Freud's feast of delight for foodies


Clement Freud and his dog, Henry

Clement Freud and his dog, Henry

A friend of mine received an email from the gnomic broadcaster, chef, brother of artist Lucian and Just A Minute stalwart Sir Clement Freud a few months before the latter died.

It was sent at 3.40am. Sir Clement wanted to propose a joint feast: he would provide the food, my friend was to supply the wine. A menu of absurd detail, which ran to an improbable number of courses featuring such forgotten ingredients as cherry heering (a Danish liqueur), followed.

He was high-handed about the identity of the other guests, as well. He was considering 'Gill' (the critic AA, presumably) or [chef Simon] Hopkinson. He went so far as to add the names of those with whom he would not be prepared to break bread. And if it all went wrong, he said, they could always pack the ingredients into a knapsack and eat them in a Travelodge.

I was sorry that picnic never happened because my friend had promised that I would be his guest (though, to this day, a part of me still wonders whether in fact it did take place, i was vetoed and my friend has been saving my feelings ever since).

But the email seemed to capture in miniature the mood and range of this collection of essays on food and eating. Sir Clement is almost infinitely particular and then suddenly rashly forgiving. He rails against the 'sheer nastiness of the products of microwave ovens', though allows that you can use these machines to make a good jacket potato as long as you serve it with Maldon salt and Normandy butter.

He claims that as his book is aimed at those who know what to do in a kitchen situation, there must be latitude for the cook to follow their instinct and good sense, then issues directives with the bossy force of Elizabeth David crossed with an Army general.

He is intellectually forceful, too - rightly outraged by the illogical British attitude towards animals - 'Keep a cat in a cage too small and the neighbours come round with an inspector of the RSPCA. Keep a hundred turkeys in a pen in which there is barely room to move and the inspector will come round and order one for his Christmas lunch.'

This book was first published in 1978 and the pieces in it were written across a couple of decades, which accounts for the distinctly period feel of the food: the crepes suzettes; the coley he says is 'insipid when poached' but good fried, although it 'needs rather more vinegar than other fish'; and 'cocktail canapes' made on small pieces of bread that might be piled with salmon, cream cheese with black olives or eggs and watercress but MUST be fried for 15 seconds on each side so they remain crispy but never stale.

Judging by the 1960s and 1970s flavour to the menu he suggested to my friend, though, these flavours were remodelled and many of them never left his kitchen. The writing itself, however, remains as fresh as ever.

Vigorous and funny, opinionated and yet also pleasingly lazy, in a strictly logical way - 'if you can produce a dish in 20 minutes which is 80 per cent as good as something that takes an hour and a half then the 20-minute way is to be recommended' - it remains a welcome addition not just to a shelf of cookery manuals, but also to the pile of reading on your bedside table.

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