Roasted rhubarb - the kiwi fruit of '95

Out goes bresaola, here comes smoked kangaroo. Hester Lacey previews th is year's food fads
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Forget filo pastry, sun-dried tomatoes, bruschetta and granita. Up-to-the-minute dinner parties this year will feature simply-cooked cabbage, beetroot and pumpkin, with rhubarb or rice pudding to follow. Good Housekeeping magazine has identified this "back to basics" trend; also tipped are cod, mackerel and celeriac, plus an Australian speciality, smoked kangaroo (tastes like duck, legally culled from non-endangered species.)

So, after years of scouring delicatessens for exotic fresh tomatillos, pomelos, carambolas and galangal, is it now trendy just to plonk down any old plate of cabbage and beetroot? Not quite; the Nineties dinner-party cabbage is delicately braised, and t h e beetroot is baked from fresh and served with unsalted butter, rather than the vinegary pickled variety, says GH cookery editor Moyra Fraser.

While cabbage might just turn out to be the kiwi fruit of the Nineties, enterprising GH readers are also keen on Thai and Indonesian flavours. Brenda Jamieson, home economics manager at Sainsburys, meanwhile, is backing a Japanese surge, and Selfridges has spotted customers becoming "very interested in speciality mushrooms".

Food fashions evolve from the innovations of trendy chefs in the same way that haute couture filters from the catwalk to the high street. They are not a new phenomenon. "Elizabeth David's recipes were fantasy at first. Rationing only ended in the Fifties- when she was first published, there were no lemons, olive oil was very scarce. But she restored the morale of the war-weary middle classes," says food writer Paul Levy.

The great Fifties staple was the roast; post-war housewives were also keen on convenience foods, especially as they were likely to go out to work. Fifties-style cabbage could be kept warm in the Hostess trolley (boil it for 30 minutes, recommended the 1957 Cannon Cookery Book).

As foreign travel became popular, tastes in food became more cosmopolitan. Melon with port poured in the middle was considered very smart. "Peppers and broccoli and avocado were considered so exotic in the Sixties," remembers restaurateur Prue Leith.

A melon spiked with toothpicks bearing lumps of cheddar and cocktail onions was an elegant refreshment at a typical Seventies drinks party; "and crackers topped with cheese and pineapple and gherkins," shudders a former Seventies swinger "Italian food like spaghetti and lasagne was most experimental in the Seventies," says Brenda Jamieson. "Then in the Eighties we moved on to foods that were used to death - like kiwi fruit, which turned up on everything from roast lamb to cheesecake."

Isn't it a strain organising an exotic restaurant-standard dinner-party at home? Not at all, according to Moyra Fraser. "The term dinner party is on the way out - people are much more relaxed about entertaining, they don't bother about the best crystal or laying the table the night before. We recommend simple ideas like a little pot of bulbs at each setting or napkins very simply folded with a piece of raffia round them."

"People still take trouble, but they take trouble to look as though they haven't," says Prue Leith. "Stop worrying about folding your napkins, if anyone still does that, and buy some nice colourful plates - not matching is classy."

"The real trend is architectural - the dining-room is disappearing," adds Paul Levy. "We fit 40 into our kitchen."

Asking people what they prefer to cook for friends produces an almost universal response.

"Pasta. It's easy, quick and everyone likes it," says Rowan, a solicitor, 28.

"Pasta - spaghetti carbonara or neapolitana," says Helen, a secretary, 19.

"Lasagne or some other kind of pasta dish," says Catherine, a housewife, 49.

Kangaroo evidently has still to catch on. And according to Paul Levy, it probably won't, because simple market forces play such a large role in determining which foods become fashionable. "I take a neo-Marxist view of it all," he says. "This kind of prediction has the chattering classes in mind, but in fact the cabbage market is saturated; there is no more profit in cabbage. Where the supermarkets will make money is in getting more and more people to buy rocket. It is so easy to grow, and it sells for 39 pence for a dozen leaves - not even enough for a salad."

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