Thursday, May 15, 2008

I Relish A Good Pickle*

I have had people in the past tell me, "Oh. You're one of those people who sits around and adds things to Wikipedia, aren't you?" Given the nature of my interests that I cover in my writing--my "digressions" as my friends kindly call them-- I can easily see how one would picture me wikiing away on a rainy Saturday afternoon. In truth, up until yesterday, I had never bothered, even though I had seen gaps that needed filling** when I was researching various things.

I had a jar of Ploughman's Pickle. I suppose that was the trigger. Proust had his madelines. I had Ploughman's Pickle. I was remembering the Ploughman's lunches I used to have when I spent time in London, and that led to my next mental jump which was "Gentleman's Relish." I first stumbled on this food in a novel, actually. Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, so I went to Wikipedia to see what they had to say about Gentleman's Relish . I noticed they didn't even cite Mitford so I decided to take that big Wikileap into being an online know-it-all.

"The Hons"***

Here you are going to have to do some Wiki yourself, because the Mitford clan was a fascinating family, and they cross a lot of boundaries from Country Squire Quirks to Bright Young Things to Neo-Fascism to a daughter named Unity in love with Hitler. One of them did an infamous exposure of the American funeral business called The American Way of Death, which also inspired Evelyn Waugh (a friend of Nancy Mitford's) to write The Loved One. Deborah...Debo...married a Duke, Unity shot herself, Tom died in the War, Diana and her husband were either in prison or being watched on the facism.

She should have poisoned his big saucy
bangers when she had the chance****

So this is how I learned about Gentleman's Relish. One autumnal day, reading Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, purchased from Hatchard's. The quote? Here it is, and for some reason, it has lodged in my memory:

Good on hot toast or polishing your boots, Gunga Din, Sahib*****

In Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, the character of Linda Radlett asks her mother for Gentleman's Relish. Her mother Sadie offers her some hot toast at tea (to distract her over the loss of a pet,) and Linda pushes her advantage for sympathy, "Can I have Gentleman's Relish on it?" she said, quick to make capital of Sadie's mood, for Gentleman's Relish was kept strictly for Uncle Matthew and supposed not to be good for children."

What can I say? This is not Noel Coward or Oscar Wilde material.

You see all sorts of odd foods in Great Britain. I wrote, not too long ago, about Spotted Dick. Go into any market in England, and you'll stand in the aisles thinking, "I can't make this stuff up." They eat things like jellied eels (just what it sounds like) and baps . (Memo to self: Correct Wikipedia on baps.) I used to love going into the grocery stores in London where I would find all sorts of interesting things. Like:

(Insert Joke Here)


(Insert Joke Here)


(Insert Joke Here)

I think the very first time I recognized these oddities was a Sainsbury's in Notting Hill where I found a can of mushy peas. Mushy peas is a very popular food in Britain. I actually brought a can back with me with a far better 1930's graphic to use as a pencil holder, but this will establish it's existence as a food:

(Insert Joke Here)

(Insert Joke Here)

Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished for ever. Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.~~George Orwell, Animal Farm


* My first bad joke

** My second bad joke

***Hons would take forever to explain in terms of Mitford slang. The children were all "Honorables" from their Lord father. As children, they formed a club called "Hons" and "Non-Hon's" and "Honorable Hons" (people they liked that weren't titled.) Jessica wrote a book using Hon in the title, and older sister Nancy was infamous for writing an essay on "U and Non-U" which covered the proper terminology for things in the English language and other habits of the upper and lower classes. Looking glass viz mirror. Notepaper viz stationery. Putting milk in your teacup before pouring. Snobs? Uh. Yeah.

****Next bad joke. Instead Unity shot herself when she had to return to England at the start of WWII, in despair over her love of Hitler. She survived the bullet in her brain, but it left her impaired, and she died in 1948. That's what they get for naming her "Unity Valkyrie."

*****I wanted to get Kipling in here somewhere! This is just the kind of thing Colonial India soldiers would eat in Mess, pining for Pinge. (Wiki-Memo To Self: Write about Pinge.)******

******My next bad joke.

Labels: , , , , ,


Blogger Kate said...

Fascinating but never surprisingly so!


1:01 PM  
Blogger Drew T said...

As I said about the Cuban sandwich at Hooters -- it's hard to not underestimate the value of a good pickle!

3:58 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Kate: Thanks. I was going to write about something more serious for today, but that piece is going to take a few days to get together.

Drew: You and Tony do not go to Hooters solely for the "meat sandwich" (as you refer to it.) I could do so much with "meat sandwich," "pickle," & you and Tony at Hooters. Your summer "boy lunches" have become a tradition with the group. Next Tony will be signing on talking about the service at Hooters. By the way, you guys should give me another blog entry when you go there next...reporting from the front lines as it were.

5:23 PM  
OpenID ThaiMex1 said...

The service at Hooter's is impecable, The staff is prompt and respectful. After lunch Drew and I always debate tips. We discuss whether the tips are big enough or not. We don't like litte tips and feel that generosity is the better part of valor for the service we received. We therefore conclude that the tips should reflect the size of the meal and leave more than necessary.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Drew T said...

Regarding Hooters: The Rockville location closed down -- which can only spell good things, as the old building was constantly being closed for health code violations, etc. Good riddance to them, I say. However, they reopened -- literally across the street in the former location of the Copelands New Orleans Steakhouse.

Reflect upon the statement of the staying power of Hooters when a reputable and loved steakhouse closes and the "breast and wing" chicken joint affords to snatch up their property?

Really, I would love to know the backstory of what the heck happened. Until then, I am at least glad the old Hooters is at least temporarily rid of their legal problems.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Ryane said...

Oh my gosh..that was awesome. I haven't seen some of those things since I lived in Britain! My favorite weird food were all the unique flavors of crisps: dover sole or hedgehog??!?

8:52 PM  
Blogger AbbotOfUnreason said...

I always learn so much here.

Weird synchronicity: after reading your blog, I went back to reading Possession (AS Byatt) and she immediately mentioned gentleman's relish.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

The great thing is that Brits don't eat like that anymore. Gentleman's Relish?? What's not to love.

But these days the Brits eat just like us, at Starbucks. Oh well.

GREAT post.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Separated by a common taste of discarded animal organs....

4:06 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Drew: I've seen the new Hooters under construction. One wit friend said it would be for the older set and called "Saggers."

Ryane: I remember the first time I discovered a potato chip could be anything other than potato and salt was Britain, long before America discovered salt n' vinegar. "Prawn" always amazed me. That one still hasn't caught on in the U.S.

Abbo: I got to meet A.S. Byatt once. She has the most penetrating gaze. Obviously a woman of great intelligence.

Reya: This is true, more or less, but there are always differences. Heinz Ketchup has more vinegar in it, Coca Cola and other sodas less carbonation. It's interesting to see how these large companies adapt to a culture's tastebuds.

Phil: It was also in London that I used to see things like a pig's head in a butcher's window surrounded by sausages. I'd be hard pressed to even find a butcher shop in D.C., let alone that view from the shop window.

7:14 PM  
Blogger d. chedwick said...

What a fun post--my internet connections have been faulty lately and it's frustrating trying to get around or publish anything!

When I was a kid my older sister always bought some weird brand of Garlic Dills--why can't I find these anywhere now that I'm looking for them again?

When I was in Norway I saw a can of fish balls with the exciting promise written on the can "These balls will surprise you!!! " (A Norwegian translated and thought this was a normal thing to write on a can of fish balls--he said it was the Norwegian equivalent to the English "New & Improved" or (I thought) "Now Actually Edible!" )

8:42 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Ched: I used to do a lot of canning with my mother when I was younger. So many things: string beans, tomatoes, pickled peaches, jellies (we had a grape vine,) applebutter, and so on. I hated doing the pickles, and there were many, including a garlic dill. At the peak of summer, usually August, in a hot kitchen, and the spices and vinegar would permeate the house for days. I just got a book on "smell" from the library. It will be interesting to read, I think.

10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pickles -- don't get me started, Cube! I packed pickles at the Vlasic plant one long, hot summer in the seventies. A dirty, hot warehouse of a place. Here's a hint: don't eat relish unless you make it yourself. We drones were told, "if the pickle is only half rotten, pack it in the middle of the jar (the customer won't see it, and the heat process will make it Ok); if its completely rotten, throw it in the bin at your feet." Guess what the bin's contents become? That's right -- relish. I was so hot, tired (we had to stand on our feet for more than ten-hour days in 90 -- 100 degree heat), I would throw my used bandaids in the bin (after all, when a supervisor saw a cuke on the floor, he'd throw that in the bin, too).

Far from Mitford territory. But I love fish paste. The English -- why are they attracted to such culinary conceits as "beans on toast" and "tomatoes on toast"? Is it their lousy teeth that leads them to these unseasoned mushy messes?


10:31 AM  
Blogger d. chedwick said...

I read a book about Rats a while back --( Kimy has it on her bookmouse blog, as I forget the name of it-- )

but the rat expert figured out that an American rat (liking its twizzlers and popcorn) would turn it's nose up at French rat food. (French rats love cheese) German rats would shun twizzlers and cheese to get a sausage, and the American rat would walk right past the sausage for a Twizzler. and so it went.

A french rat living in the alley belonging to a good restaurant would find a McDonald's - eating rat ridiculous ...and a twizzler would seem like a piece of plastic.

11:56 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Add to Technorati Favorites