Found, The Dinner Knell, the book published just months before his death aged 52 by prolific journalist and fin de siecle expert T(homas ) Earle Welby, (1881 – 1933). The premature demise of Welby, who was known to his New Statesman readers as ‘Stet’, may have had something to do with a love of food that informs much of his writing, including this particularly lively excursion into the world of gastronomy.
Reading The Dinner Knell, one is reminded not so much of a modern restaurant critic such as Michael Winner or Giles Coren, but of a cook with rather conservative tastes, like Elizabeth David or Jane Grigson, who has practical knowledge of traditional food and culinary skills and is apt to bemoan the general decline of standards to be found in shops and eating establishments. Take this giant-sized slice of diatribe on the topic of the humble cabbage:
“The ‘cut from the joint and two veg’ is indubitably the basis of something or other, whether it be the British Empire or of British dyspepsia; my own belief is that we are a cabbage-clogged nation, and the slowness of out mental processes is due to the ingestion day by day of enormous quantities of that soggy and damnable and compulsory article of diet.
It is not that the cabbage is absolutely incapable of use by rational people; if the heart of a really good cabbage be cooked with bacon undergoing the process of boiling, or if the cabbage be stuffed with a farce of bacon and sausage meat and herbs and cooked in broth, or if cabbage be brought into relation with partridges to make that very delightful dish, perdrix aux choux, all will be well. But sodden cabbage, not even blanched before it is wretchedly boiled in water, is malodorous in the cooking, disgusting to the eye, revolting to the palate, a burden on all the digestive activities of the human body.
Nor does our national dish fare much better:
“All the popularity that the potato has today is an adjunct to fried fish in the form of something called chips. The true chip, the wafer-like slice of potato cooked in an intensely hot frying material, is a noble thing, excellent with game, excellent also to trifle with between meals. But those other chips, the popular accompaniments of fried fish, those thick, rectangular portions of potato, as to three quarters of them soft and greasy and as to other quarter nearly as hard as iron, they are a disgrace to catering for the people …“ [R.M.Healey ]
Illustration courtesy of Free Vintage.