Harriet Walker: 'In warm weather, the city comes to life and food is at its core'

Share
Related Topics

Living in London during the summer is something like living in the souks but with none of the exotic, spicy charm. About seven million of us crammed in higgledy-piggledy, in such close proximity to one another that no man's dinner remains unique, thanks to the person frying garlic on the ground floor. Even the rice pudding tastes of it.

Actually, that's a snapshot of London life all year round, but in winter your nostrils are too clogged with expanding frozen grime for you to smell anything. That's the reason nobody notices for months when an elderly neighbour dies in their armchair.

But in warm weather, the city comes to life, too, and food is at its core. We spill out into parks and on to benches, ripping our pale bodies free of cheap and shiny, bri-nylon suits like ravening Maenads, all the better to scoop up our superfood salads before their modified atmosphere packaging dries the alfalfa to crispy husks.

And we barbecue too – what a pointless practice that is. The Freudian miasma surrounding "man cook meat on hot rocks" is too tiresome to get into, so let's address the etiquette side instead: quite simply, do not invite people for a barbecue unless you yourself intend not to leave the infernal furnace unattended for a second.

The number of twee garden parties I've been invited to ("Hey bebz, come for some burgaz!") which I have then spent squirting lighter fluid on a pair of bangers are too numerous to count. My tactic now is to turn up with a bottle of wine and some gherkins, which will go nicely on a burger should there be any, but which are also perfect for eating on their own with a fork, should the meat never materialise.

There's something about stuffing your face in the fading light of a midge-filled back yard that makes you want to throw oodles of fresh leaves around and drizzle them in something delicate and fragrant.

Now, I'm no cook – unless you count frankfurters dipped in hummus – but even I, when reading up on summer recipes safe in the knowledge I will never try to make any of them, imagine myself recreating them for a rickety table on a terracotta terrasse somewhere hot. I like the subliminal precision of a summer salad – the beans, lardons, cous cous and curlicues of green all look like they are placed just so. But try it yourself, and it resembles more Pompei after Vesuvius: a pulpy mass with some trees poking out.

It's definitely harder to pull off an ideal summer repast than it is to cook heartily in winter. It's the difference between being naturally long-limbed and elegant, and really having to work at being less solid and clumpy.

My boyfriend and I have come up with the perfect seasonal compromise: our summer supper of choice is a bacon sandwich. Not that elegant, you might assume, but when served on toasted malty bread, with a layer of mature cheddar and rocket, the builders' staple becomes something entirely more sophisticated. Not to mention summery. "It's so great that I came up with this manna from heaven," says my boyfriend sagely, as he bites into his butty. "But it was my idea," I counter, tucking into my own. "You just said, 'How about a bacon sandwich?' and then I added all the swanky bits." "No, no," he says. "I think you'll find this was one of mine."

This annoys me no end, because last year I let him claim the world's greatest pizza as one of his ideas (it was, in fact, me who worked out the importance of adding chicken to the Pizza Express Padana pizza), and it was I who let him into the secret of putting Gorgonzola on pasta, though I let him tell other people about it, as it makes him feel important.

The British are, after all, mere temporary custodians of food culture in summer, because our strengths really lie in hotpots and stews. We merely curate other cultures from June to September, pretending that tzatziki is as rightfully ours as the Elgin marbles or that tomato and basil was a combination we all signed up to at Runnymede.

With that in mind, I spent a weekend break recently sampling that other British summer food of choice, the kebab, in its rightful habitat. But in Istanbul, I had to offer to sell my friend to the restaurant before they'd contemplate putting chips inside the wrap. And much good it did me; I have been laid low with something akin to dysentery for the past week. And that's not the only flipside of summer food: there must also never be too much of it, because you never know when you'll be called on to appear poolside in some skimpy outfit. It's one or the other, I'm afraid – go ahead and glut yourself on authentic Toulouse sausage and Roquefort – but don't moan about looking fat in a bikini afterwards.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine