Wednesday 11 September 2013

Cupboard in a bedsitter

Domestic science today: after a look at what beginning cooks thought was a suitable batterie de cuisine half a century ago, let’s look at the food that was processed with those tools.

This is what Katharine Whitehorn, in her classic Cooking in a Bedsitter suggested as sufficient for a civilized store “cupboard” (quite possibly a card-board box) in a 1960s bedsit.  I've made it sepia for historical authenicity.
Salt, pepper and (French) mustard;  mixed herbs and a bunch of bay leaves; Olive oil: nice but expensive - groundnut oil: flavourless, odourless, dirt cheap and less messy than lard; (wine) vinegar; (plastic) lemon juice; (tube) tomato paste; Bovril cheaper than Oxo; (powdered) garlic if liked; plain flour; sugar; (Patna) rice; grated cheese; spices: paprika, curry powder, chili powder, cinnamon & ginger.  And she rounded off this modest list with “If this seems too much to keep around, it may interest you to know that all that lot, plus a bottle of milk, a tin of coffee, a butter dish and packet of tea bags, a pot of jam, a pound of onions, three tomatoes, six eggs and a packet of instant potato all fit quite easily on one medium sized tray.” 

That’s thirty different ingredients as the back-bone of a sustainable and varied diet for an indefinite period.  Less than the ingredients in a single shop-bought cake nowadays.  On our kitchen shelves today, we have four sorts of vinegar, five sorts of pepper (Piper nigrum – I’m ignoring all the Capsicum spp.), seven sorts of flour: but I don't think we are 4x, 5x or 7x better off or richer for it.

The old house on Lansdowne Road that was demolished to make way for the Berkeley Court Hotel behind Jury’s (now D4) had a laurel tree Laurus nobilis overhanging the railings.  That was my introduction to bay-leaves and I’ve never been without them since.  We have a matching pair of bushy trees growing nearly 3m tall behind our house now.  A blessing.

Dau.II called me from Cork on Sunday morning.  She & He had moved into their flat the afternoon before, and she was off to do her first shop at Aldi.  I've asked her to put a list or publish her first till-roll on her blog, but she's not obeying orders any more.

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