T Michael Barry, TV chef of . Food and Drink fame, ’ talks to Catherine Fellows
about his new book, Great House Cookery.
i ‘Britain has no pride. We have a
terrible tradition ofvaluing exotic foods to the detriment ofour own cooking. Look at the restaurants we
3 have passed in the street just now—
' Indian, Chinese. Italian: how many
places in this town serve something that could broadly be described as Scottish?’ Anyone who has watched Michael Barry whipping up enthusiasm with his wooden spoon on the TV Show Food and Drink . could have guessed that this is a man with missionary zeal when it comes to food. The passion gripped him at an early age — at fifteen. the best thing for him about rugby matches was preparing a meal for the team afterwards. Now. when he is not standing in his apron before the cameras, he is to be found happily ranging around supermarkets and wondering at the ever greater range ofingredients. That is. if he is not leafing through the pages ofan ancient manuscript.
Barry is a history graduate. and his latest attempt at enthusing British
; cooks is a book of recipes gathered
; from the archives of his local library in Kent. Most ofthem are taken
. from the personal collections of the L ladies of the great houses of the
'. district. and they give fascinating
; insights into life in the 17th and 18th
centuries. The huge quantities. for example. reflect the fact that
. habitually these houses played host ' to 30 or 40 people. At that time it was . part of the function of being rich that
you acted as a sort of welfare state.
doling out goose to all your tenants at Whitsun and other high days and 3 holidays. And no one would have i complained at the quantities ofeggs. butter and cream that were used. or the heavy puddings. when going i anywhere meant walking or riding. . and. in the absence of heating. ice had a habit of forming on the inside ofwindow panes. As Barry puts it. ‘they needed some solid grub‘. Even later recipes, such as Delelah Tyler‘s triﬂe of 1840— ‘take your pint of milk hot from the goat ‘— evoke a totally I different lifestyle. While most of the ; recipes are given in their original i forms, Barry has had great fun trying 1
them all out. and has come up with slightly adapted versions more suited to modern ingredients. cooking equipment and eating preferences. which are printed along side. i Perhaps the most significant thing about the book is that it discredits the idea that British cooking has always been artless and dull. Not only were they eating "Turkish Cubbobs’ — minced lamb. onion. parsley. lemon juice. just as we know them — in the late 1600s. and authentic lndian curry in 1808. but the home-grown dishes nearly all contain handfuls of fresh herbs and the fish is delicately poached in liquor as sophisticated as any French court bouillon. There is even a recipe for meringues. or pets. as we should call them. written in 1630. 70 years before the French are supposed to have invented them.
82 The List 6— 19 November 1992
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So what went wrong. I ask Michael Barry as we tuck into a delicate dish of Scottish salmon in the Grain Store. one restaurant in Edinburgh that can i pass for Scottish. After all. it is only recently that British food has begun to improve on greasy lamb chops and mashed potato. isn't it'.’ ‘It‘s largely because of the wars.‘ he says. ‘Good British cookery — classy. well-off cookery I mean — was all in the hands ofservants at the turn ofthe century. Even small middle-class households would have one or two servants: more than 50 per cent of the workforce was in service ofsome kind at that time. But by the end of the First World War. that had almost been wiped out. and a whole range of a culinary skills went with it. The people who had the skills couldn‘t afford the ingredients. and the
Michael Barry. culinary revivalist
people who had eaten the food didn‘t know how to prepare it. Then the Depression. the Second World War and rationing put paid to what did remain of the great British culinary tradition.
‘So bad British food is a relatively new phenomenon. In the 18th century. British food was thought the best in Europe. The French used to name their restaurants by English names. like we give ours French names now. In fact the French didn‘t have restaurants until around the time ofthe Revolution. The powerful Guild ofTraiteurs was behind a law making it illegal to serve food at table to anyone unless you were an aubergist serving bona fide travellers. They wanted to protect the market for their own ready-made take-away dishes. There is still a tradition in France of buying pate. rillettes. tarts — a whole course to eat at home. Eventually someone found a loop-hole. It was permitted to serve medicinal preparations. restoratives. So people began to sell broths. and rich mutton stews. on the grounds that they were good for health. The traiteurs could do nothing to stop these restaurateurs. And the end ofthe story is that the first restaurant to open in Paris was called The London Tavern. after the most famous hostelry in Europe at the time.‘
So rapt was I. that I forgot to ask why the French didn‘t lose their cooking during the war.
Great House Cookery by Michael Barry is published by Sam] Books and costs £14. 99.
I Food talir Glasgow‘s Word of Mouth culinary book shop in Bank Street welcomes Nichola Fletcher to talk about venison cookery on Wed 18 Nov. 7.30pm.
I New underground bar ()ne ofthe new arrivalson the Glasgow drinking scene is Brunswick Cellars at 239 Sauchiehall Street. opposite the McLellan Galleries. With an eye on the student market. this atmospheric cellar cafe-bar specialises in cask-conditioned ale. with Miller and Bud on draught and four-pint jugs available at bargain prices at selected times. Food aims to be good quality but casual. the menu featuring bangers and mash. smoked salmon. steak pie and a variety of sandwiches. and students can claim a ten per cent discount on food served from 3—7pm. Food is available until late and there‘s a special student night on Thursdays.
I Cut-price Americana Pappa‘s the all-American chargrill specialist in Edinburgh‘s Victoria Street has slashed its
prices by 20 per cent. bringing the standard burger. chips and trimmings down to £4.75.
steak to £7.95. Santa Fe
Fire to £4.25 and the daily vegetarian special to £3.95. The prices for sweets and drinks have not changed. apart from draught beer which is down to £1 .50. and there‘s a free coffee with every meal. The new prices are expected to last into the New Year.
I Wine and malt tastings Forthcoming tastings at branches of Oddbins are on Saturday 7 November (four mid-price Bordeaux wines). Saturday 14 November (three Bordeaux wines and two malts) and Saturdayle. 28 Nov and 5 Dec (twelve malt whiskies ranging from 10-lb-year-old). Tastings in most shops are 2-5pm. Oddbins also has eight new ports in for Christmas and some heavily discounted port bin ends. And if you buy a bottle of Laphraoig. Bunnahabhain. Lagavulin or Bowmore. you‘ll get a free Ralph Steadman illustration of the relevant distillery.
I Christmas menus One of the first restaurants to announce its Christmas
lunch menu is Blackwood‘s. 24a Stafford Street. Edinburgh (031
; 225 9575). which kicks off
with mulled wine. moves
on to carrot. orange and coriander soup or smoked salmon. offers a choice of baked ham or cheese and parsnip roulade and rounds off with a choice of three traditional Christmas puddings. The lunch costs £16 and is available (F23 December. I Bookerwinner'rhc Bridge lnn. Ratho. has won a Booker Prize for Excellence for the second year running. Last year it won the prize for Best Pub (which this year went to Dollar‘s Strathallan Hotel) and this year it won the top Catering Award. The Bridge lnn picked up one of fourteen awards against competition from 720 British competitors. I Scottish Tall Fount Supporters The next meeting ofthose dedicated to the preservation of Scotland’s traditional way of dispensing cask-conditioned beer is on Tuesday 17 November. 7.30pm—closing time. at the Blue Blazer. 2 Spittal Street. Edinburgh. Details from Duncan McAra on 031 552 1558.