For the last few years, BBC2 television has shown a cookery series called 'The Great British Menu'. Top chefs around the country compete to provide a four-course banquet menu for 100 people at some posh venue.
Each year they vie with one another to see who can match 'the brief', which this year is to cook the centenary banquet for the Women's Institute. Of course, there is much gushing talk from these chefs about inspiration from mums, grannies, aunties, etc. On top of this there are nods to 'Jam & Jerusalem' and so on and so forth.
These maudlin tributes are hard to bear at the best of times, but the WI event has opened the floodgates and this year we are drowned in a torrent of sycophantic, nauseating emotional drivel. Anyone would think that every mum or granny was an unsung Michelin chef, and this made me ponder on my own experience.
As a dedicated 'foodie' from an early age, I quickly adopted the iron rule always to make the effort to get on well with and appreciate those who feed me. This has paid off superbly with only one notable exception; my paternal grandma.
Granny was a cheery, bustling lady with ready smile and sharp word in equal measure.We got on famously, and I was the apple of her eye, but this mutual fondness did nothing for her cookery skills, which were legendary. I never met a worse cook in my life. She couldn't cook shaving water, despite her best loving efforts. With an adroitness born of desperation, I managed to avoid her food most of the time, but occasionally fell foul of her astounding incompetence.
She had not the slightest idea of taste, texture, seasoning, cooking times, cooking methods, temperatures or indeed any other facet of food preparation. The nearest word to describe her approach was 'blitzkrieg'.
She would take an item, whether bacon, potato, fish or fowl, onion or banana, and knock hell out of it with searing heat and general abuse until it collapsed, ruined, in anguished submission. Then cook it some more, just to be sure. Even after this onslaught, half raw and viciously lumpen bits of spud, leathery meat or worse would lurk, awaiting the unwary diner. Whimpering bacon, screeching sausages and sad, limp and utterly lifeless veggies were the norm. We won't talk about her pastry, which resembled shards of hydraulically compacted dandruff, and the exploding rice pudding normally found in a blackened scab on her kitchen ceiling.
The warriors of ancient Sparta ate 'Black Broth' made from pigs blood and gristle boiled with vinegar. They abhorred namby-pamby delicious food, considering the enjoyment of it a sign of indulgent weakness unbecoming of a warrior race. Spartans would have been entirely happy with my granny's cooking, and she would have been exalted.
A notable classic was her breakfast. This was monstrous. In every sense. People sing the praises of the Full English, but her attempt gave new meaning to the word 'devastation'. This recipe shows how it was wrought:
First, take an old iron skillet, notably not a non-stick job. Slap it on a high flame with a dob of lard thrown in. As the lard begins to smoke, throw in a few rashers of bacon, then tip in some tomatoes, then break one or two eggs into the mess, busting the yolks with a careless flourish. Stir all this until bits start to stick and burn. Throw in a few thick slices of cheese, and maybe the odd mushroom. Idly poke and stir at the melange, not allowing the bacon to cook through, except where it's burnt and stuck to the pan. Blackened tomato skin, gristly raw bacon rind, utterly ruined cheese, vulcanised egg, with gelatinous raw bits and blistered, wet mushroom stalks combine in a rustic homage to Jackson Pollock. 'Son et lumiere', a dazzling whirl of colour, sizzling and pungent smoke make this dish a piece of kinetic art.
With a beaming smile, scrape the lot in a tortured heap on to a cold tin plate and stand back for applause. Which comes in the form of deathly silence, followed by faint murmurs and apprehensive grimaces.
A dish for the WI banquet? Perhaps not this year, unless it is held in Sparta.
Mike Biggs, 01/10/2015