Years ago my mother was taken ill and my father took over the cooking. This was not really a problem. He had always helped out in the kitchen and now took over just about everything except baking cakes. There’s a limit to what even the most emancipated man will do. Anyway, he proved to be a pretty good cook on the whole but there was one small problem.
My parents had spent a fair number of holidays in the south of Spain, largely because my sister had married an “andaluz”. There my father had been introduced to garlic, something little known in the north of England back in the 1980s. (Well, little used, anyway, if you don’t count the private student of mine who advised me to put some under my children’s mattresses to ward off the evil eye which she claimed was aimed at her but affecting all people associated with her. I quickly stopped giving classes to this eccentric lady.) The culinary problem arose because my father added garlic to traditional North of England dishes. Shepherd’s Pie and Lancashire Hotpot do not need garlic. My mother was dismayed. We talked him out of it.
I was motivated to comment on this by an item I came across concerning “Paella Valenciana”. Guillermo Navarro and two of his friends have been horrified to discover that chefs such as Jamie Oliver were adding chorizo, avocado and even poached eggs to their regional dish. They regarded it as prostitution of a traditional recipe and were especially upset that some chefs recommended using artificial food colouring instead of the delicately flavoured saffron to turn the rice yellow. So horrified were they that they set up a website called Wikipaella to inform people correctly about the dish.
I wonder what they would have made of the old Vesta dishes that used to be around in the seventies. Before it was possible to buy the ingredients for these exotic dishes in the UK, you could buy special packs to make paella, couscous, coq au vin and curry. Adding water to dried food products and getting stuff out of tins you could make some distant relative of the original. Talking about food in my Italian class recently we tried to explain these things to our Sicilian teacher; she was baffled! She would have been even more baffled had she actually tasted them. Those of us who had tasted the dishes in their country of origin knew that they were dreadful.
I’m pretty sure that my onion soup (one of my standby self-invented recipes to use up left-over chicken bits) bears little resemblance to French onion soup. Likewise my curry is a purely me-invented dish; it uses reasonably authentic curry powder and curry paste but you couldn’t give it the name of any genuine curry dish. I’ve even concocted my own recipe for “sopa de pescado”, much simpler than the complicated recipes I found for this most excellent fish and shellfish soup from Spain. The thing is that I don’t pretend they are the genuine article.
And that was one of the points that Mr. Navarro and friends were making: you can add what you like to recipes based on particular dishes but you can’t pretend that they are the traditional dishes. Mr. Navarro compared it to adding oranges to fish and chips and saying that that was the traditional British dish. Authenticity is all!
And finally, but still on the subject of authenticity, I have been relieved to notice a change in practice when you make a comment on someone’s blogpost. There is always a security check to make sure you are a genuine human being and not a robot. I am not entirely sure why this should be necessary but I go along with it. In the past there was always an incomprehensible, virtually illegible set of letters which you needed to copy and which I frequently got wrong, implying that I was indeed a robot. Recently, however, these seem to have changed into two sets of numbers, much easier to decipher and much more difficult to get wrong.
I am no longer mistaken for a robot: an authentic human being at last!