Plain is not the flavour of the day

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"They've never done it with rice, I believe," said the lady sitting at the end of the table.

"By the Lord Harry, I believe she's right!" said someone, and we all gave her a cheer.

This strange remark, and the sitting ovation it got, came at the end of a conversation in which we were all trying to think of ways of making our fortune. It had started with the host saying that he was putting some mustard on the table for the beef, and adding that it was going to be good old plain English mustard, because he was damned if he was going to put his latest acquisition on the table.

"Some friends of mine have just come back from Wales and they wanted to buy me a small gift, so I am now the far-from-proud owner of a jar of round grain mustard flavoured with leeks. I have tried it and I do not like it, but I knew I wasn't going to like it. Mustard shouldn't be monkeyed round with. Mustard is mustard is mustard. It shouldn't taste like vichyssoise custard."

"Yes," said a man called Fred, "but you can't get away from it these days. Every commodity is flavoured with some other commodity. You can't stop people adding tinges of this and a touch of that. You're lucky to get the real thing at all."

"Real thing? What are we talking about?" said Fred's wife, who could always be relied upon to seem stupid. She did it because it gave Fred a chance to seem clever, which he didn't ordinarily get.

"Well, take crisps, for example," he said. "A real crisp is a potato crisp. It is a very thinly sliced piece of potato, fried in fat and salted. It doesn't taste much of potato. It tastes more of fat. It tastes even more of salt. But there came a time when crisp manufacturers thought we should have more variety, or at least that they should sell more crisps, so instead of doing the obvious thing, which was to crisp other kinds of vegetable, they starting adding totally unrelated flavours to the plain crisp. It started with cheese 'n' onion. It went on to Bovril. It got as far as prawn cocktail and smoky bacon. Heaven knows how far it has got now. Steak and kidney pie crisps? Lobster Thermidor crisps?"

"Sausages," said our hostess.

"Sorry?" said Fred.

"It happened to sausages, too," she said. "Once they were just meat. Well, bread and meat. They were either beef or pork. Now you can go to a sausage boutique and buy sausages flavoured with ..."

"Mustard and leeks," said her husband, morosely.

"It happened to vinegar when it went raspberry-flavoured," said someone else.

"It happened to bread when they started putting bloody sun-dried tomatoes in it," said somebody else. "There was a time when you could butter a piece of bread or toast and then put jam or bloater paste or whatever on it, and eat it happily. But nowadays with all these designer breads you have to get a magnifying glass and see what's in it first. You're just about to put marmalade on your toast when you see that there's a bloody olive sticking out of it, so you have to think: 'Let me see, what goes with olives?'. But nothing does go with olives. Except gin. And you can't get gin-flavoured marmalade."

"You can get whisky-flavoured marmalade," said our host, "and an abomination it is, too. Doesn't please anyone. A whisky-lover doesn't want oranges floating about in his tipple, and a marmalade man doesn't want stale alcohol wafting off his breakfast."

"Somebody must buy the stuff," said Fred. "Otherwise they wouldn't go on making it. But it seems to be a basic principle of food and drink production these days. Take something simple and put flavours in it. Water with a twist of lemon, celery salt, vodka with buffalo grass ... I've even seen Belgian beer with raspberries in it."

"I saw some blackcurrant-tinged lemonade the other day," said the hostess. "Now THAT's going too far. That's adding a fruit flavour to a drink that's already got a fruit flavour! What on earth is the point? They didn't have all this a hundred years ago."

"The Victorians had mustard baths."

"They may have had mustard baths, but I bet they didn't have bits of leek floating in them," our host grumbled.

"The point is," said Fred, "if someone could think of some foodstuff which had not yet been flavoured, they would make a fortune."

There was a thoughtful silence. It was then that the female interruption came.

"By the Lord Harry, I believe she's right!" said someone, and we all gave her a cheer.

I expect flavoured rice will be on the market some time this week.

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