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Dinner on 9 June 1979

"You are going to love this : I unearthed the menu you served on 9 June 1979" Wendy

Wendy is a friend from long ago, and now a faithful reader of this blog. Just before Christmas she sent me an email which began with the words above. And she was right - I loved it.

Let me give a little background. Back in the day when David was working as a computer salesman, we used to have dinner parties to which some of his customers were invited, together with friends as well. Wendy's husband John was one of those customers and initially that was indeed their status in our lives. But we hit it off and they soon became friends. Alas John died a short time ago, and Wendy is now living in Queensland near some of her family and so we don't see each other very often at all. But recently we renewed our friendship through a trip Wendy made to Melbourne and she has been reading my blog. Hence the email.

There is a lot more I could say about our friendship over the years, but today the focus is on a particular occasion. How on earth Wendy unearthed this particular little gem I do not know. And here I will confess that I too used to keep a sort of diary of the dinner parties I hosted, listing who was there, and what I cooked, so that I didn't duplicate the food and also noted who knew who. Alas, at some point I must have thought this was ephemera not worth keeping and threw them out. Which has been a bit frustrating with regards to this post, as I tried to find the original recipes I used. In the end I just had to guess.

On the whole these were very happy occasions, and they didn't always involve David's customers. We would do the same with just friends often. That's what we did back then. I don't think the young do these days. And I would have been what I call young back then. In 1979 I would have been a mere 36 years old. Unimaginable. I would also have been a stay at home mum at that point in time, as my two sons were small and not yet quite at school. I had a full-time job as a mother - and an executive wife as well.

But I did enjoy cooking and dinner parties were an opportunity to cook more complicated stuff than the usual family dinners. So when I received Wendy's email I grabbed the opportunity to research what I apparently cooked. I tried to think what recipes I might have used, and the results are somewhat mixed. This is what she had written down - course by course.

Drinks by the fire

Well it's winter in June in Australia, so yes there would have been an open fire. All of our homes, bar the first one I think, have had open fires. Something I feel really guilty about today, but not so back then. I'm not sure what the drinks would have been - did we still drink sherry before dinner back then? Or had we already moved on to wine?

Crab pasties

Considering her next item (which I shall come to), I suspect that these would have been served with the drinks rather than as a sit-down course.

This was the seventies - a time when I was still cooking from my early gurus. A search of these came up with a recipe from Simone Beck's book - Simca's Cuisine, which I probably bought at about this time. The drawing at left is of her Bouchées demi-lune aux crustacés. I was probably attracted by these words in her introduction to the recipe:

"Once you have made these bouchées, you can vary the fillings endlessly. They are very easily and quickly made for drinks before dinner if you have some pastry in your freezer. These can be made and baked in the morning, and reheated just before serving for 10 minutes."

The recipe is not online of course. The photographs above are not of her recipe but of some crab empanadas on the left and some crab pasties on the right. Basically though, they are, as she says, just ordinary shortcrust pastry filled and shaped into pasties. In this case the filling, according to the recipe, seems to be a mix of canned - yes canned - shrimps and crabmeat, mixed with some chopped apples and onions, flour, curry powder?, (the French use curry powder in surprising ways sometimes), tabasco and cream. I am somewhat amazed. David does not like shellfish at all. Did he eat them? It may well have been the last time I ate crab! I also have to say that these days I don't think I would have gone to so much trouble for a pre-dinner drinks nibble. Although then again, maybe I would make a dip or two, or some spicy nuts.

Pancake stacks with spinach and tomatoey sauce.

And that's the actual dish but with a cheese sauce (as described in the actual recipe) - I will return to that.

Incredible, says Wendy - which I think is very flattering, but thank you. And I do know where this recipe comes from because I rather fell in love with it as a starter back then and served it many times - with different fillings and different sauces. It's from Julia Child and co. and Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1. So I turned to the wonderful Canadian Jamie who is cooking his way through the book and was rewarded with the lovely video below. The picture above is his finished product, but he made so many mistakes along the way. It is such a reassuring thing to see him bumble his way through it to end up with this glorious looking pile which he rated as delicious. A lesson in perseverance if ever there was one, and also a lesson in not despairing. Very much in the spirit of Julia Child herself who once said:

"Always remember: If you're alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who's going to know?" Julia Child

I confess it is a long video, (20 minutes or so), but if you have nothing to do and you like cooking and you need cheering up - watch it.

Yes it is a long process but when you break it down it's all pretty simple really. It just takes a long time. It's a very long time since I have made it, but I might give it another go some time next year. A winter dish I think though. Which would have been appropriate back in June 1979. And it's a very 1979 dish in a way. Not a classic French dish I think. I found recipes for stuffed crepes in my French cookbooks but not for a Gâteau de crepes. More a dish contrived by Julia and her friends from classic French bits. French in style but not a classic.

Roast pork. Red cabbage with parsley garnish all round base of roast. Roast spuds. Juice served separately. (Sparkling grape)

This is the closest I could find to what Wendy describes, but I have actually no idea whose recipe I used here. At first I thought it might have been a Cordon Bleu recipe but I couldn't find one. Nor did Elizabeth David or Robert Carrier come up with a version. Which set me to wondering whether the pork had, in fact been braised, because this seems to be a slightly more common dish, although the French do indeed do roast pork with red cabbage - mostly in the north-east.

A braised pork roast would have looked more like this, and actually, although it does not look as classy may well have tasted better as the juices from the cabbage would have been absorbed by the meat. However, since I seem to have served roast potatoes it was, however, more likely to have been real roast pork. I bet the crackling would not have been as good though. I can't do crackling. Maybe that's another thing to put on my list of things to master next year. Maybe the whole dish was a combination of recipes - one for the pork - maybe a garlicky roast with wine and without crackling, plus a braised red cabbage dish from somewhere else. Red cabbage must have been in season and cheap.

I'm a little bit intrigued by Wendy's 'Juice served separately. (Sparkling grape)'. Does the sparkling grape refer to the drink I served her? (I think she and John were teetotal) or the gravy - Unlikely - or does 'juice' mean gravy - or more classily 'jus'?

Since we are now in the 2000s I thought I would just include this dish of red pork and cabbage from Donna Hay because it is so very 2000s and although fundamentally the same dish as the first one, at the same time it isn't. I found it whilst I was idly trawling for photographs. It's called Prune-stuffed crispy pork with roasted red cabbage. The prune stuffing is indeed very French but these days we keep our cabbages in wedges or big chunks and roast them until charred. It's sort of very French and yet at the same time very mod Oz. Worth a try some time perhaps.

But back to Wendy and her 'menu'

Cheese biscuits and salad

Nothing much to say here other than that we always serve a green salad after the main course like the French. It's a sort of palate cleanser. Then comes the cheese, also like the French although it seems that on the 9th of June 1979 I served both of them together.

French apple pie and cream with coffee in lounge

Now there are endless versions of French apple pie from the elaborate to the simple. In the end having seen how much effort I had put into the rest of the meal I decided I might have gone for Elizabeth David's Tarte aux pommes - and this is it. It's such a simple thing. You make a pastry with flour (225 grams), butter (113 grams) an egg and a pinch of salt. Line a tin and prick the pastry all over. Cover with peeled and sliced apples (about a kilo). Add 113 grams sugar between the layers and spaces between the apple. Bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes. Dead simple. She suggests glazing it when cool with a syrup made from the apple peel, sugar and some kind of flavouring - lemon peel, brandy, calvados, sweet cider ... Now why haven't I made that recently?

But it wasn't all over because there was also :

Passed ginger, lychees and fudge

What a weird combination. I wonder if any of these were brought by our guests as gifts. I really don't like ginger, so it's unlikely I would have had any. Maybe the lychees were on a special somewhere. I might have been attracted by their foreignness, although considering the rest of the meal was pretty French they don't fit really. Fudge - well I'll never say no to fudge. Quite possibly my favourite kind of sweet.

A blast from the past if ever there was one. Thank you so much Wendy.

Of course I have no pictures of that dinner party. Or any dinner party come to that. We weren't so snap happy back then. The best I can do is this so-so portrait of me at I think about the right time. The afro says it all really. Very 70s. Suffice to say it's not natural. But so young. Unrecognisable really.

And one last rather sad footnote really. When I looked up that particular date I found that it was the day of the ghost train fire in which there were a few deaths, at Luna Park in Sydney. It just goes to show that good things and bad things happen all the time and simultaneously.

I for one will concentrate on the good ones. And let us hope that this particular disaster meant that changes were made and everything became safer, bigger and better in the aftermath. Which is not to take away from the very long term sadness of the families of those who died.

Sorry - shouldn't probably have added this, but it just seemed to show how our small little lives occur on a totally different plane to the big tragedies of the world. And at the same time too.


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