The style of a decade is defined as much by its food and drink as its fashion. I’m reminded of this every time I watch Masterchef the Professionals where trendy ingredients that I’ve never tasted before, let alone bought or cooked, are suddenly appearing in every dish.
The most bizarre one from this season’s show so far has to be the “heirloom carrot” (Incidentally, if there are any chefs out there, could you kindly explain what the hell an heirloom carrot is? Does it have such sentimental value that it was it passed down from father to son in a Last Will and Testament? Or is it part of our country’s heritage in which case oughtn’t we to object that it has just been publicly mashed to a pulp on Masterchef? Should it not have been appearing on Antiques Roadshow instead?) Also on the menu of foodie fads for 2014 are Samphire — a vibrant green salt-marsh vegetable — celeriac, fennel, cuttlefish, bone marrow, oxtail, wasabi, polenta and ceps.
These all seem very adventurous now, but in 10 years time we’ll no doubt be ordering a side dish of sauteed samphire with our bone marrow burger and celeriac chips down the pub. Oh, and pass us one of them pickled heritage carrots while you’re there will you, love?
So how do I know this? Well, cast your mind back to dear old Delia in the mid-Nineties. If you remember her Summer and Winter Collection TV series she seemed to use freshly squeezed lime juice, flat leafed parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, lemongrass and crème fraiche in every episode. I remember thinking “That’s all well and good for a gazillionaire who shops in London, but how on earth can normal people get hold of such exotic ingredients?”
A decade later and you can find most of them down at the garage on the corner. In fact, you virtually have to wade through the consignments of Thai lemongrass to find a Comber spud.
So television cookery shows certainly influence our palate and have done since telly was invented. I’ve watched most of them too over the years, from the Barefoot Contessa’s extravagantly unhealthy cuisine of Ivy League New England to the Hairy Bikers’ endless road trip around traditional English pub grub. But my favourite era and genre has got to be the Seventies.
Who can remember (who could forget?) The Galloping Gourmet series in which Graham Kerr cooked for a predominantly female audience and then invited one lucky lady out of the audience to a candle-lit table where she tasted the dinner he’d prepared? Political correctness didn’t amount to a hill of beans in the crazy world of Seventies TV did it? And neither did things like heart disease, nutrition or health for that matter.
The dishes du jour in those days were sickly and artery-clogging but often utterly delicious like Duck a la Orange, Chicken Kiev, Beef Stroganoff, Swiss Cheese Fondue, Crepes Suzettes, Raspberry Pavlova and Baked Alaska. Drool.
And, of course, you can’t refer to cookery programmes of the distant past without mentioning the dynamic (but weirdly freakish) duo of Fanny and Jonny Cradock, can you? Everything she did was encased in a bird’s nest of spun sugar or coated in technicolour marzipan dyed with just a few pints of food colouring. Meanwhile, hapless hubby Jonny had a knack of messing things up or using unintentional double entendres.
So as a fan of the epicurean exploits of the recent past, I was delighted to be invited to a retrospective tasting of the most popular wines from the Seventies this week at Direct Wine Shipments in Belfast. What a fun night that was and such a trip down memory lane! Lambrusco, Mateus Rose, Piat D’or (“Les Francais adore le Piat D’or!”) Liebfraumilch and, of course, the ubiquitous Blue Nun were flowing freely along with some true retro food such as cheese and pineapple porcupines, vol-au-vents, jellied carrot and Black Forest gateaux. The only thing that was missing was Demis Roussos crooning from a portable record player but after a few drinks I was singing along anyway ...