“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Thursday, 15 September 2011

We are what we eat.

One of the ways that groups of people differentiate themselves from others is by the food that they eat and how that food is prepared. This is no more than an amusing cultural footnote most of the time but the bringing of religion into the equation can make it very unamusing indeed. Proscribed foods, such as pig meat or holy cows, can take on a life or death importance in some societies. My own experiences in this area, while nothing like as dramatic as the Indian Mutiny, for example, have shown that even the most rational and open minded people would think twice about eating something that they were just not used to. Take "her indoors" for example. Coming from a Polish family she was brought up eating beetroot as a hot vegetable and of course as the main ingredient of borsch while I had never eaten it other than as a pickle or salad vegetable. When the subject of beetroot comes up down the allotments I find that the majority of growers still consider it to be something to steep in malt vinegar and eat with summer salads. Strange, but not mind you as strange as Jon Snow's recent revelation that he had never sampled the delights of HP sauce (what?). Britain is full of odd regional culinary variations but surely none more idiosyncratic than the one that I encountered as a teenager. Thames bargemen hailed from either North or South of the Thames Estuary and on the whole Essex and Kent crews got along pretty well. We drank in the same pubs, endured the same bad weather and suffered at the hands of the same owners. But in one important respect we were two distinct tribes and that concerned the famous, or infamous, bargeman's duff. No meal was considered complete without a steamed suet pudding. This monster of the deep, liberally laced with raisins, was wrapped in butter papers and a tea towel ( none of that effete pudding basin nonsense) and plunged into a vat of boiling water and simmered for a couple of hours. Now we come to the contentious bit. Whereas those tough blokes from Erith, Gravesend and the Medway Towns would have the duff as "afters" sprinkled with sugar, the Essex Bargeman preferred his duff to be served with his meat, gravy and spuds. Each side avowed that the other were no more than "fucking savages" but both agreed that any leftover duff should be fried with a few rashers of fat bacon the following morning. I can taste it now.


henry said...

Hot beetroot - lovely lovely lovely.

Gitane said...

My daughter used to precede any journies we made into grocers large and small to warn me about beetroot on display. Tha sight and smell of the stuff was enough to make me retch. I could be in an aisle at Tescos and she would shout warnings "Dad there's beetroot on the right". She would often display odd behaviour by not warning me but hold a box of cornflakes up in the air to prevent me seeing or smelling this 'orrible abomination of a fucking vegetable.
Once amongst workmates I mentioned my phobia about beetroot and the next day at lunch and cards the fuckers all pulled out beetroot sandwiches and munched and drooled away. I had to go to the carsey and sat on a vacant pot retching and feeling sorry for myself.
I had mates who were studying psychologyand psychiatry & apparently my problem with beetroot was this: as a young boy I was woken up on a Saturday morning by my grandfather at 3am and we went to covent garden (or kew) vegetable markets to buy veggies for his stall on Portobello, he would install me under the railway arch guarding the beetroot kettle that boiled sacks and sacks of the fucking things ready for the mornings market, he would load me up with magazines like TitBits, Superman, Captain America, Freedom, Morning Star, the Jewish Chronicle etc that he ponced from the all night taxi rank up the ladbroke grove, apparently for the cod psycoanalists this was why I react to beetroot as I do.
The problem is that I still hate fucking beetroot but love graphic novels, comics and Freedom.

Jemmy Hope said...

I remember reading this in a biography of the writer Angus Wilson.
Wilson and a posh mate were at a (I think) Communist Party gathering where they met a real prole. This fellow mentioned that he ate tinned salmon. They were fascinated and fired questions at him. What does it taste like? How do you eat it? etc. To them tinned salmon was more exotic than sheep's eyeballs.