First Catch Your Witch

Film, London, Observatory

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.

7 comments on “First Catch Your Witch”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Having just spent some time defusing my tongue of the contents of a vegetable samosa I could appreciate a spice free dish.

  2. I.A.M. says:

    Presuming that another anglicism has been located” please, Sir, what’s a “witch”, Sir? Other than a lady in a pointy hat, I mean, Sir?

  3. Helen Martin says:

    “a flatfish of N. Atlantic coastal waters, having a narrow greyish-brown body marked with tiny black spots: related to the plaice, flounder, etc. [C19:? from witch, from the appearance of the fish]” Thus says my Collins, but there is nothing in that description that makes me see any standard image of spell creating females. Not to be confused with the fishwich is there. hum

  4. mel d says:

    I have a 1958 Good Housekeeping cookbook with many wonderful (and weird) concoctions such as Grapefruit Water Lilies, Kromeskies (minced meat wrapped in bacon then deep fried) and Lifebelt Cakes, basically ring doughnuts with buttercream iced on them at various intervals in order to resemble said Lifebelt. Also includes a whole page on how to be a good wife, cook and dinner hostess!! Seriously though, the post-war housewife must have had far too much time on her hands however lovely many of these recipes are, whenever I flick through this little chunk of nostalgia, it makes me realise how “same old” and bland many of today`s recipes really are.

  5. Allyson Bird says:

    I’m intrigued. What is a New Zealand restaurant? I live here…French food,Italian,Japanese,Chinese,Greek….but I’ve not yet seen anything described as Kiwi cuisine. Have I missed out on something?

  6. admin says:

    ‘Caravan’ does a killer breakfast dish of rhubarb or mandarins on lemon curd and hot coconut bread, and they use a lot of NZ fruits in recipes.

  7. Allyson Bird says:

    Ah…Sounds wonderful. Yes. I’m finding all the NZ fruit and veg, and am cooking. Made a favourable pear tart the other day. I’ve a lot to learn though. I’m just finding my feet.

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