First Catch Your Witch
A friend calls me from Liverpool: ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m in Waitrose,’ I reply, ‘looking at Barry Norman’s Pickled Onions (the jar has baggy-eyed Barry holding a clapperboard on the label – what connection could there possibly be between a film clip show and pickled onions?) and organic vanilla pod custard’. ‘You big Southern poof,’ he says, and he has a point.
A recent quiz in the Daily Mail asked ‘How Posh Are You?’ Here are two of their questions. ‘Do you know what Halloumi is? (which suggests that the Mail confused ‘being posh’ with ‘being Greek’) and ‘Do you have more than one type of oil in your kitchen cupboard?’ I just did a count; uh-oh – we have seven types of oil. Meanwhile all our cookery books seem based around pacific fusion methods. London is going through a burst of hot New Zealand restaurants – all excellent – but sometimes I want something English, so I went back to an old cookbook from 1933.
What I find in ‘The Housewife’s Diary’ is mental. The book has a different recipe for every single day of the year, as well as household management articles like how to give notice to your domestic servants. You wouldn’t find any of their fish recipes in books now – Cod And Spaghetti Pudding, ‘Fish Cream For An Invalid’, Fried Witch (‘Wipe the witch dry and flour it’), Cod And Bananas, Kipper Balls, Lobster-Scotch Eggs, Eel Kebabs, Shrimp Jelly, Dogfish Curry and Salmi of Hazel Hen are the more accessible dishes – half of the fish on offer no longer exist in shops.
It makes me realise that our indigenous menus are now far more limited than seventy years ago. Thank Heaven, then, that world cuisine has enriched our diet. This probably explains why French food is now so disappointing, mired as it is in traditional spice-free recipes.