When I was twenty-one or so and unemployed and single, I shared a flat with four others, all similarly un- and under-employed. It was very Young Ones-ish at times – we squabbled over the cleaning rota, ate quite a lot of lentils, had a laid-back landlord who was into Jung and primal screaming. Our weekly Giros arrived on Tuesdays, which meant that we were penniless by Monday morning.
One Monday evening, broke as always, we foregathered in the kitchen to see what could be assembled into our communal supper. We stood thoughtfully looking at the rather small pile of potatoes, swedes, half a cabbage and one onion – all that could be found in the way of edibles (there weren’t even any lentils). “I suppose,” somebody said, “we could have vegetable stew again.”
“I….. think not.” said Edgar.
Edgar was our usual cook – he not only knew how to cook, he actually liked cooking. We tended to put that down to his upbringing – an Honourable and the son of a baronet, he knew his butter knife from his pudding spoon. He was the only one of us not on the dole – no, he didn’t live off his family, but actually earned a tiny living from walking dogs, busking with his cello (he was a classically trained musician) and doing odd amounts of music session work. He kept a full formal dress suit – black tie & tails, ruffled shirt, cummerbund – in case he had to sit in with an orchestra. Anyway, in culinary matters he was the acknowledged expert amongst us.
“I think,” he continued, “I could turn this into a nice bouillabaisse….” As one, we silently wrinkled our brows. “…Fish soup!” he went on, with the merest trace of irritation at our ignorance of cuisine. Brows momentarily wrinkled again, before it was pointed out to him that we lacked at least one major ingredient. Edgar smiled benevolently upon us poor simpletons and reached into the kitchen cupboard. “But we do have this….” And held up a long-forgotten, rusting tin of Kit-E-Kat.
(For those of you who have never heard of this delicacy, this was a brand of cat food. Sold on the basis that it would bring your darling feline health, wealth and sex appeal, its principal ingredient was ground-up fish waste. Also, we had no cat.) Once again, we five stood united in silent contemplation. Finally somebody broke the silence. “Well,” they murmured, “If it’s good enough for my Granny’s cat…..”
So, Edgar set to, mightily chopping and boiling and mashing. He was a big man with a big beard (the beard, and his cello, got him a couple of gigs with Wizzard) and, surrounded by steam, looked like a pagan priest as he worked his magic. After an hour we had our fish soup. And quite tasty it was too!
I learned something from that evening. And what I learned was – if you eat cabbage and swede together, leave all the windows open afterwards and avoid naked flames.