FOOD & DRINK / Starve a fever? Not likely

I have been felled by the flu, the plague that renders the throat raw, inflames the mucous membranes, takes the savour out of living, and drives one in true masculine fashion (men are appalling babies about being ill) to moans, to groans and finally to bed. In my house, where no one is ever ill, I get no sympathy. My wife, especially, is never ill. Which simply means that she soldiers on through illnesses which would knock me into a pathetic heap. 'Off to bed then,' she says severely, obviously thinking that for the next day or two I will not eat.

Nonsense. Eating is how I know I am still alive. Ask the nurses of the New England Baptist Hospital, where I had a hip replaced some years ago. Thirty-six hours off the table and, with the connivance of good friends, we and they (the nurses) went through 10 dozen oysters and a case of Moet.

My theory about the flu and food is quite simple: that it is no time for modesty. If you are under attack, counter-attack. True, your palate may be off, your nose stuffed, your throat raw, your knees aching; but oblivion can be at hand. You just have to choose food that will attack your jaded tastebuds, nay, will assault them: the most violent curries, the pepperiest of Thai dishes.

The same is true of wine. Forget the bouquet, get right to the effect, preferably at 13 degrees proof and up. And when you are full and ripe and floating a few inches off the ground (with the help of a bouquet of medicaments), wrap yourself in every warm garment you own, turn up your electric blanket, and go to Bolivia (what this house calls oblivion). You may wake up in wet sheets, but you will feel semi-human. If, that is, you are like me, and immune to any kind of hangover.

I doubt doctors will approve of this method. Doctors do not approve of any remedies that give pleasure. Indeed, doctors are against pleasure of any kind. But doctors have pussy feet; they are prudential; they worry about the long term. As any man who has had the flu will tell you, there is no such thing. There is not even a tomorrow, much less a next week. And we men may be weak in the flesh, and flinch before pain, and think we are going to die from the slightest twinge, imagining the worst from any dysfunction of our bodies, but we are heroic in our acceptance of illness of any kind. Unlike women, we know how to use it for our own benefit: to provide a welcome relief from our routines ('I'm sorry,' says my assistant in a mournful voice, 'but Mr B can't be reached.' Oh, savorous words: I don't have to teach, I don't have to write, I don't have to think.)

As it happens, I have a long acquaintance with sickness and pain - mostly from childhood, a period in which I spent six consecutive years in bed, for the first of them, I am told, daily on the brink of death. My mind meanders; it absorbs; it explores the imaginary. That was when I got into books and leading my life, since my body was clearly useless, in the mind. So that even with something so banal as the flu, I revert. It seems to me that I have stretches of time ahead of me in which real life goes on somewhere else.

As my imagination is at least partly gastronomical, I have had much pleasure catching up on the first three volumes of an admirable journal called Convivium, available four times a year from (the address itself is redolent of the not-quite-real) The Neuadd, Rhayader, Radnorshire LD6 5HH. It is an elegant, sober publication, but full of that sort of arcane information in which the British are truly expert.

I read the book reviews first. Good stuff. There was a reviewer 'disappointed' by a recent 'encyclopaedia' on herbs and spices. He could have called it scandalous, as I would. It has pre-empted a subject about which any number of writers could have contributed more informed knowledge.

But Convivium contains other pleasures, too, including a fascinating piece on cress by John Hargreaves. I had long been planning an article asking: whatever happened to the cresses of my youth, whose peppery flavour, on little wedges of white bread, was one of our greatest delicacies? Now I have some of the answers.

Apart from teatime cress, my early connections with cress are with the Orient, for in those long-gone days one went about country houses, many of which were populated by gentlemen who had retired from service in India. I remember particularly well a watercress curry (made with the more peppery, mature, late summer or winter cress), sweetened by cardamom and turmeric, served on a bed of rice with chopped egg (a variation of that splendid breakfast dish, the kedgeree).

Mr Hargreaves kindly gives a wonderful recipe, original to a lady called Rose Giles, for a great favourite of mine, a watercress soup. Coming across such recipes is more than a reason for subscribing to such 'specialist' magazines rather than the glossy products of the gourmet industry. Here, as everywhere, homely is best.

You need: a large bunch of cress, a carrot and a potato or two, an onion, a few leaves of turnip, celery and so on (whatever is about); a good ham stock; fresh herb stalks (sage, mint, fennel, rosemary, parsley). Chop the vegetables and fry lightly in a little oil for about 5 minutes; add chopped cress and stir over a low heat a bit longer; add stock, seasonings and simmer until vegetables are cooked; remove herb stalks, mash it all up and serve hot.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform