This is us on Christmas Day.   We are laughing because in recognition of  Sarah’s effort in making gravy, and in us being willing to adopt new family traditions in this our first Christmas since our marriage with us not in charge of proceedings (which was very pleasant indeed!) – I am accepting a small amount of gravy.    As a general rule, I never take gravy – I don’t really know why.     For once I have no long remembered quarrel  with anybody about it.

My father was very eccentric about his food (and indeed about everything) and decided in our childhood that he would become vegetarian.   This meant of course that we would ALL be vegetarian.    I had a pragmatic attitude to this.   (I had eaten the forbidden meat before his edict, and I remembered that I liked it.)    My family was vegetarian and I quite liked vegetarian food but I was never vegetarian.    My father of course was ever changeable, and he ‘shifted his position’ for things he liked and for occasions when he pleased.

When I began to be taken out to eat (in the early 70s) vegetarian options were unappetising and limited, and I cheerfully abandoned the non-meat-eating position.   When I was married, there was no question of our being vegetarian, John being an unapologetic carnivore.

But as a result of this I had only very limited experience of cooking meat.    So I took my Cordon Blue French cook book (translated into English!) and set about learning.   As a result for this aspect of cooking, my habits are not at all in the British tradition.

When I cook a roast – let us say lamb, which is our favourite – I place the joint in a large oval lidded tin (bought in Dieppe) on an ample bed of rosemary.   I spike it with garlic.   Then I pour over it wine, or wine and water depending on supplies, and I put it in the oven at the highest possible heat for half to one hour.   Then I turn it down to tiny peep, and leave it for at least several hours, or all day.   Half an hour from serving, I turn  the oven up to cook the roast potatoes which I have previously parboiled.   This appears to produce, for all its unscientific vagueness, a moist delicious joint which I serve with a sauce of recurrent jelly, mint and orange.

I serve chicken with a lemon inside the carcase, and beef rare-ish with mustard or horseradish sauce.   I can’t make and don’t eat Yorkshire Puddings unless absolutely unavoidable, and I have never made gravy.

When we were first married we lived in the Scottish mining down of Bo’ness.   Though we were absolutely not one of their own, they were tolerant of us and I remember the town with some affection.    The butcher however was a no-nonsense fellow.    I would consult my French cookery book and trip down to his shop where he  regarded me with ill-concealed suspicion.   I would smile and prettily ask him for  whatever cut the recipe had recommended.   The butcher would turn wearily to his assistant.   “Och, Archie,” he would  say.    “The lassie wants –   “ (whatever I had asked for, repeating my words in mincing anglified tones.     “What do we have that the English cry —.?”)   (I never did decide whether he was being deliberately insulting in this, or whether he genuinely thought  that since I didn’t speak in the local patois and couldn’t call a cut of beef by its proper name, therefore I must be foreign.)      Archie however was younger and better natured.   He would question me as to what the recipe instructed, and they always produced a cut of meat that performed well enough in the eating.   But of course they muttered to themselves in their dialect, so I had no better an idea of what to call the cut next time.   At times I thought it was definitely easier to be a vegetarian!

Anyway, here’s to tasting new things and being open to new experiences.     My meat cooking may not be in the British tradition, but there’s nothing  wrong with our – I could say our cuisine, but I’ll be like the butcher, and reject the fancy French word and  say, nothing wrong with British food.    And no-one would want to stand with Jacques Chirac after all, (and lose the Olympics in the process.)