Magazine article The Spectator

The Honest Cabbage

Magazine article The Spectator

The Honest Cabbage

Article excerpt

THE STRATHARDLE Highland Gathering was in full swing. Carrot-topped children spun round on the stage, their hair neatly plaited, their socks frilly white, executing perfect dances of the sword. The SNP MP was judging tossing the caber, and mini-skirted, bare-legged adolescents queued up for curry and chips. My goldfish cost me L8 in failed attempts at throwing ping-pong balls into coffee jars and the labrador that won best-groomed dog was promptly sick on a toffee apple in the bouncy castle. But it couldn't mar a perfect, sunny day.

The highlight was the home industries tent, where women had been beavering away for months to compete for the trophy of most competent housewife. In one corner were the flower arrangements: best dried flowers, best wedding cake adornment and best single stem in a candleholder. Then there was the needlework section: a square of orange fluff won first prize for knit and purl, and a Barbie in a cream poncho won most impractical dolly's outfit.

But the food tables were the real treat. There were rosettes for Scotch eggs, potato salad, sherry trifle, small jars of meat paste, raspberry cordial, Scotch pancakes, Dundee cake, suet pudding, jam tarts, cock-a-leekie soup, vegetarian quiche, cauliflower cheese and brandy snaps. Entries had two small bites taken out of each side. This year there had been a new addition: kebabs. They sat neatly in a row, made of pork, tomato halves and green peppers. Entries were garnished with parsley or hundreds and thousands and placed on simple white china. The pastry was thick and crispy, the cakes stuffed with currants and the Scotch pancakes looked plump and content. Everything was of a perfect beigeness.

No diver-picked scallops with griddled foie gras, or aged zamorano manchego with membrillo. No roast trelough duck breast with wok-fried sugar snaps or deep-fried tuna nori rolls with pickled daikon. It was heaven. Not a trace of new-English ponciness - horseradish remoulades or jellied rabbit with prunes - not a hint of Pacific Rim kangaroo, Japanese wasabi flying fish roe, pot-bellied Vietnamese or boiled egg Ethiopian. It was old Scottish - what you read was what you got, no surprises - just lots of white flour, white sugar and powdered eggs to accompany the occasional well-boiled vegetable, all conspiring to create a comforting, untampered blandness.

The only problem was you weren't allowed to eat the samples. I hadn't cracked a brandy snap for years. But the phalanx of sturdy women guarding the door in their plastic Snoopy aprons were beady-eyed. I envied their husbands who could sit down to these award-winning creations every night without being surrounded by 14,000 other Conran eaters (that's the number of people our Terry's now entertaining for dinner). They knew they were eating exactly the same food as their grandfathers, not some Dakotan garage mechanic's lunch or Korean fisherman's breakfast.

Returning to London was depressing. What will the capital do when it tires of shaved parmesan or can't be bothered to trifle with a starter of lemon rice pudding with a tomato sorbet and basil sauce? Pubs don't sell pickled eggs and quiche anymore, our taste buds recoil at diced Russian salads and cheese slices. Shepherd's pie has to be called 'parmentier', batter pudding, 'clafoutis' and baked Alaska has become `omelette norvegienne'. We can't even eat mashed potato without adding cream, black pepper or spring onions. …

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