard you the first time,” he said. When I asked if there was a problem he replied, very much Jeeves-like: The thing is, Sir, that baked beans are not really an officer’s vegetable.” (Simon De’Ath, Upper Basildon, Berkshire)

My background is working class but I would never try to pretend I’m not middle class now... But I heartily agree with a friend from similar stock who complains that the middle-class lifestyle creates much more washing-up. At dinner parties and even family meals food is put on the table in various serving bowls with spoons from which you help yourself, not all ready-portioned on the one plate as it was in my childhood. Crockery use is doubled. And... you don’t want to look greedy so you always take less than you really want. (Carol Midgley, Times)

Mum told Greggs vegan sausage rolls are “too posh for Kirby” (Liverpool Echo headline 2019)

Food is a pretty important and significant social activity, and dating is often centered around food. (Daniel Mallory Ortberg)

Per Mary Killen (pictured above by Hugo Bernand), common food includes:
Anything on an oval plate
Stacked towers of ingredients
Anything that’s too easy to eat
Anything microwaved
Quartered tomatoes
Potato croquettes
Lemon quarters are fine, but not if you call them “lemon wedges”.
Cheesecake and apple strudel are out because they’re “mucked-about food”.
Shaped portions of fish and chicken (fingers and nuggets)
She condemns “thick” marmalade – surely some mistake?

Taboo words are “cereal”, “meal” and “nibbles”. Be specific – cornflakes, lunch and nuts.

Mary would have a fit over tomatoes carved into flower shapes, wouldn’t she? Samantha doesn't like to admit that these days she microwaves side veg like mushrooms and carrots with a knob of butter in a container with a lid. She agrees about food that’s too easy – rice-like orzi pasta instead of spaghetti that you can just spoon into the cake’ole.

Mary's list of posh food includes:
Anything difficult to come by, difficult to cook, or repulsive: sweetbreads, oxtail. (I’d add brains, steak tartare and cold soup.)
Game in season
Gulls’ eggs
Turnips, swedes, parsnips, beetroot – but boiled, not pickled
Baked pears, home-made custard
Bread-and-butter pudding

The "cheese and biscuits" circuit? (March 2019) Whatever happened to cheese and biscuits – they used to end every middle-class dinner.

A vegan pie has sparked outrage after winning a top food award, with a leading chef branding the butternut squash creation “a disgrace”. (Daily Telegraph, March 2019) “The millennials have taken over,” opines chef Richard Corrigan. There’s an outbreak of really quite nasty “vegan jokes” among conservatives – vegan food, which has existed happily for years out of sight in health food shops, has now hit the supermarkets. And manufacturers are trying to cash in by producing special bars, nut mixes, protein balls with too much artificial flavouring and a ridiculously high price. Conservatives are furious to find these cranks given their own section – next to the Poles'.

In April 2018, the inhabitants of Giffnock in Scotland were furious that their Wholefoods was being replaced by a Lidl. It will “bring down the tone of the whole area”. “Stores like this... attract the degenerates of society. I understand that they need to shop somewhere, however you didn’t see benefit cheats and single mothers and their feral brood flock to Whole Foods. Discount stores allegedly save you pounds on your shopping but you could lose a lot more at the front door when your purse is stolen... It’s only going to attract vermin that do not belong in this prestigious area. Giffnock isn’t pretentious at all, it’s a middle-class area and that is the way it should remain.”

Others suggested that the “pretentious” could always shop in Newton Means, and one riposted: “Honestly what has happened to people. I grew up in Giffnock when that space was Presto and up the road was Gateway then Kwicksave and not an eye was batted.” (And I remember when the middle classes agonised over whether it was possible for them to shop in supermarkets at all.)

Britain is discovering the hot dog! Translation: Firms are making serious money selling upmarket, gentrified hot dogs to affluent gourmets. French President Emmanuel Macron told farmers to concentrate on upmarket products – and now they’re struggling. An area is “regenerated” and all the cafés and shops are too expensive for the people who live there. Where do the gentrifiers think the poor people are going to go? Perhaps they don’t care. In the US, it’s been suggested that cheap food shops should be closed – to encourage purveyors of “proper” food to move in. Because working class people eat unhealthy, processed fast food, don’t they?

Cheap food doesn’t need to be unhealthy: potatoes, cabbages, lentils, carrots are all cheap. And so are quinoa and avocado – so why are they middle-class signifiers? As a friend says, the hippies have basically won. We all eat brown rice and want to save the planet now.

Rowena has crowd-funded to turn her caff into a chain. Samantha suggested calling it “Scoff”, but Rowena went for “Lou’s Café”, in hand-painted red lettering on white, and had the fascias carefully distressed. The menu now includes: chops, greens, roast potatoes, steak pie, stew, mashed swedes, corned-beef hash, beetroot in white sauce, bubble and squeak, Spam fritters, cottage pie, pork pie, Scotch egg, jam roly poly, and local dishes like Manchester pie, gypsy tart, Bedfordshire clangers and barm cakes. She'll overboil your cabbage for you if you really like it like that. Sam disparages the menu by calling it "comfort food".

Rowena ripostes that her goals for 2019 include eating a burrito washed down with crème de menthe, and working her way through all those chocolate bars that people like us don’t buy.

Sam is rather tired of the “street food” fad. Former open spaces are cluttered up with smelly stalls selling food that all seems to be fried. And there’s nowhere to sit down and eat it. Really, what happened to farmers’ markets?

Howard Weybridge agrees. “Isn’t there any British street food? Er, fish and chips…?”

Sam checks with Henry Mayhew. “Men sold freshly baked muffins, and there were pudding shops – and isn’t there a bit in Little Dorrit where Flora and Amy chat over steak and kidney pies? Here’s more: shell-fish, pea-soup, baked potatoes, ham sandwiches, meat puddings, pigs’ and sheep’s trotters, hot eels, hot green peas, penny pies, plum duff, crumpets, Chelsea buns.”

Howard  says: “Haven’t had a good old steak and kidney pud for years. Used to come in pudding-shaped tins. Well, now we’re leaving the EU…”

“I dared to mention a superfood after it had gone out of fashion, and was put in my place by a friend who’d been all over it a couple of years before”, says Sam.

“All my friends are on some ridiculous exclusion diet – and meanwhile people are queueing up at food banks!” sighs Eileen Weybridge.

"As food becomes plentiful, not eating becomes virtuous," says Sam. "Except it has always been virtuous – look at Early Christian ascetics. Or even 60s crash diets."

“The trouble with vegan food,” says Harry Stow Crat, “Is that it takes such a darned long time to eat! And it’s all in little bits so it falls off your fork. Plus it tastes of nothing and after you've eaten it you're still hungry. Give me a bacon sandwich any day.”

But Harry earns enough to restore the orangery by selling over-priced vegan and gluten-free snacks made from oats and spinach grown on his estates. Caro gets the recipes out of Vegetables for Victory by Ambrose Heath.

"Shops at stately homes sell such ghastly wares," she explains. “Tea towels, novelty pencils and pot pourri, oven gloves in the shape of fish, and everything covered with weedy water-colours of flowers."

When I was at university in Norwich, I took a friend to a caff I often went to. It was always full of art students. She boggled slightly when I ate a cake with pink icing and shreds of desiccated coconut. Few of my fellow-students went to cafés in town (though they went to wine bars and ate a lot of ratatouille). But it was OK to go to a tearoom in a converted Tudor cloth hall.

We like to poke fun at the “mid-century menu” – everything suspended in gelatine, on a bed of lettuce. This cuisine wasn’t sold as “slimming”, but it can’t have contained many calories. The gelatine bulked out the ingredients, so you got a slice of something that only looked like food. Jellied chicken soup, anyone? From the 30s (and probably earlier) to the 70s, there was a trend for food that was mainly air or gelatine. Sorbets (water ices), soufflés, apple snow (apple puree and whipped egg white), strawberry mousse, savoury terrines. They were a debased version of Mrs Beeton-style posh food. Those Victorian banquets with endless courses probably needed dishes that didn’t have much food value. (You didn’t eat all the food, there was a menu and you could choose, and portions were small. It was more of a tasting menu, and if Giles Coren is to be believed, this idea lives on. I mean the idea that you eat food for its taste, or rarity, or exoticism, or unusual ingredients, or to admire its presentation – not because you are hungry.)

Theresa May scrapes mould off jam and eats it – this is very Stow-Crat. They may even say “It’s penicillin – it’s good for you”, or “Waste not, want not”.

Gingerbread Easter Bunnies are on sale at Costas just after Christmas. This means they have three months to sell the things. Creme Eggs on sale in the Coop, ditto. It happens every year and no amount of middle-class whingeing is going to change it. Do the Upwards really think they can persuade big firms like Costa and the Coop not to use strategies that make them money?

Some restaurants deliberately increase the noise! Microphones collect customer and kitchen noise and pipe it back into the dining area ("dial in the buzz"). (Via Twitter. It’s called “acoustic reflection”. Really great for anyone with hearing problems.)

More here, and links to the rest.

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