Saturday, 18 July 2009

If Food be the Music of Love...........................

Were my choice of a desert island book to be canvassed, I would unhesitatingly demand Alan Davidson's Dictionary of Food. It is quite simply the most entertaining book I have read in years - and the largest. It is to food what Richard Burton was to Melancholy. It took Davidson,cook, gourmet and former diplomat, and a team of food lovers twenty years to compile and not a moment of their time was wasted. It is crammed to the cover with scholarship, humour and forkfuls of arcane lore on any comestible you care to name.
Fish and Chips? Certainly. Fried fish is a traditional Hebrew dish sold cold on street corners in Victorian times. Not all Davidson's piety nor wit can discover when that happiest of marriages with the chip took place but it probably came to Britain via Ireland. I may be able to help there. Potato chips were a Renaissance dish invented in Florence, the home of gastronomy and the birthplace of the fork. When Marie de Medici of that sublime city married the Throne of France, she was so afraid of being poisoned she brought her chef Ranieri with her(the restaurant he founded in Rome still trades at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Try the Alpine strawberries in red wine). So called French cuisine is Florentine and, I have no doubt, included chips, erroneously claimed as "French fries".
Pikelets are light-weight muffins. The name is a Midlands corruption of the
Welsh bara pyglyd, a griddled batter of flour and milk. The fine old dish
“flummery” began as porridge but by Mrs Beeton's day had become a jellified custard with generous amounts of sherry. Flummery too is a corruption of Welsh, llymru.
The book even solves the mystery of the Welsh singing voice. Leeks. They were first cultivated in Ancient Egypt and were also popular in classical Greece and Rome. The Emperor Nero was so convinced they improved his singing and ate so many he was known as Porrophagus (leek eater). The Romans introduced them to Wales and the Welsh wore them when they defeated the Saxons in the 7th century. In those days “leac” was the generic term for any kind of onion or garlic (garleac).
Lobscouse, according to the Dictionary, is really a variety of Baltic dishes brought by seamen to Liverpool and to North Wales where it is the national dish. A street chant parodies the Charge of the Light Brigade:
“Half a leg, half a leg, half a leg of mutton,
Into the pan of scouse rolled the six onions.”
Scouse should be thick enough for a mouse to trot on and mushy enough to make a lobby butty.
Another cook book I would attempt to sneak in would be “Lobscouse and Spotted Dog” (Norton Books) by New Yorkers mother and daughter Ann and Lisa Grossman.
The book is the most brilliant concept for a cookbook that can be imagined. It is the gastronomic companion of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin sea novels and contains the recipes of the dishes they ate with such relish in the books. The Grossmans insist that lobscouse is a Viking dish, lapskaus (hodge podge), and point out that in Hamburg it is served with fried egg. Their authentic recipe
includes corned beef and smoked ham, juniper berries and various spices and sounds delicious.
Like all the best cookbooks, “Lobscouse” is a joy to read and a feast of knowledge. Each recipe which they have collected from cookbooks of the period is preceded by the excerpt from the novel in which it is mentioned. No other collection, I wager, includes recipes for Burgoo, Skillygalee, Drowned Baby, Figgy Dowdy,Solomongundy or Soused Hog's Face. You may omit roast rat, though the authors tried and enjoyed it.
For Welsh rarebit they recommend soaking the bread in porter (I use Guinness) and sprinkling mustard over the cheese, which should be melted by passing a red hot implement over it.
Another old favourite for purely nostalgic reasons (I hope a TV producer sees a copy) is broadcaster Allan Barham's hilarious book “Tales of the Old Waterloo” (Toby Books, P.O.Box 1274, Conwy, £4.99).
The Welsh Fawlty Towers, the Waterloo was a derelict Betws-y-Coed hotel which Barham's father took over in the Sixties. The stories are a delight and include such gems as the guard dog that kept guests awake with its barking, the girl in the kitbag, the day that Barham fell for the world's biggest pig and the water tank that went berserk. If I were casting it, Michael Crawford would get the Barham role since he has an attraction for disaster which amounts to genius, and Allan's father was John Cleese to a T.
The Waterloo, in Barham's own phrase, was “boozer with bedrooms”, which I remember with affection, though reading this book I am glad I was never tempted to stay there when the bar finally closed.
His latest book “My Years of Fun as a BBC Radio Reporter” is autobiography. He writes of his time when we were colleagues on BBC Wales, and as an instruction manual on how to be a broadcaster - and he was the best - it should be on the curriculum of every media studies course.
THE ULTIMATE EXAMPLE OF ONE THAT GOT AWAY...........................
“Uncle Henry Skidmore told me about coming to Texas. He said that he and Davy Crockett intended coming together from Tennessee and had made all arrangements to meet at a certain place for the start. When Crockett reached the place and did not find Skidmore there he concluded Skidmore had gone on without waiting so he struck out for Texas, expecting to overtake his friend. Skidmore arrived at the starting point the next day and found that Crockett had already gone, so he in turn struck out, expecting to overtake Davy.
Each was riding hard, each expecting to overtake the other, but Skidmore never caught up with Crockett until after they got to Texas. That winter Uncle Henry and some others went prospecting up Red River. There was a heavy snow fall. Provisions were running low and Uncle Henry said things looked serious, when one of the party killed a buffalo. They figured they were setting pretty nice, and went to work skinning the animal and cutting it up. They got the skin off and, as they turned the carcass on its back, the buffalo got away from them and made its escape. After letting one wonder how a skinned buffalo could escape, Uncle Henry would tell about it. The ground was frozen and covered with snow and ice and the carcass was near the river bank where the ground sloped. When they turned it over it got too far on the sloping bank and slid into the water and could not be recovered."
(extract from “Tales of Early Times in Lamas County” by Diane Skidmore Karas, a history of western characters)
“What makes you sure that you’re right and all those scientists out there saying the opposite are wrong?”
‘I’m a geologist. We geologists have always recognised that climate changes over time. Where we differ from a lot of people pushing AGW is in our understanding of scale. They’re only interested in the last 150 years. Our time frame is 4,567 million years. So what they’re doing is the equivalent of trying to extrapolate the plot of Casablanca from one tiny bit of the love scene. And you can’t. It doesn’t work.’
What Heaven and Earth sets out to do is restore a sense of scientific perspective to a debate which has been hijacked by ‘politicians, environmental activists and opportunists’. It points out, for example, that polar ice has been present on earth for less than 20 per cent of geological time; that extinctions of life are normal; that climate changes are cyclical and random; that the CO2 in the atmosphere - to which human activity contributes the tiniest fraction - is only 0.001 per cent of the total CO2 held in the oceans, surface rocks, air, soils and life; that CO2 is not a pollutant but a plant food; that the earth’s warmer periods - such as when the Romans grew grapes and citrus trees as far north as Hadrian’s Wall - were times of wealth and plenty.
All this is scientific fact - which is more than you can say for any of the computer models turning out doomsday scenarios about inexorably rising temperatures, sinking islands and collapsing ice shelves. Plimer doesn’t trust them because they seem to have little if any basis in observed reality”
Professor Ian Plimer, Australian geologist whose new book “Heaven and Earth, Global warming the Missing Science” talking to James Delingpoil in the Spectator
How did I get to be 80
My friend Ken Ashton draws my attention to this latest nonsense. My mother would have described Denbighshire council as “Pots for Rags”. It is a phrase I find myself using almost hourly.
“ A raft of measures that could see teachers rifle through children’s lunch boxes and confiscate junk food in a bid to tackle childhood obesity have been passed.
School meal bosses in Denbighshire said a generation of children had been “let down” by being served unhealthy food like chips.
Now in a bid to tackle the issue councillors have passed a range of measures to encourage the uptake of healthy school dinners.
Other ideas approved for consideration include staggering lunch breaks, larger canteens, and keeping pupils in school at lunch time.
Yesterday the cabinet also voted to increase the price of school meals by around 50p a week to pay for healthier meals “.