Meeting ones in- laws for the first time is something most people remember. The basic rule is probably to try not to get it wrong: definitely saying less, not more and, of course, avoiding such a “series of unfortunate events” as depicted in many a Hollywood film from “Meet the Parents” to “Monster in law”.
I certainly remember when Geordie first met my mother, who very shortly decided he was funny and great company. They shared a love of limericks and I can still hear the laughter. She felt that supper was not supper without a glass of wine and Geordie would catch the underground rather than drive.
Having got through my own initial meeting with Geordie’s parents, there came the time when I first had to cook supper for them. It was on a weekend and dinner was to be ready between 8pm and 8.15pm. Geordie was fussing: no onions, no garlic, nothing too complicated, the table properly set and definitely ironed napkins. In fact, what was I cooking? What was the pudding? Where were the side plates and had I remembered flowers…?
Being older helps, as nothing is more invaluable than experience. I remember my parents’ dinner parties, the balance of hot and cold courses which makes serving easier and the planning and preparation that enabled everything to run smoothly. Our father died too young, and as we struggled through the grief and aftermath, one of the most important parts of each day was supper. Whether I was making spaghetti Bolognese, fish pie or a salad, it was about food and sharing, enjoying a glass of red wine and sitting down around a table together. It is much easier to think and to talk over good food.
Food can help you feel better. You can improve your health by changing the type of food you eat or incorporating certain food stuffs into your diet. Spinach helps with the tiredness due to low iron, turmeric reputedly helps joints and nerves, watercress, rocket and cauliflower may help combat cancer. Both Frederick the Great and Napoleon are credited with saying that an army marches on its stomach.
Looking through old recipe books, or reading historical descriptions of great feasts, you realise how much food has changed over the centuries. I assumed we had more choice today given all the resources, we have, yet I am not sure we do. From quinces to crab apples, different birds and uses of meat, fish and variety even of something as basic apples, I’m not sure we’re better off today, or if we use it as wisely.
In the Castle, the cocktails and dinner are planned and timed nearly always 8pm for 8.30pm. That way it is not too late for the kitchen and banqueting, as they need to clear up afterwards. Paul the chef needs a ten minute warning before we go through to the dining room and it all works by nods and glances so that, hopefully, nobody sees it is working – it just magically happens. Curiously enough, the dogs do seem to understand and notice the tiny movements and are always ready to join in. Luckily perhaps for all of us, they get fed much earlier and are definitely not encouraged in the dining room!
In the meantime, whilst it should almost certainly be agreed that that neither age nor glasses of wine should ever be counted, the ancient Greek advice of “ everything in moderation” almost certainly enables the feasting to carry on for many more years than would otherwise be the case.