Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Master-race Chef: Conservative Cuisine

As you can probably imagine, I couldn't resist buying The True Blue Cookery Book when I heard of its existence last week. Inflation may have been rampant in 1977 and since, but it doesn't apply to this fascinating tome, which cost me 66p.

I've read The Raw and the Cooked, so I was dying to know what a Tory would and wouldn't eat. I wanted an insight into the gourmandising lives of the 1970s élite, especially those in Opposition, waiting for Labour's 'beer and sandwiches' regime to be thrown out of Downing Street.

But there's so much more than food to this little volume, published by the Ruislip-Northwood Conservative Association (and compiled, judging by the number of her own contributions, by 'Mrs. John Wilkinson', wife of the prospective candidate for that constituency). Check out that byline: 'Conservative Members of Parliament and their wives'.

That's right: Conservative MPs were all men. There are a few female MPs included, but they're clearly here on sufferance. Honorary men, let's say! In fact, very few MPs contribute: it's mostly wives. Wives who don't even have names beyond the patriarchal system:

There's also a weird class system going on: if you're a mere 'wife', you're simply the appendage of your MP husband. But if you have a title, suddenly you exist, albeit not as far as getting your own name in print. Here's 'Dr Morris, wife of Mr Michael Morris', while a couple of pictures down, we meet 'Lady Bryan'.

My hunch was that Tories would eat very, very bland food with a nationalist English slant. Let's find out!

Rock, and indeed, roll. Mrs Tim Renton isn't trying very hard.

And yet there are signs that the Conservatives' hatred of Europe has either not yet developed or not reached their stomachs: the Tories are very keen on French and other European 'fine dining', although if you look closely, you can see that the Gastro revolution hasn't yet caught on: Busecchino Di Uova turns out to be a can of tomatoes, peas and omelettes. 

Nicholas Ridley clearly lived better than most and wasn't worried about the Little Englanders, weighing in with a gloriously unhealthy concoction of scollops with wine, butter, cream and eggs. He was more open to some foreigners than others: he tried to negotiate the return of the Malvinas / Falkland Islands with the Argentine military dictatorship in 1980, supposedly because they didn't produce any wine. You wouldn't have caught him tucking into a plate of Bratwurst and a stein of lager however: he described the European Community (EU now) as a German plot to take over Europe and said that ceding any sovereignty to Brussels was like giving it to Adolf Hitler. (No Brussels Sprouts feature in this book either).

That's not the worst of them. How about this 'cold curried consommé'? It's a curious mix – a meal for people posh enough for starter courses, yet every ingredient is processed: canned soup, Philadelphia cheese and curry powder. Nigella would be horrified. Though at least these Tories are eating what their industrialist friends were serving us, and this was in the days when even the political élite were only lots richer than us, rather than stratospherically richer.

Here's another excitingly-titled dish, 'Haddock Flamenco', which turns out to be haddock with one quarter of a teaspoon of Tabasco for Spanish flavour. 

I also don't find much that's Esoteric in these Esoteric Kippers: frozen kippers with some citrus fruits and soured cream. No wonder the Tories bayed from the back benches like beached seals: they had terrible indigestion.

At least Mrs David Price made a snobbish effort: her Estouffade de Bouef Valencienne sounds quite glamorous. It's actually a rather tasty-sounding Spanish beef stew. 

Certainly better than Mrs Tim Renton's patronising advice to you supermarket-dependent paupers:
I have discovered if you put those thin-shelled supermarket eggs into a bowl of warm water for a couple of minutes before putting them in boiling water, they very rarely explode all over the pan.
Thanks, Mrs Tim Renton!

Mrs. Frederick Silvester's tastes are pretty representative of her party's. They like their food like their social circles: bland and overwhelmingly white. I was hoping for Mrs Enoch Powell's Jamaican Jerk Chicken, but no such luck. Let's go straight to the top: what did Mrs T like to cook?

You certainly can't get whiter and blander than 'white fish', grated cheese, milk, and margarine (ugh). She doesn't say where the fish should come from: surely not Iceland, in the era of the Cod War (yes, this was a real thing).

Of course, there are always the creeps and the crawlers. Most notorious of these was Norman St. John Stevas, Thatcher's most reliable kiss-arse. And here is on predictable form:

Sole à la Margaret Thatcher? Ugh. Perhaps he got the idea from mishearing whenever he approached: 'Ah, sole', he thought she was saying. 
But Norman's got a wicked sense of humour. Can you imagine how hurt former Prime Minister Harold Wilson was when he saw the recipe for Lettuce au Harold Wilson?

I tell you, this is not just culinary gold: it's comedy gold. Actually, I have no idea what he was trying to get at. Wet lettuce = Wilson, perhaps?
What of the other weirdos on the Tory bench? Well, crusty former PM and confirmed bachelor Edward Heath rather pompously provided a recipe by his housekeeper. As one would assume, it's puffed-up yet unmemorable. 

 So there we have it. The foods that sustained the Conservative Party on the Long March to Victory (for them) and utter, utter defeat for the rest of us. I look forward to the New Labour recipe book (tongue à la plutocrat, Mandelson's Pea Guacamole and lots of polenta, Tom Watson's Plotters' Curry and for Gordon, cold salted porridge), then the Cameron Cookbook: lies, Eton Mess.


Anonymous said...

What, you mean there was once a Tory MP for Manchester Withington? Unimaginable nowadays.

nigel foster said...

I always imagined the Tory's saving grace was an appreciation of good food and wine. Their sex lives don't bear examination. These recipes have destroyed that naive perception. What is the point of power if you can't use it to live well? Even by the standards of the time, this is deplorable food. Less Evelyn Waugh or Simon Raven, more Sunday night in Croydon.

Nah nomad said...

Oh please, don't go publishing phrases like "Margaret thatcher's fish pie" without warning us? I think in pictures. Now I have the sad.

Terry said...

Apparently Harold Wilson liked lettuce sandwiches

notreyf said...

Tories don't hate Europe, they hate the EU.