- Food & Drink
I have a lot of cookbooks. A lot. And my favourite kind are the ones published in the 1960s and 70s, with a mahogany sideboard, crystal decanter of red wine and horn of plenty spilling grapes everywhere on the cover. They are the absolute best.
The recipes in those books are a glorious mix of stiff, old-fashioned French opulence and a bouncing, labradorish enthusiasm for new techniques and exotic ingredients, that almost always means putting fruit in your dinner. Raisins in the curry, cherry pie filling in the chicken casserole, bananas as a garnish: it’s so colourful and cheerful. And, speaking as someone who has made a chicken chasseur with extra sultanas, barking mad.
But let’s be honest, in 40 years time people like me will be flicking through cookbooks from the 2000s and rocking with laughter at all the bacon. What’s fashionable and delicious now will one day be seen as the eccentric experimentation of a society that has lost control of its tastebuds. And it’s interesting to travel back in time over dinner. To experience prestige from another period (cookbooks in the UK are all about prestige) and wonder how much of what you eat is because you like it or because you’ve heard that it’s likeable.
I’ve been trying out old cookbooks on my long-suffering friends. A meal made from Delia’s Summer Collection proved that you really can’t go wrong with a Delia, while the Marguerite Patten meal was more of a trial. Particularly the salmon mould, made with tinned salmon, mayonnaise, white sauce and gelatine. I used too much gelatine (apparently old-timey gelatine is not as strong as our rigid modern stuff) and the lobster mould produced a centrepiece that was not suitable for family viewing.
But the Marguerite Patten dinner was one of the best meals I ever hosted, even if I did have to hand round jars of pickled onions, gherkins and maraschino cherries because the garnishes were the only bits of the meal people would eat. So Marie Curie’s new fund raising campaign based around hosting a #retrodinner has a lot of appeal for me. They are asking people to hold nostalgic dinners in November to raise money for the charity.
On Monday I went to their own retro dinner at The Disappearing Dining Club in Brick Lane, where we ate prawn cocktails, French onion soup, Waldorf salad, duck a l’orange and cheesecake, all served with Riesling and cocktails with umbrellas and cherries. So they cheated a bit by not slavishly adhering to the original recipes and, instead, making the food nice. Apparently people like that in a meal.
Of course, if you host a retro dinner in aid of Marie Curie, you could go either way. Dig through your cookbooks (or the internet) to find staggering recipes from the past that you can spring on your unwary guests. Or make a nice version of your favourite childhood meal. I’m tempted to make chicken Kiev and pomme noisettes, but I don’t know if my friends really expect to eat nice food when they come to my house. They might be disappointed,
If you’d like to host a retro dinner for Marie Curie this November, then click here to get the fundraising pack or text DINNER to 78866. You can read more about Marie Curie itself here. They’re a charity who provide care for 40,000 terminally ill people every year, and funds raised through the campaign will help pay for nurses and hospices. All the more reason to bake a Black Forest gateaux this November.