Ingredients of fame
What we eat reveals as much as how we dress. So what do John Major's gingerbread men tell us? The celebrity cookbook is a fascinating study, says Michael Bateman
Sunday 10 September 1995
Such comparisons are invited in a new celebrity cookbook, Recipes for Peace, whose royalties will go towards a children's home outside Belfast. It's a book that offers a feast of famous figures whose offerings tend to evoke a smile rather than the warm gratitude one ought to feel for such selfless efforts.
The odorous comparisons? The Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, contributes his wife's excitingly named Chicken Toscana. Alas, Eileen Carey's offering promises more than it gives and compares unfavourably with Des-mond Tutu's highly spiced Chicken Tutu. Then there's the Duchesses of York and Kent: York an airy souffle, Kent a solid crumble. What can we read into this? The Bushes are a barbecue sauce. The Majors are gingerbread men.
The celebrity guessing game is irresistible. For example, can you match these dishes - Turkey Boobs (breasts), Cape Cod Chowder, Champ (Irish leek and potato dish), Anglesey Eggs, Cumberland Sauce, Apple and Cinnamon Slices, Gravlax - with the following notables? Lord Archer, Lord Whitelaw, Vera Lynn, Jeremy Irons, Glenys Kinnock, Gro Harlem Brundtland (Prime Minister of Norway), and Senator Edward Kennedy.
Answers: Lord Archer is the spicy slice; Lord Whitelaw lives in Cumberland (sauce); Vera Lynn is the boobs; Jeremy Irons is the champ (Irish great- grandmother); Mrs Kinnock is Anglesey eggs (Wales), Norway's PM is gravlax (what else?) and Edward Kennedy is Cape Cod.
The celebrity cookbook is a phenomenon of our times. Tempted by a feelgood factor, since this is for a good cause, the powerful and the famous are suddenly prepared to expose themselves to scrutiny. For isn't it true that what you eat reveals almost as much about you as the way you dress? Of course, recipes aren't submitted in innocence, certainly not by politicians. The late Harold Wilson was a famous contributor to such books, able to show what a simple man he was by submitting, for example, a recipe for green salad. In the same way he was often pictured supping beer and puffing an honest pipe. Away from photographers he would return to his preferred whisky and cigars.
So what do the politicians offer in Recipes for Peace? Good old British fare. Sir Edward Heath's Game Pie. Betty Boothroyd's Stewed Oxtail. Lord Parkinson's Lancashire Hotpot. And, er, Paddy Ashdown's Tuna Fish Bake.
There are always the very odd ones out, witness Tony Benn. Is his entry to be read as a political statement or an arch joke? Here it is in toto: "The Cup That Cheers. Take one pint of pure water and boil it in a kettle with North Sea Gas. Add one tea bag from the Commonwealth and sugar from the Third World and stir until the tea assumes a satisfying deep brown colour. Remove the tea bag and take every hour, or more often if necessary." (Mr Benn evidently hasn't noticed that more people drink instant coffee than tea today: take some ground, roasted coffee beans grown by descendants of the slave trade, pour on boiling water provided by the overpaid chairmen of the privatised water industry...)
Such books are full of curiosities. In the veggie section who'd have imagined such strange bedfellows as the Dalai Lama (who contributes Mo Mos, steamed dumplings stuffed with veg), Lord Attenborough (nut roast), Ken Living-stone (veggie burgers) and the more appealing Joanna Lumley (cheese and lentil gratin.)
Celebrity cookbooks are not so much books for cooks as books for gossip columnists. Indeed, how many of the contributors actually cook? Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein gives us baked trout, potatoes and carrots. It seems you'll need half a roll of aluminium foil to wrap the four fish into parcels, not to mention the foil for wrapping a pound of potatoes and half a pound of carrots. Mr McGuinness thoughtfully adds that the vegetables may take longer than the fish. They may indeed.
And what are we to make of Sir John Harvey Jones's kebab recipe (this is the man who goes around advising everyone how to run their business)? Sir John tells us to marinate our lamb in a pint of sour milk. Can that be right? Where does he get sour milk? Doesn't he have a fridge? Do kebabs taste better this way, or will they taste of sour milk, which is horrible?
The celebrity cookbook may tell us more about social history than gastronomy. The genre seems to have begun in 1973 with Eat Like A Lord; 85 titled people were persuaded to contribute, some who'd had their titles for 400 years, like Lord Pembroke, but mostly the recently ennobled, such as Snowdon (for marrying a princess), Thomson of Fleet (for taking over the British press) and Beeching (for closing down the British railway system.) Mrs Thatcher hadn't done anything as dramatic yet to merit inclusion.
In 1974 Nobs and Nosh, a much more vulgar, more entertaining book came out. Here's the Duke of Edinburgh urging: "Cream should be taken in large quantities, not in a few meagre drips." And his son remembering his experiences in Japan, eating raw squid which "tasted like chopped-up rubber hose". Mrs Thatcher had still not arrived; entries under "T" were artist Feliks Topolski (jellied eels) and grand actress Dame Sybil Thorndyke (boiled eggs).
The same year saw perhaps the first of the charity celeb books, Favourite Foods of the Famous, in aid of child resettlement in Israel. Nothing to hold the front page for: Frank Sinatra gave us spaghetti and tomato sauce, Elizabeth Taylor haricots verts, Cliff Richard shepherd's pie. And Margaret Thatcher MP makes her celebrity debut with Sole Veronique.
In 1986 A Taste of Fame (royalties to Cancer Research) cast the net the widest yet: Basil Brush is in, as is Derek Nimmo (iced curry soup), Jeremy Irons (with champ, first), Cliff Richard (Christmas tartlets) and Margaret Thatcher (with Cold Chicken Veronique). Variations on a veronique?
In 1987 comes Pot Luck, put together in aid of Save the Children. Spike Milligan gives us his own invented recipe, spaghetti dulce, which is pasta with cream, sugar and brandy. Cliff Richard is in there with Transkei mud (condensed milk cooked in the tin, double cream, chocolate, then chilled overnight). This is the year of Harold Wilson's famous green salad. This is also the year that Margaret Thatcher makes a switch from savouries to puddings. She gives banana and coffee pie (condensed milk, bananas, double cream, instant coffee).
Then 1988 saw the BBC's Celebrity Choice Cookbook, in aid of the Children in Need Appeal, embracing figures in pop, sport, stage, screen, TV, politics: Spike Milligan (spaghetti dulce, again), Cliff Richard (Transkei mud, again), Jeremy Irons (champ, again), Clare Rayner (potato latkes) and bless you, Ma'am, bless you the Queen Mother, with a recipe for tarragon- flavoured mayonnaise. Mrs Thatcher is absent - had she had a spat with the BBC?
She's back in full pomp in the new Recipes for Peace with a creditable coffee mousse, made quickly and with no fuss with cream, eggs, coffee essence, sugar and a packet of gelatine.
I haven't tested the recipes from this book that follow. Why deny you the thrill of playing Russian roulette with your chosen celebrity?
THE DALAI LAMA'S MO MOS
A traditional Tibetan dish: steamed dumplings filled with vegetables and served with soup.
For the filling:
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 onions, chopped
350g/12oz mushrooms, chopped
350g/12oz grated cheese
bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
pinch of paprika
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the dough:
450g/1lb plain flour
450-600ml/34-1 pint water
For the soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
1 vegetable stock cube
450ml/34 pint boiling water
To make the filling, boil and mash the potatoes. Leave to cool.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and cook the onions for five minutes until soft. Add the mushrooms, cover and cook for five minutes or until soft. Leave to cool.
When all the vegetables are cooled, mix with the grated cheese, chopped coriander, paprika, salt and pepper.
To make the dough, mix the flour with enough water to form a smooth dough. Roll out, but not too thinly. Cut into rounds with a 5cm/2in pastry cutter. Taking each round, press the edges with your thumb and first two fingers, working round the circle. On one side of the round place a tablespoonful of the cooled vegetable mixture, then fold over and press the edges together, making sure they are well sealed. Alternatively, hold the round in one hand, and with your thumb and forefinger gather the edges into a pleat at the top and seal.
Fill a small steamer with water, first boiling the rack so the dumplings do not stick. Bring the water to the boil. Place the mo mos on the steamer rack, spacing them well apart as they will expand and stick together if they are too close. Steam for 20 minutes, or until they are firm and glossy.
To make the soup, heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook till soft. Add the tomatoes and chopped coriander and cook for five minutes. Dissolve the stock cube in the boiling water and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve in small bowls as an accompaniment to the dumplings.
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU'S CHICKEN
3 potatoes, unpeeled
1 chicken, cut into pieces
75g/3oz seasoned flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
1 green pepper, sliced
2 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped
400g/14oz can tomato puree
1 tablespoon curry paste
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 chicken stock cube
about 600ml/1 pint boiling water
Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes until half-cooked. Peel and slice.
Coat the chicken in the seasoned flour. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the chicken until browned all over. Remove from the pan.
Add the onions and green pepper and cook until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for one minute. Add four to five tablespoons of the remaining flour to the pan and cook, stirring, for one minute.
Add the tomato puree, curry paste, Tabasco sauce, stock cube and sufficient water to make a good sauce. Put the chicken pieces in a large casserole, cover with the sliced potatoes and top with this vegetable mixture.
Bake at 150C/300F/Gas 2 for 40 minutes. Serve the chicken with boiled rice and a salad.
JOHN AND NORMA MAJOR'S GINGERBREAD MEN
Makes about 18
100g/4oz butter or margarine
225g/8oz plain flour
100g/4oz soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
25g/1oz candied peel
1 tablespoon black treacle
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon rum
a few currants
Rub the butter into the flour. Stir in the sugar, ground ginger and candied peel. Add the treacle, syrup and rum and mix to a dough with the hands. Cover the bowl and leave in a cool place for at least one hour, or preferably overnight.
Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 3mm/18in. Shape into little men, using currants for eyes and buttons. Arrange on a well- greased baking sheet and bake at 190C/ 375F/Gas 5 for about 10 minutes until browned.
Cool on a wire tray.
LADY THATCHER'S COFFEE MOUSSE
2 tablespoons water
1 packet of gelatine
50g/2oz caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
300ml/12 pint whipping cream
2 tablespoons coffee essence
Put the water in a small bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Sprinkle the gelatine over the top. Heat gently until the gelatine has dissolved.
Put the sugar and egg yolks in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk together until pale and fluffy. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Whip the cream until stiff.
Add the coffee and gelatine to the egg-yolk mixture. Fold in the cream and egg whites, a little at a time. Pour into a 1 litre/2 pint souffle dish and cover with clingfilm. Chill until set.
! 'Recipes for Peace' is published on 5 October by Vermilion, price pounds 4.99. All royalties go to the charity Children for Change.
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