Gerard was gone. Such an ignoble departure left me in awe, an awe that I could scarcely shake as I consulted the Yellow Pages for emergency servants. After settling on a local stopgap service, I plunged into literature, to seek out what strange affliction had so besotted dear Gerard.
It turns out that May Day's afoot, I was so informed by the wafting radio in the kitchen. Salutes to the workers and maypole dancing abound, should revolution or ribbons get one's heart beating. May Day, an ancient festival, was twinned with International Workers' Day after Chicago's Haymarket Affair, a somewhat trumped up trial of some workers wrongly accused of loftily directing a bomb towards the police during a strike. Great Scot!
That was in 1886, 19 laborious years after a bearded fellow named Karl Marx's Das Kapital was published, the critique par excellence of the worker's plight (nevermind the fact that no worker's ever likely to understand it, says I, ho ho!). For Marx, the freedom, or unfreedom, of the worker was connected to his ability to produce his own conditions. As history marches on, he said in The German Ideology, people sustain themselves: 'By producing food, man indirectly produces his material life itself.' Under capitalism, the workers reproduce their own, factory-bound conditions. His communist friend, Engels, 40 years earlier had written The Condition of the Working Class in England, a small except of which I'd like to share:
'Here the centralisation of property has reached the highest point; here the morals and customs of the good old times are most completely obliterated; here it has gone so far that the name Merry Old England conveys no meaning, for Old England itself is unknown to memory and to the tales of our grandfathers. Hence, too, there exist here only a rich and a poor class, for the lower middle-class vanishes more completely with every passing day.'
Ah, yes Merry Old England where have you gone! I for one lament the day, and if capitalism is at fault I say shackle its ankles to the stone! And if one needs sustenance, says I, let him earn his keep on the land. Ah! Again to the Yellow Pages, for surely a new flock of gardeners will prune my garden well for little more than bread, soup, and the corner of a wet barn.
Then I came across, in Reay Tannahil's Food in History, something of a Victorian shopping list. 'In 1841 five shillings [a bad week's wage] bought exactly seven four-pound loaves, just enough to half-fill the stomachs of two adults and three children. It left nothing to pay the rent, noting for tea, nothing for the little piece of bacon that was the poor family's idea of meat.'
But also, a semi-skilled worker's budget, 15 shillings...
Despite my good intention of throwing my workers a fatty loaf every now and then, the world has changed and gone all complicated. I understand why poor Gerard had to go, to spread his wings and perhaps get a job waiting tables in a decent restaurant, or a butler for a celebrity household. He was alienated!
I poured another sherry and set back to think. Does a Marxist munch come from your local free range organic treasure chest shop? If you can fight through the perusing gentry to the mini, teak plated checkout to be quoted the price of your princely turnip, you might find that this alt-food boutique is little more a niche market slice of opportunist flan, rather than a slice of revolutionary pie. I'll take two! As for great allotment challenges, a la BBC, with their overripe midlife crisis mums and snappychatting presenters, telling you how to go sustainable while you chomp on a microwaveable Delia Smith lasagne, your average gent is surely left feeling a little guilty for lacking a prime plot of land, and a dose of wartime muckalong spirit, long since gone the way of Merry Old England.
Nope, for a meal which sizes up to the march of history, presuming it's aimed towards communism, look no further than down the page a little. As Walter Benjamin said, 'which reality is inwardly convergent with truth? Which truth is inwardly preparing itself to converge with the real?' Why, my dinner, of course!
Thesis – STARTER
La potage a la porcini, fit for a prince, lord, or a any titular landowner.
Handful of Dried porcini mushrooms – Truffle oil – 5 Chicken livers – 100ml Madeira wine – 1 large white onion –500ml vegetable stock – Butter – Salt and pepper.
Pour boiling water over the dried porcini mushrooms.
Heat a knob of butter in a pan and add the chopped onion, cook until soft.
Add the livers and cook until browned on either side. Add the Madeira and season.
Drain the porcinis, reserving the juice. Add to the onions and livers and cook for five minutes.
Add the stock and porcini juice, simmer for about twenty minutes.
Blitz with a hand blender and season to taste.
Drizzle with truffle oil.
Antithesis – MAIN
Jacket potato with veal ragout, a comfy meal for a middle class capitalist family.
Potatoes – 300g veal mince – 1 onion – 250ml beef stock – 3tbsp tomato puree – 1 carrot – 1 celery stick – 150ml red wine – Red wine vinegar – Butter – Salt and pepper.
Prick holes in the potatoes with a fork.
Rub with salt and place in an oven (gas mark 8) for an hour.
Heat butter in a pan, add the chopped onion, carrot and celery.
Add the veal mince and brown for a couple of minutes.
Add the tomato puree and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the wine and cook down.
Add the stock and cook on a low heat for an hour and a half.
Add a splash of red wine vinegar (that’s wine to the working class of 1840’s Russia).
Synthesis – A plentiful broth for everyone, sourced by armies of dictating proletariat labourers. Why, even I can muster that! After a quick trip to the veg patch and the walk-in freezer I had a little something simmering away on the stove with none other than myself at the helm, and still with a free finger, flicking once more through the Yellow Pages. I landed upon a local chap, well groomed, well spoken, with a taste for sherry and broth. He answered with a comforting 'Yes,' whereupon I exclaimed, 'Gerard! Come home you rascal! The broth is almost done!'