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The Scrivener: Lamming The Esculent Root

...Despite the allure and fascination of all those super-cooks on TV, Mr Gormitt Pottage persists with his usual methods: Chucky Tin, Choppy Tup, Mashy Tup and Stirry Tup...

Brian Barratt proves yet again that he is a master cook when it comes to serving up a repast of words.

For more of Brian’s delicious columns please click on The Scrivener in the menu on this page. And do visit his Web site www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

The cook in this abode rejoices in the name of Mr Gormitt Pottage. His methods, though somewhat haphazard, are grouped under the general title of Chucky Tin. They include such features as Choppy Tup, Mashy Tup and Stirry Tup. The results of his manhandling of the ingredients, which he refers to as 'them ingreediments', are unpredictable but sometimes rather tasty. Fortunately, he has no aspiration to make his own cookery series for TV.

But what a wonderful array of food programmes we have on telly! The best are on SBS, Australia's multicultural, multilingual channel, the only one of its kind in the world. The other night, we watched the warm glory of Italian food being prepared. So simple, so fast, so delectable to the palate. The sort of food which makes you feel welcome, even before you start eating it.

French cooking is an entirely different matter. A huge number of ingredients are involved. They seem frequently to include unusual parts of animals and birds. Nevertheless, refined persons carefully, nay, fussily prepare them and cook them in half a dozen different pans, ready for final assembly. Tiny portions are then diligently positioned on a large plate, so delicately that you feel you should not eat them but merely sit back and admire them.

Such diligence and particularity are often missing from Australian cookery shows. Here, the ingredients are selected and prepared carefully enough, perhaps cooked in the back yard, and are then thrown in a heap on a plate. 'That's it, mate.'

British cooking on TV. Oh dear, some of us can't get one star presenter out of our minds. Those comely smiles over her shoulder. The way she says 'Just a little' and then gently pours a whole cupful into the dish. The mild massaging motions of her hands when she 'disrobes' poached peaches which are . . . Excuse me, I must get a glass of water.

In spite of the absence of film or even photographs, older recipes were almost as seductive. Take Mrs Beeton, for instance. For her Charlotte-aux-Pommes, you will need appropriate amounts of flour, butter, powdered sugar, pounded sugar, baking powder, egg, milk, raisin wine, apple marmalade, cream, and lemon juice. The indubitable Mrs B. tells us that this dish is seasonable from July to March, but she's obviously referring to the northern hemisphere. The cost will be about, wait for it, two shillings. 25 cents to serve six people? Things have changed since 1859, eh?

About a hundred years earlier, the inimitable Dr Johnson had a few thoughts of his own about food. Take his definition of oats, for example: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people. His description of a potato is only slightly less scathing: An esculent root. In other words, it's edible. Soup is a strong decoction of flesh for the table. That is correct. The word originally referred to boiling meat, fish or vegetables in water.

Mr Gormitt Pottage would like Dr Johnson's inclusion of to lamm, to beat soundly with a cudgel. That's how he deals with some of his ingreediments. It's really quite useful having Mr Pottage living in my head. It means that if my occasional culinary concoctions fail, I can blame somebody else. It wouldn't work on TV, of course.

Copyright Brian Barratt 2008


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