FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
‘An apple a day keeps everyone away if you throw it hard enough.’ - Unknown
I was born into a very conservative family. When my family entertained, they did so in an exemplary fashion but only very occasionally and modestly. There was humour but in a very gentle, un-vulgar and gentle-person-ly way.
My best friend’s parents who lived next door, often held weekend parties that went on most of the night, serving newly available swinging sixties exotica such as dry roasted peanuts, guavas, avocados, or chilli con carne, as well as offering a bottomless barrel of wine. Loud music, often jazz, fizzled its way through the night air until dawn, with feverish chatter bursting through their open cottage doors and windows.
Whole days were lost to the hosts in the recovery process of what I know now, would have been the most fearful hangovers and the tedious but leisurely task of clearing up. Ardent party goers were all dressed in the height of fashion sporting bell bottom trouser legs as wide as their hips, in vivid greens and oranges, bought from Carnaby Street or Kings Road, black eyeliner laid on so thick it would take a chisel to remove it, and beads galore. Loud, colourful, irreverent, joyous, arty, young, and fun.
A typical menu for my parents when they infrequently entertained would revolve around altogether much less exotic fare. And a less festival-like scale too. Always excellent quality though, from a local butcher or grocer, topping it off with a fine bottle of Margaux or two on the dinner party table.
Never more than six or eight around the table, unless it was a significant wedding anniversary when caution was thrown to the wind. Crates of good claret and even champagne would then fill the hallway from the local wine merchant Peatling and Cawdron. My mother would plan well in advance, endlessly scouring her weekly Cordon Bleu magazine for anything vaguely new and exciting that could be provided in quantity, with the least possible dent in the coffers.
She would even be permitted to venture to Robert Sayle, Cambridge’s John Lewis store, and buy a new frock. A beautiful woman but by the time she had me, she was 42. People would mistake her for my grandmother. Not easy for her I guess. I knew no different. I loved my parents deeply but the stark contrast between their parties and next door’s was enormous. Reserved, sedate, restrained, stylish, secure, but still full of love and happiness.
A typical case of the grass being greener, my best friend would yearn for the calm, home-cooked fare, Victoria sponges and homemade lemon squash of my house, while I craved the excitement, chaos and fun at hers.
My mother was a great cook and delicious food was always available, even if it was a chicken leg, eked out with all sorts to make it feed the five of us. As an archetypal housewife, my mother ensured there was always food on the table, usually bolstered fresh from the veggie patch, mostly cooked from scratch.
It was eat it, or go without. A policy I still heartily subscribe to. I accept food allergies, vegetarianism or medical reasons why diet comes into play but picky, fussy eaters? An absolute abhorrence. Just get on with it and be thankful there’s food on the table. Expand your palate as you would your mind.
A huge veggie garden gave us as a family a love and source of fresh vegetables. Both parents craved strong flavours and as most children do, I thought my mother the best cook in the world devouring her offerings with gusto.
The only exception to this was pheasant.
Traditionally thought of as a wealthy man’s meal, it really was bread and butter cooking for my mother, when there was nothing in the fridge to offer and no spare cash available to pop to the shop, which was many weeks during the winter. Truth be told, it is one food I will studiously now avoid if at all possible. I’m definitely picky and fussy about it, but I’ve eaten it enough times to know I’m genuinely not fond.
Living on a farm, pheasant and rabbit were widely and routinely available. If money was tight which it often was, it was cheaper and easier for my father to go out onto the farm, shoot a pheasant or a pesky rabbit and feed the five of us inexpensively for roast Sunday lunch or a midweek casserole.
There is something about the bitter taste of the yellow fat on a pheasant that sets my teeth on edge even today. Rabbit I can tolerate, but those bloody infuriatingly tiny little bones! Beejaysus!
Roast chicken was a delicious and yearned for absolute luxury, rarely eaten in our household and I yearned for it endlessly.
As Simon is now chief carer in my recuperation, he has also assumed the role of cook. And a very fine job he’s doing indeed!
There have been several delicious culinary delights that stand out: roast pork, roast beef, and roast chicken. All have been top notch and easily as good as anything I could rustle up. Rich flavours are key to me in serving up successful meals and he’s done a fine job..
The roast chicken has to have been the most expensive chicken ever bought, so it bloody well should have been as good as it was. Leftovers were crafted into a darned good chicken and leek pie too. That didn’t last long.
This evening is different however. Simon is off out, back to the football he loves. ‘I won‘t stay for a beer’, he chuckles. Both he and I know that not to be true, but I’m happy he is going to be able to run off a bit of steam. He’s being incredible and very long suffering. Perhaps it’s been a bit of a steep learning curve acknowledging how long it really does take to prepare and cook a meal every evening, when all you simply want to do is sit and relax with a glass of wine?
Still, last week’s chilli is out of the freezer ready for my easy supper this evening.
Thank fuck it’s not pheasant.