An English last meal


"Feasting is about how you eat as much as it is about what is on your plate. It is rarely about greed or ostentatiousness, large numbers or outrageous behaviour) though it certainly can be) but is about unbridled generosity and sense of spirit." Nigel Slater


Yesterday, having trawled through my life for ideas for a hypothetical last meal, I realised in the night - as one wakes and thinks about all manner of things in the middle of the night - that I had been intensely disloyal to my country of birth and youth. The years, that probably made me. That's what they say isn't it? The first seven years make you who you are. Well personally I think that although it is vital that those first years lay a good groundwork, life after that can throw all manner of things at you, some of which will change you hugely - marriage and motherhood to quote just a couple of very common things.


So today I offer a revised last meal - an English one. And of course it will feature roast beef and yorkshire pudding as my main dish. What else could it be? Maybe my mother's rabbit stew, maybe fish and chips, maybe ..... Well there are dozens of things I could pick. But I will stick to the roast beef, because it's so quintessentially English - and as it's a last meal it will have to be ribs and it will have to be the very best beef possible. Preferably cooked by a chef who will do a better job than I, but I can manage it if no chef is available.


It's a very masculine thing really isn't it? Reminiscent of cave men tearing at a roast cooked on a spit. Bloody and chewy. So much so that these days one probably feels just a tiny bit guilty about eating it. Indeed I cannot remember the last time that we had roast beef. Can I still cook it? In fact we don't eat beef very much at all these days. Even we diehards are becoming less and less carnivorous. Well we eat a lot of chicken, but somehow we kid ourselves this is not real meat. Such hypocrites we all are.

But even Nigel Slater who is becoming more and more vegetarian it seems to me, still likes a feast of meat - although maybe not beef.


"The rule is only that it must be served in copious amounts, an untidy muddle of flesh and bones, meat juices, tracklements and sympathetic accompaniments ... If such a dinner is to live up to its name, then it should probably be as much of a hands-on event as possible. Nothing should arrive at the table plated,,, but instead offerred in our largest dishes and platters. This is the sort of event where diners get messy, where a meal is enjoyed with a certain abandon, with food passed around and across the table. The moment when the table comes joyously to life."


Yes it's primitive stuff and many of the photographs you see of this are a bit like Jamie's above here - lots of fat and blood and ooziness - appealing perhaps to the dark side of human nature.


Or is that going too far? This is Delia's version which almost looks genteel. Just goes to show what a difference the props you use when you photograph these things, and the light as well can change the tone completely.


With the roast beef you absolutely have to have the Yorkshire pudding - and for me it's one big Yorkshire pudding, none of those pretty little ones. But all according to taste I guess.


"No two people would agree on the texture of the perfect Yorkshire pudding. For some, the batter should be crisp outside but soggy within; to others it should be ethereally light and have almost no substance at all; others still want it as thick as a duvet and only slightly more digestible." Nigel Slater


I think I've done Yorkshire pudding before so I won't go on about it here. Suffice to say that my Yorkshire aunt used to serve it before the meat with gravy, as apparently many do. And some serve it afterwards as well. Me - I like it with the meat and the gravy and the roast potatoes, and the Brussels sprouts, and the carrots and the horseradish sauce. And that's another thing that's hard to find here in Australia. It's a true feast and perfectly appropriate for a last meal. Although the concept of the last meal implies solitariness, and roast beef definitely demands a crowd. If one could choose though, one would like to share one's last meal with loved ones wouldn't we?


And going back to yesterday's choice of steak - beef again I see - there of course should be frites with that - thin crisp French ones, and haricots verts loaded with garlic and butter. And perhaps a béarnaise sauce, but that's not entirely necessary. Not for me anyway. The roast potatoes I mentioned yesterday are for today's roast beef.



So main course done. But what about the first course, and I have to say that this was the most difficult one for me. Well when I was young we never had a first course. So then I thought about what special treats we ate sometimes outside of meal times and came up with shrimps. Which we used to buy by the pint - a pint sized enamel jug was dipped into the pile of shrimps. We used to eat them often at my grandmother's with white buttered bread, which she used to slice holding the loaf upright and cutting towards her.


But this being an English meal - and therefore plain and simple, and dare I say, exquisite? - I will go for potted shrimps - which is a typically English way of dealing with them. Shrimps not prawns by the way. Fundamentally you cook the shrimps gently in butter flavoured with a hint of cayenne - well whatever you fancy I guess, press them into pots and put them in the fridge overnight. Even simpler and plainer than rillettes I guess. And if you don't like shrimps - then you can do the same with any smoked fish.


I also realised in the middle of the night that I had voted for Caerphilly as my cheese. Two things here. First of all I actually meant Wensleydale, and secondly - whilst thinking that yesterday's meal was French - maybe it should have been Tomme de Cantal. Wensleydale - much loved by Wallace and Gromit - on the left and Cantal on the right. As you can see my taste in cheese is fairly conservative, although Wensleydale is hard to find here - it doesn't travel well.


Dessert. It has to be Gooseberry Fool. One of the most divine desserts ever invented and also one of the most easy. You simply cook your gooseberries with sugar - depending on how tart they are - crush lightly and mix with whipped cream. Done. Also impossible to make here in Australia. There are no gooseberries. They used to have them for a couple of weeks a year. Blink and they were gone, but no more. I have not seen them for years. Therefore most appropriate as a last meal. I think we used to have this occasionally as a child, but it would have been a real treat. Not because of the gooseberries - you could grow your own - but because of the cost of the cream. Ironic that today the cream is cheap, available and good and the gooseberries are impossible. Rhubarb is good though as well.


We English are often a bit apologetic about our native cuisine but really we shouldn't be. It may be mostly pretty simple, but it can stand comparison with any other cuisine I think. And for me it has the added bonus of nostalgia and so it becomes comfort food. And because some of those things are disappearing the food of the poor becomes a luxury.


So there you are - an English last meal - with rarity value and expense as well. I would love to know what your last meal would be?








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