starting to cook again, after a week off in Canberra, where I saw the Versailles exhibition at the National Gallery – less exciting than I had hoped. It made sense largely because I had been to Versailles and read a bit about it, but there was a wonderful painting showing Louis XVI with a map of the world, briefing La Perouse, who must have been on his way to Australia. The genre that’s gone from painting (because there is no longer a need) is painting as record of events. We now have news bulletins on television, and photographs. But there were paintings, and tapestries to mark meetings and gatherings on importance, and quite a few of them are in the exhibition.
The end of 2016 involved a great deal of cooking, for dinners on Christmas Eve, which was also the first night of Chanukah, and New Year’s Eve, with a large lunch in between. Now I’m preparing for a big Sunday lunch to mark a friend’s birthday. We’ve known each other for more than 30 years, and every so often I give a party for her. There will be hummus and stuffed vine leaves as things to nibble beforehand, and probably some tiropites (triangular Greek cheese-filled pastries) as well. I’m roasting a big piece of beef that will be served cool, and two chickens that will be seasoned with lots of herbs and lemon, so they eat well cold. We’ll have mustard and pickled green tomatoes that I made a month ago. Salads will include roast beetroot (gold and red) with a seville orange dressing and some poached beetroot, and a salad I make that brings together roast red onions, roast red peppers, roast tomatoes, and corn with lime and lemon juice, spring onion and olive oil. Perhaps a potato salad, cooked on the morning, with lots of fresh herbs. Big cheeses, and there are some panettone for dessert, with ripe peaches.
I’m currently working on cakes, specifically, Twelfth Night cake, which has just about disappeared from English cooking. The friend for whom I am making the party had a grandmother who was a barmaid at the Drury Lane theatre in London, who gave my friend a length of red ribbon when she a little girl. The ribbon, she told her, was tied around the cake that was always served on Twelfth Night at the theatre. And that, I discovered, was because an actor called Robert Baddeley (died in 1794) left money in his will so that the interest would provide cakes and ale for the actors in the theatre. It was, I think, a specific reference to a line in Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night: “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” (Meaning: just because you’re so proper, do you think no one else should have fun?)
The cake belongs to an old tradition, and has a close relation, cake-wise, with the cake traditionally served at Epiphany, on January 6, which is the day after Twelfth Night. But the days get confusing, not the least because the whole calendar was changed when Pope Gregory introduced our present western calendar (called the Gregorian) in 1582.
The cake was part of festivities that included some much older traditions and involved a fair amount of horsing about. It all disappeared, pretty much, because Queen Victoria declared all the revelry to be “un-Christian”. There are too many culinary ironies, so that one is very special.
On a simpler note, I finally had dinner at The Copper Pot in Seddon, http://www.copperpotseddon.com where Ashley Davis is cooking a clever pan-European menu in a restaurant of simple clean lines and big kitchen. Among the dishes we ate was snapper with crushed potatoes (browned), samphire and caper butter, and slow-cooked lamb neck. Excellent waiters, interesting wine list, good beers. Highly recommended.