Hospitality or excess?



Today I was invited to a morning tea with my Italian class classmates and our teacher in the house of one of my fellow students. She is a very good cook - she is of Polish origin - and the spread, for the eight of us was huge and sumptuous. A little like the one on the left, although more so because it included a whole lot of savoury things as well - cheese, croissants, plain and ham and cheese, sausage rolls, a mousse, a dip - honestly I cannot remember all of the things on offer. It was truly sumptuous.


And last night my husband hosted his wine group here, with almost as sumptuous a spread - lots of bread and cheese, lots of cold meats and fish, chutneys, pickles, sausage rolls and spinach pastries plus baklava. And, of course, there are leftovers. In our case most of it - the cold meats and fish, and the cheese are not a problem - they just go back into the fridge for another time, and the sausage rolls and pastries were eaten - well almost all were eaten - but we have a lot of extra bread and baklava. Some of the bread has been frozen but there is still quite a bit to consume as toast or breadcrumbs. Maybe I should have a go at a bread and butter pudding - when I get that K-Mart pie maker perhaps.


I'm sure this morning's hostess would also have a lot of leftovers, but she does have a husband plus a daughter and family living next door with whom to share them. She also pressed some of the leftovers on all of us. I brought a slice of the very rich looking chocolate mud cake home for David. He does love his chocolate.


My point is, I guess, how difficult it is to gauge how much food to provide for such an occasion. We all remember the occasions when there was not enough to go around, and so we generally overcompensate and provide too much. We don't want to look mean. And I still think this is the way to go - but sometimes it's difficult to judge. I must confess I generally provide things that I know will be recyclable as it were, and interestingly with me, it's always the bread that is the problem. I never seem to be able to judge how much bread to provide. Thankfully you can freeze bread, and you can reconstitute it in the oven by sprinkling with water and then reheating. In fact, as I have written before, there is quite a lot one can do with leftover bread.


Where to draw the line is difficult for practical reasons but it's also a tiny bit tricky in the moral sense isn't it? Where does generous hospitality end, and decadent excess begin? By having too much are you actually saying, 'look at me, I'm a great cook' or 'look at me I've got lots of money and can afford to shower you with expensive food'?


Tradition also comes into it. In some cultures hospitality in the form of providing lots of food is a hallmark of the culture and very, very important. People will provide guests with food they cannot really afford one hears. I do not know much about Polish traditions, so do not know whether this was a factor in my hostess's generosity. I'm sure she wasn't showing off. She was just being super generous and probably enjoying the chance to cook things she might not otherwise cook.


Maybe it comes from growing up poor and never having quite enough. We were very thoroughly rebuked if we did not eat everything on the plate. "Think of all the poor children in Africa" our mothers used to say. So we ate it all up. Every last scrap. There were never leftovers in my house.


Food for thought though. Even if your guests are only your family. Even after all these years, I never get the quantities right for them either.

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