On the eve of The Devizes Food Festival announcing their schedule, I contemplate what attributes taste, be it class, culture or trends…..
You know, we chat and cover a lot of musical genres here, some are picky about what they like, but I think food is even more subjective. After all these years, for example, I just discovered the better half favours apricot jam tarts in an assortment box. That’s just weird, everyone knows the blackcurrant ones are the best and raspberry a close second.
More Facebook group members have fallen out over the great pineapple on pizza debate than Brexit. Forget fights over Oasis or Blur when you throw in a tin of Quality Street and ask them to arrange from best to worst. The other day, right, I took a shark-sized bite from a doughnut only to discover to my absolute horror, some compete psychopath had put custard in rather than jam. What kind of sicko even contemplates that?
While many children will only eat a thing if it’s endorsed by Spongebob or their favourite superhero, (I appreciate this; love Peppa Pig, especially lying on a bread bed smothered in ketchup,) the affluent will consume any old entrails provided the name of it has been swanked up. Give it a Mediterranean namesake and they’ll pay triple the price-tag. I’m not buying it; crème Anglaise? Custard, mate. Jus, don’t give me jus, it’s watery gravy; stick another oxo cube in it for crying out loud. Fromage et jambon panini, yeah right, it’s a cheese and ham toastie, pal.
Whether it’s pondering if peas should have a home in a pasty, or if gherkins belong in a Big Mac, what divides us all is our taste buds. They don’t rely on gender, race or religion, they just randomly respond to some things better than others, or do they? I mean, tastes can attribute to class; The Queen chomps on swans by the dozen, but I only get penguin biscuits. You can tell my working-class background by the stench of Iceland’s hotdog pizza on my breath. Yet when I spotted in their fridges a chicken tikka lasagne, even I considered it a trailer-trash step too far.
Tastes also fluctuate depending on trends. Have you noticed, no one slices pork now? It’s got to be “pulled.” Pulled pork meant something entirely different when I was a teenager! My gran would slap us if she saw us buy a premade sandwich, yet delis sell them by the truckload. They sell grated cheese in bags, we buy it; have cheese grater, left abandoned, crying in the cupboard.
It also attributes to culture, yet exploited by soundbites like delicacy or gourmet. What may be considered an exotic delicacy here, is actually staple diet elsewhere, because it’s cheap and in abundance. Take maple syrup, so pricey for a drizzle, yet lucky Canadian’s have it running from a third tap!
Rice, couscous and noodles are popular in Asia because they are obtainable and economical, treated like potato and bread here. Yet we lap these things up. There’s posh pubs in East London who sell tourists plates of pie with eel liquor as if it’s a local delicacy, a word usually meaning rare, luxurious food, sophisticated. EastEnders ate ‘pie n mash’ because of poverty, eels were leftovers at the port, just as lobsters were too in North America until the mid-19th century.
By Dickens, how far are you willing to take it, gruel? Japanese Fugu, or bird’s nest stew? Flamingo tongue, a prized dish in ancient Rome. Escamoles in Mexico, that’s ant’s larvae to you and me. Half a million dogs are slaughtered annually for meat in the Philippines; teatime kids! I know we must convert to vegan, but think “bacon” and it’s an ecological step too far for me. I can and will eat vegetarian food, so long as there’s a chicken on the side.
If it’s not the ingredients it the presentation, honestly, I don’t care if it’s slopped on a plate like a car crash, dribbling over the edges, provided it tastes nice. I don’t need to be waiting an extra ten minutes for you to “plate-up,” carefully aligning each faultlessly equilateral chip atop of my cod, delicately garnished with a smudged splash of ketchup and pea puree. That’s if it’s served on a plate at all. Masterchef, right, seems the strength of the “dish” is based upon purposely not being on a dish at all. What’s wrong with a plate? Spaghetti Carbonara served in an old go-kart tyre, beef wellington in an actual welly. Duck-a-l’orange in a paddling pool, minted lamb kebabs on a pavement slab, that kind of thing; nobody order the coq-a-vin.
If I contemplate it’s all a bit much, I digest the Devizes Food Festival have launched this year’s events on a new website, by a new committee. 28th September to 6th October, sets the dates, time enough for you get over my rant about habits in the Philippines. They’ve adopted the pineapple as their logo, but why, you may ask. Interestingly, you can grow pineapples in the UK with use of a polytunnel; who knew and why didn’t they tell me? Because I’d go scrumping no doubt; blinkin’ love pineapple, me.
Partly because the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality and friendship, the connection is Adam Taylor’s ‘A Gardener near Devizes.’ Published in 1769, there’s a treatise on how to grow a pineapple. No polytunnel needed to heat it, he used a horse manure pit, probably for the first time too. This pineapple hothouse meant smaller estates could afford to serve pineapple, but did Adam order it as a topping from Dominoes, I ask you?!
For the duration of the festival you can pick up a Pineapple Trail Sheet (for a small contribution) from Devizes Books or Wiltshire Museum during the Festival, and hunt for Princess Pineapple, and her eleven friends, peeking out from shop windows throughout Devizes. The Museum will also hold a display on the Pineapple, both in the treatise, and local architecture; yeah, you seen it too, just can’t think where!
The Devizes Food Festival has a varied range of events. Devizes Mayor Judy Rose will be officially opening the Festival at the Corn Exchange for a FREE World Food Lunch on Sunday 29th September from 12.30. There you can explore the globe on a plate. With a handful of 50p vouchers to exchange, local residents with far flung roots invite you to sample a family favourite from their homeland, from the cuisines of Poland, New Zealand, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Fiji, the USA, Scotland, France and plenty more nations of the world. I asked if I could rustle up my Essex-stylee beans on toast speciality without response; what? It’s got Maldon sea salt on it.
Many other events seem to be about eating in strange places; Town Hall lock-up, Kennet Furniture Refurbiz, the bell tower at St Mary’s and even Erlestoke prison; porridge anyone? There are the usual food quiz and Come Dine With Us events, visits to Wadworth, a’Becketts Vineyard in Littleton Panell, East Farm at Winterbourne Monkton and a pumpkin prowl at VP Collins, Bromham. Oh, and it’s pizza time at Vaughan’s Cookery School. Peter, please divulge your opinion on pineapple on pizza.
Check the website for details, of course the grandest moment in the Festival is the marvellous market, on the 28th September at the Market Place. I had a feast there last year, enough me to stop fussing about apricot jam tarts, custard doughnuts, Escamoles and why pork has to be pulled rather than sliced these days. Guess I’m obsolete, pass the prawn cocktail and switch on the teasmade.
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