Jo's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘food and drink

Austerity Era Dining

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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Another long weekend in London, another little trip to Persephone Books. This time I returned home with a selection of cookery-themed books from the 1930s and 40s. I say ‘cookery-themed’  because they are a little more than just recipe books. Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll, for example, is full of entertaining and slightly satirical commentary.

For example:

Your spinster aunt will certainly accuse you of undue extravagance after she has partaken freely of your [Gigot de Six Heures].

Complaints of the difficulties one can have when one’s cook, “whose mothers so often specialize in sudden and disastrous illnesses” during the holiday season, leave and one is faced with an unexpected emergency. i.e. having to cook!

The recipes themselves are curious indeed, looking at them with a 21st century eye.  Gelee Creme de Menthe begins

Make a quart of good lemon jelly in the approved way, preferably with calves’ feet…

or shopping lists for the butcher that read

half a pound calf’s liver, half a pound veal cutlet, 1 sweetbread, 2 kidneys and a set of brains

So one book is rather liberally peppered with French recipe names – Potage a la Ecossaise? – well that’ll be Scotch Broth then – giving it a sense of belonging to the more privileged classes.

The other book is more prosaic. A wartime ‘make do and mend’ handbook for cheap and cheery, easy to cook, food. Although still with curiously named dishes like Jugged Hare or Junket and Cream. 

So this is my latest plan. Age of Austerity Dinner Parties. I will head down to Findlay’s in Portobello with my shopping list of liver, calves’ feet, kidneys and brains, guests should all come in frippery-free, 1940s style clothing, preferably with some homemade stout or equivalent – and we can all explore together, the joys of 101 things to put in aspic.

Followed by tinned peaches and a milk pudding.

p.s. photo was taken in Shakespeare and Co, Paris not Persephone Books, London


Aghtamar Lake Van Monastery in Exile

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I knew I was going to love this place way before I’d even stepped through the door.

It’s not quite a restaurant and is rarely open, it’s quite difficult to find and even more difficult to make a booking. You are heavily vetted by the owner on the telephone before you are allowed to reserve a table, required to arrive at exactly the specified time, to an unmarked, unlit building and who tells you, when you ask for directions, that if you’re not clever enough to find his place then perhaps you’re not the sort of guests he’d want after all.

Because guests you are indeed. In the home of a curious and fascinating and, as it turns out,  perfectly hospitable Armenian. There’s no heating, barely any lighting but there is a never-ending banquet of homely and hearty Armenian food delivered to your table, a limited but sufficient supply of wine and the invitation to join in some very interesting Armenian dancing – sort like the Hokey Cokey mixed with some high kicking and free-style breakdancing.

For a highly unusual and very memorable eating experience, Aghtamar Lake Van Monastery in Exile will be hard to beat.

If you can find it.