Royal Ascot always brings out a touch of nostalgia in me. A few days when ladies ‘are painted to the eyes’, men look rakish in top hats and horses gleam and prance and show off just as much as any coverage-currying 21 year-old.
One of the great rakes of the turf – amongst many other things – was Clement Freud, an infamous gourmand, gambler and journalist. I recently picked up his Freud on Food and it is so headily nostalgic and redolent of a bygone age of food that I felt it ought to be acknowledged in the new world of the blogosphere.
To wit: Repeated throughout the book, clearly from a time when 1/4 bottles of champagne were readily available and in every bon viveur’s fridge, his thoughts on ham: “For the first meal from the ham [which you have cooked], cut medium slices and serve with no other garnish than a tablespoon of champagne.” Can you imagine…?
On weekday breakfast: “If you value your gourmet, here is a gently and abundant breakfast that will send him, and his innards, contentedly to work.
Tea or coffee, freshly made and kept decently hot
Fresh croissants with unsalted butter and black cherry jam
Brown toast, hot buttered, with poached eggs (eggs that are broken into a soup ladle, spilt carefully into boiling water to which a drop of vinegar is added and boiled for 1 minute before they are removed with a tea sieve)
If only a dozen families living within a half-mile radius of a baker ordered fresh croissants every morning, it would be worth his while to deliver them for breakfast, through the letterbox if you are asleep.”
I find myself rather longing for the days when a baker would a) have fresh croissants on the premises and b) cheerily deliver them each and every morning. And there’s more: mention of Precis, a ready-made roux you could just stir right in to soups; tinned asparagus and peaches; Curacao; tins of turtle soup and Chivers’ raspberries; Bath Oliver biscuits… even a mention of an entire impromptu late-night feast entirely made up of tinned food, including tinned ham (reheated of course in champagne) - and this was just in the well-stocked larder.
He covers children’s parties (involving a lot of booze and not just for the adults), wooing (complete with braised lamb’s heart), winter and summer cooking, Christmas – all splashed with a liberal helping of champagne and curacao (why have we stopped drinking this?) – there is barely an occasion that man did not give gastronomic contemplation to.
And to crown it all, yesterday I ate our first strawberry – with cheesecake for breakfast. It may not have been croissants, ham and peaches, but it was a hellish start to the day.