Wednesday 28 April 2021

Veg Talk

 Radio listeners with long memories might recall, with a frisson of horror, the Radio 4 programme of the above name, in which two cheery cockney types would, er, 'celebrate fruit and veg'. This was the programme that launched the insufferable Gregg Wallace on the world – hence the frisson. Now, of course, he is everywhere, and still finding ways to become yet more insufferable, bless him. But he does still like his vegetables and is happy to 'celebrate' them (Come, muse, and sing the parsnip...).
  All this by way of preamble to more talk of fruit and vegetables, triggered by Patrick Kurp's post which picked up on yesterday's Aubergine Mystery. Patrick's memories of the limited bill of fare we grew up with chimes with my own, but with differences distinctive to this side of the Atlantic. I could make an alphabet of foodstuffs that never came my way or were regarded as impossibly exotic – well, I could start one anyway, as 'A' alone has avocados (then known as avocado pears), artichokes, asparagus and of course aubergine. 'B', incredibly, would feature broccoli: in my boyhood the only greens on offer were cabbage, spring greens and spinach, all of which would be boiled to within an inch of their life. Broccoli florets were available as a frozen luxury veg, but otherwise never seen (though happily my dad grew purple-sprouting broccoli in the garden). Courgettes (zucchini) were unheard of, and cheeses were, as in Patrick's case, severely limited, with anything continental deemed wildly adventurous and available only in delicatessens. Parmesan came in dried powder form, shaken from a little drum which smelt rather like vomit – but I loved it, even in that debased form. Fresh herbs were not to be had, with the sole exceptions of parsley and mint. Olive oil was something you bought in tiny bottles from the chemist, not for culinary use, and black olives were never seen. Peppers came only in green and were sliced, rather daringly, onto salads. Yoghurt was a mysterious health food, of interest only to sandal-wearing cranks (until the Ski brand came along). Pasta meant either macaroni (for macaroni cheese or macaroni pudding) or spaghetti, which came full length, wrapped in dark blue paper, and would be stewed for a good long time before serving. 'Spaghetti bolognese' was basically mince on top of soggy spaghetti, rather than under mashed potato (cottage/shepherd's pie). Similarly 'curry' was mince, with a dash of curry powder, on top of overcooked white rice – but with the 'authentic' touch of a few sultanas and maybe some sliced apple. Rice itself was regarded with deep misgiving by my parents' generation, who deemed it uniquely difficult to cook, and best served in very small portions. Pizza was something you might come across in the few vaguely authentic Italian restaurants to be found in those days when eating out was, for most, a rare event. I didn't discover what real pizza was until my first visit to Italy, when I was 19. 
  Was anything in the food line better then? I suppose we ate more fresh produce and much less in the way of processed food – and every high street had a fishmonger, so fresh fish could be easily had – but the range of choice everywhere was seriously restricted. Today's supermarket shelves offer a range of possibilities beyond the wildest dreams of my younger days – a veritable cornucopia. This abundance and range graphically demonstrate the fact that (mostly) free markets work to the huge benefit of consumers. Centrally controlled markets, on the other hand, create scarcity and restrict choice. Imagine what those supermarkets would be like if we'd nationalised food – we'd be shuffling along in an endless queue in the hope of getting the last sawdust sausage and a handful of turnip tops...
  By the way, aubergines mysteriously reappeared today. 


  1. Ah, I fondly remember the parmesan tubs! I've noticed the vegan version commonly comes in that form - haven't been tempted to try it...

  2. I'm not surprised! Vegan vomit, hmmm...

  3. Noticed just now in Alexander Theroux's The Secondary Colors:

    "Aubergine is French slang for the nose of a full-blown drunk."

  4. Curry chez Bradbury in the 1970s came courtesy of Vesta, and thrillingly packaged it was too. Vesta was produced by Batchelors, the go-to provider of part-time employment for the indolent youth of Sheffield. How I remember those long shifts in the snipping sheds; but that is a story for another time.

    1. Ah yes I remember Vesta's 'beef curry' – and, even better, their 'paella', the height of culinary sophistication... Amazingly, both are still available, tho I don't think I'll be revisiting them any time soon.