Alice Thomas Ellis
corning into bud so when I realised that I'd asked some friends to dinner and the time was nigh I thought — poached salmon: this has something to do with the appearance of the rose — shades of pink, petals/flakes — and something to do with the time of year. When summer starts you feel you can serve cold food without feeling guilty. There are many advantages to this, the main one being the avoidance of the hectic round-up to get everyone seated before the gravy congeals. So 1 made mayonnaise in the food processor, which is lazy but saves time, potato salad with mint, chives and olive oil, cucumber salad with dill, lemon juice and a hint of sugar and salt, and spinach and watercress salad with garlic dressing. Then 1 wrestled the salmon into the fish kettle, covered it with cold water and brought it just to the boil whereupon I removed it from the heat and left it, covered, to cool. Simple and it cooks to perfection.
So it was doubly annoying, after all this efficiency, to find the salmon leaping from the kettle tray on to the kitchen table. I don't mean it did it by itself in some supernatural, posthumous act of autonomy. To be frank — I dropped it and its head came off. The flakes slid from their state of seeming perfection and it lay there, disordered and a reproach. Happily, I was alone at the time, so having said a few words, 1 manhandled it on to a plate and pushed it all back together again. Then 1 tastefully arranged slices of lemon and cucumber along its length and you'd hardly have known it had died. The secret is never to panic, but knowing that such mishaps occur in the relative peace of one's own home causes one to speculate on the possible happenings in the frenzied ambience of the restaurant kitchen. I have heard some terrible tales but it's best not to think about them if you ever go somewhere where you pay for your dinner.
Another mild annoyance was that the Jersey potatoes lacked the distinc
tive flavour one expects. They could have been any old potatoes and I don't understand why. In France the potatoes don't just taste of potato but of different sorts. You get pink ones and white ones and yellow ones, and some are floury and some are waxy and they taste of themselves and not each other. Since we are separated only by a narrow strip of water it's hard to see why this should be so. The French, with all their varieties of vegetable and fruit and herbs make our own seem a little pitiable, and doubtless this is down to the soil and climactic conditions. but since we're so near why can't we get our hands on more of their produce? The Atlantic separates us from the US but the vegetables in our supermarkets resemble the American sort far more than those of our neighbours.
Which reminds me of something! read somewhere; it was not, after all, Sir Walter Raleigh who introduced the potato to Europe. The Dutch had been growing it long before he brought it home, if indeed he did at all. Yet another example of the unreliability of history. One way to make potatoes more interesting is to peel and parboil them, then put them with a lump of butter in an earthenware pot, cover it closely and leave it for a long time — say an hour or two in a merely warm oven. The top one on the left hand side if you have a four-door Aga. If you haven't then gas 2/300°F/150°C. This is lazy but foolproof as long as you don't overdo the temperature and at least the potatoes taste of butter.