CRAIG BROWN: Waiter, there’s a prawn in my grapefruit!
To tie in with the TV drama Nolly, which starts tonight, I have been leafing through my messy old copy of The Crossroads Cookbook, first published in 1977.
‘Now, at last . . . you can try out the various special recipes, acquire some professional tips from the Motel chefs, and perhaps even pick up some new scraps of gossip from the kitchen staff at the same time!’ reads the chirpy introduction.
Nothing dates quite as fast as an old recipe. Food is as much subject to fashion as clothes and music. Not long ago, kiwi fruit was all the rage in fashionable restaurants and magazine recipes. But, nowadays, serving kiwi fruit would be like playing Ricky Martin or Mel and Kim.
One of the first recipes in The Crossroads Cookbook is Grapefruit with Prawns. ‘Here’s something really unusual,’ reads the chatty intro. ‘You might not think these two strong flavours would go well together, but they do.’
Grapefruit was obviously considered rather racy and exotic back then, like quinoa is now.
The famous Crossroads Motel which is used for the TV series
The Crossroads Cookbook also recommends Grilled Grapefruit. ‘Yes, it does sound a bit odd, doesn’t it?’ says the intro. ‘But do try it; it really is a new taste sensation.’ If so, it is a taste that has since died.
Would anyone serve Grapefruit with Prawns today? Now, it sounds revolting, but, back then, — accompanied by ‘1 small carton of soured cream’ — it was the height of glamour.
Another pudding on offer, equally queasy-making, is Mandarin Flan, its ingredients being ‘ready-made flan-base, half a packet of orange jelly, a small tin of mandarin oranges and whipped cream for decoration’.
A recipe for Paella is presented with a gossipy introduction suggesting what an outlandish dish it must have been in the 1970s.
‘It was probably the very first day that Carlos Rafael turned up for work as chef that he turned to Meg [Mortimer, played by Noele ‘Nolly’ Gordon] and enquired why “paella” wasn’t on the menu . . . Meg argued for a while that Midlands diners didn’t expect to find such an unusual dish on the bill-of-fare — but finally Carlos talked her to a standstill, and she gave in.’
Some of the other dishes in The Crossroads Cookbook would not squeeze past the censor in our more enlightened times.
A recipe for ‘Romany Rabbit’ comes with the explanation that ‘“Romany” — meaning gypsy —might imply that the rabbit used in this recipe had disappeared one dark night into a poacher’s pocket, but since the recipe came to Crossroads by way of old Sam Carne, the ex-lock-keeper nightwatchman, and as honest as the day is long, we hesitate to cast any slur on Carney’s reputation!’
Noele Gordon as Meg Richardson in Crossroads, a 1960s ITV soap opera, which is the subject of a new TV drama called Nolly
Ahem. Other off-putting dishes include Corned Beefburgers, Banana Meringue and Apple Butterscotch Pie. A recipe called Green Figs In Pernod comes with a special commentary from Meg’s friend Tish.
‘Every time I’ve nipped over the Channel for a quick holiday in France, I’ve brought back a bottle of Pernod, because it’s much cheaper out there — there’s generally one bottle at the back of the shelf, gathering dust, and this is a gorgeous way of using it up. Not only that, my friends get frightfully impressed by this very glamorous — and easy — recipe!’
As it turns out, the recipe is very simple: tinned figs with a mug of Pernod sloshed over them.
The Crossroads Cookbook ends with a chapter of ‘handy tips’ called ‘The Professional Touch — by Meg’.
‘If a meal looks immediately attractive, the battle is practically won before you begin,’ advises Meg. ‘Set those gastric juices to work the moment your guests see the dishes laid out on the table, and you can sit back and wait for the compliments to start rolling in!’
Her top tips, so stylish and up-to-the-minute 50 years ago, now appear better suited to an excavation by Time Team: ‘Aim at covering the guest’s plate evenly, with no blank spaces between the items of food.’
‘Nightlights, set in a shallow dish of water, with flower-heads (dahlias or chrysanthemums perhaps) floating on the water around them, can look very effective.’
‘For the very special celebration, a fingerbowl by the side of each lady’s plate, with one rose floating in it, will look quite charming.’
And chocolates wrapped in tinfoil will ‘help to add the final touch of glamour’.
As L.P. Hartley once observed, ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’
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