28 May 2022: Consent clarity?; Celtic Galicia???; BoJo then and now; Humour; A justifiable paean of praise to salad cream; & Other stuff

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Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España/Galiza 

Spain’s new law on consent to sex:-

A consequence of the spying scandal:-

It’s not really true but most Galicians believe they’re not only full-blooded Celts but also more Celtic than any other Spaniards. (Hence the bloody annoying bagpipe player outside Santiago cathedral. But I digress). The official ‘Celtic Nations’ of 6 countries declines to accept Galicia as the 7th member but this doesn’t stop Galicians acting as if they had.

A BBC article of 2013 – just re-published for some reason – claims that the Galician language contains ‘a significant amount of words of Celtic origin’. No, it bloodywell doesn’t. Maybe 3. True, there are place names here which might well prove the Celts were once here, as well as elsewhere in Spain. But there are many Scandinavian place names in the UK and Brits don’t go around pretending to be Vikings. It’s all an invention of the Romantic 18th and 19th centuries and, fair enough, it’s harmless and profitable. And it serves the purpose of differentiating Galicia from every other region – a categorical imperative in Spain. Relevant web pages here, and here.

See the article below for someone’s view of the 10 cities in Spain where you will find the best free tapas scene. [Good to see Vigo cited, even if I’ve never viewed it as a top-ranker.]

The UK 

You’ll all have heard of appalling delays and missed flights at Manchester airport. Well, last night this happened to a friend flying on Vueling from Gatwick to Santiago de Compostela. She’ll be delivered tonight, after a day-long journey via Barcelona. So, after spending hours last night in a single line slowly weaving its way to an inadequate number of check-in desks for 2 or 3 separate flights, she’ll have lost 20% of a short holiday. Flying these days certainly isn’t what it was when I first did it back in the 1970s. I am very happy that I can usually avoid it.

A propos . . . Just read that EasyJet is to cancel more than 200 flights over the next 10 days, causing disruption for families heading abroad on half-term holidays. Says the airline: “This is necessary to provide reliable services over this busy period”. But not for all the people they’ve sold tickets to, of course.

This is how Boris Johnson looked at Oxford university, before he got fat, went bald and replaced his hair with a haystack:-

BORIS JOHNSON, Peckwater dance, Christchurch. Oxford, 1 June 1985

And now:-

The ‘worry lines’ don’t, of course, stem from concern for anyone other than himself.

The USA 

It gets worse. Can there be anything more repulsive than Donald Trump reading out the names of the slaughtered Texas kids at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association? Doubtless to a lot of god-fearing people who think the deaths have nothing to do with guns and that praying will solve the problem. Along with turning schools into secure prisons for the pupils, manned by armed teachers. Sick, sick, sick.

The Way of the World

Far from “punching down”, Gervais exposes the increasingly unhinged ideology of the ruling class: the sanctification of gender identity. See here.

Spanish

Horquila: Fork; hairpin; range. A versatile word

English

The best definition of humour I ever heard was: The intellectual appreciation of incongruity. Here’s something on the subject, from the article cited above: It takes quite a degree of narcissism to assume that one’s own view of what is and isn’t amusing should be the benchmark for all of humanity. To say “I don’t find that funny” is irrefutable and fair, given that humour is inherently subjective. To say “That’s not funny” is the most useless of criticisms because it is objectively false; anything can be funny to somebody.  . . .  We have seen recently how many of our elected representatives are willing to nod along with the lie that the word “woman” cannot be satisfactorily defined. At times like these, we need the jester more than ever, for the jangling bells of his coxcomb to break the earnest silence of the court of the Emperor with no clothes.

Finally . . .

One of the prices I pay for living in the NW of Spain is that I can’t find Salad Cream, for the love of which I’ve been mocked all my life. So I was delighted to receive this FT article from a friend this morning, written by a man of genius:-

There are one or two things that are difficult to confess, things that can alienate good friends, change relationships forever. You know the kind of thing — recreational nose-picking, organising your bookshelf by colour, performing satanic rituals in your garage. If it floats your boat, that’s cool, but you might not want to mention it in front of people. This, I regret to say, is how I have been made to feel about salad cream, the pale, yellowish condiment most commonly used as salad dressing and sandwich spread. I love the stuff, but people I care about won’t have it in the house. It’s been regarded as irredeemably naff ever since our parents’ generation decided it was a poor man’s substitute for mayonnaise.

I should be very clear from the beginning that I’m not a “guilty pleasures” sort of person. Pleasure is pleasure in my book. If you enjoy something, then “own” it. So, I want to reclaim it, re-appropriate it. I want to Take Back Salad Cream.

I think the reason I suddenly feel the urge to take up the tattered, yellowish banner is a bout of hospital food. Though most complain about it, NHS food production is a minor miracle. Thousands of people fed every day, from every corner of society, with every kind of taste. Complex dietary requirements are met and ridiculously high levels of hygiene are mandatory, so there are compromises. 

If there is to be salad in hospital, and God knows it’s needed, it has to be cheap and tough enough to stand up to sterilisation. I’m sure there are hospitals where chefs will knock up frisée aux lardons and a poached egg, but in an NHS side ward, you grow to love the little yellow sachets. Like an embarrassing number of our national culinary treasures, salad cream is a sovereign aid to the consumption of difficult foods.

Many years ago when I worked in advertising, I was publicly dressed down by a superior for sneering at another popular proprietary sauce. (God, I was an insufferable little prig.) “Why do you think billions of bottles of what you just called ‘muck’ are sold all over the world, every year? Is it because it tastes disgusting? Or maybe you think all those people are stupid. The ‘general public’, over the last hundred years, are a focus group you couldn’t even dream of putting together. Listen to them.”

It is true that the recent history of salad cream has been undistinguished. During the second world war, with ketchup unavailable, UK-produced salad cream became popular for adding some kind of zest to dull rations. As a result, it became tarred with the same undiscriminating brush as tinned snoek and powdered egg. It was associated with poverty and desperation, all smog, popping gas rings and misery. And the food combinations it gave us would be mostly unconscionable today. Hard boiled eggs and salad cream do not amount to oeufs mayonnaise.

Actually, they amount to something better.  . . . Hard boil half a dozen eggs, cool, peel, halve and remove the yolks. Mash the yolks with salad cream, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of curry powder and some chopped chives, then pipe the mixture back into the half whites. You could serve this at your next dinner party and claim it as ironic wit if you’re caught, but I bet you won’t have to. Every time I’ve done this, guests claw at the plate in unbridled greed and nobody ever pauses to ask.

The rot really set in in the early 1990s. As we became a generation of “foodies”, we suddenly knew enough to shun naff bottled sauces and salad cream sales tanked. Though please, let’s not kid ourselves we were all knocking up mayo from scratch. No, a generation of Delias and Nigellas made the American standard Hellmann’s the ne plus ultra. Funny, isn’t it? Do you remember when there was something so cool, so effortlessly transatlantic about a glass jar of Hellmann’s in the fridge door? Not any more. Now we reach for a plastic squeeze bottle, flip a lid and hose it on like the gustatory moisturiser it is.

There’s an old foodie joke: people think Pret A Manger is a sandwich chain, but it’s much cleverer than that — it’s a mayo manufacturer with imagination. Mayonnaise has become an automatic sandwich component that denies us butter. Nobody goes into a high-street sandwich bar and says “hold the mayo” any more.

But the glory of salad cream is that it’s not bland and neutral like mayonnaise. The predominant flavours — mustard and vinegar — are grown-up and sophisticated. Mustard is complex and interesting. British food has traditionally lacked “sour”, so a skew toward vinegar is exciting. A French-trained chef would refer to it as a gastrique; a hipster might think of fashionable pickling. Meanwhile, the ­go-ahead, bleeding-edge food fashionistas are raving about Kewpie, a Japanese mayonnaise with a more pronounced mustard flavour, extra creaminess and the addition of a substantial belt of MSG. Salad cream in all but name. How dare they sneer.

The funny thing is that Salad Cream used to be posh. Oh yes. You’re out there thinking it’s something a brickie might squirt on his ham and cheese bap, but in its original form it would have been far more at home in one of those Merchant Ivory, lacy and soft-focused summer picnics. Lucy Honeychurch would have loved it.

Most people describe salad cream as “like mayonnaise but more mustardy”, with a strong vinegar sharpness and a marked sweetness to balance. And they’d be right. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about any recipe apart from the last ingredient (the clue’s in the name): cream. Yes, that’s correct, much of the oil you might expect to find in a mayonnaise is replaced with delicious dairy.

My 1907 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management offers a recipe that begins with hard boiled egg yolks and ends with, God be praised, evaporated milk, and there was no way on earth she was going to waste it on the gardener’s corned-beef sandwich. Several other recipes involve flour and require gentle cooking, so the stiffness comes from the eggs setting and the starch thickening — a very classy technique, almost hollandaise. It’s not surprising that today almost any commercial salad cream will have less than half the fat of mayonnaise.

Heinz was the first company to mass-produce the stuff successfully. In 1905, Charles Hellen, originally the company’s Boston branch manager, was picked to run the new English division. He must have been bored rigid by American mayonnaise because he took eight years to develop salad cream, the first Heinz product solely for the British market. It was made by hand in a factory in Harlesden. More than 2,000 jars a day, hand-packed in straw-lined barrels for delivery to discerning grocers and thence the gentry. This was seriously aspirational stuff. In 1951, Heinz was granted a royal warrant, supplying royal households across the UK.

In Australia and New Zealand, there is still much love for the dressing that dare not speak its name and it’s imported in reassuringly stupendous quantities. It’s revered in Kenya and Thailand almost as much as it is rudely ignored in its own country. In Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria there’s a tradition of massively complex composed vegetable salads with a salad cream, but they don’t go for the shop- bought stuff quite as much. A proper salad cream is made from regular mayo, with the flavours bumped up with vinegar and mustard and the laudably Beetonesque addition of evaporated milk.

Perhaps most importantly, we should address the prawn cocktail. Americans make their cocktail sauce out of ketchup and horseradish and I’m sure it makes them very happy. Here, many people start their Marie-Rose sauce with mayo and tomato purée. They fail. Then they realise that they have to swallow their pride and use ketchup, thus attenuating their disappointment. But until they dump the mayo for salad cream — a venial sin compounded by a mortal one — they cannot experience joy.

In truth, the minute you begin to unpack salad cream, you cannot but scorn mayonnaise. “Neutral vegetable oil”, stiffened by egg? Doesn’t that worry you even the tiniest bit? Neutral oil is what you use to fry chips. There might be some flavour in there, but you need to believe in homeopathy.Philosophically indistinguishable from margarine. No wonder it’s been relegated to sandwich lube.

I couldn’t agree more and am glad I now know better ways of improving both Hellmans’s mayo and Mercadona’s version.

For passing readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.

THE ARTICLE

10 cities in Spain where you will find the best free tapas scene. [Good to see Vigo cited, even if I’ve never seen it as a top-ranker.]

The free nibble with your drink is still alive in plenty of Spanish cities, with Granada offering one of the best tapas scenes in Spain. This long-standing tradition of giving a free tapa with every drink is an art that, thankfully, hasn’t been lost.

1. Alcala de Henares

The historic town of Alcala de Henares, birthplace of Cervantes, has a long tradition of serving free tapas with wine or beer. Among the options: huevos estrellados (soft cooked eggs over a bed of olive-oil fried potatoes), patatas bravas (fried potato with hot sauce), hamburgers, sandwiches (usually toasted cheese and ham) and a wide variety of bocadillos (filled bread rolls).

2. Avila

Avila goes a step further in allowing customers to choose their own free tapa. The most popular are: patatas revolconas (mashed potato mixed with paprika topped with crispy bacon pieces), picadillo de chorizo, oreja, morro (pig’s ears and snouts), jabali guisado (wild boar stew), tortilla de patata (spanish omelette) and banderilla de riñones (kidney stew).

3. Badajoz

One of liveliest tapas scenes in Spain can be found in this Extremaduran province, especially in Valdepasillas, San Roque and Santa Maria de la Cabeza, where you can choose from pasties, chicken wings, livers, tomato picadillo or fried eggs with chorizo, among other temptations.

4. Almeria

A stroll through Almeria’s historic quarter will lead you to an array of bars which offer the most interesting alternatives to tapas in a region. There is no shortage of patatas bravas here either, but be sure to try the typical ‘remojón’ – a broth made from dried tomatoes and hot peppers, typically with salt cod.

5. Granada

Granada has probably one of the best tapas scenes in the whole of Spain, the city is famed for the delicacies handed out with every drink and its generosity in terms of the size of the titbit. If you walk around the bullring, the Realejo or the streets Elvira, Gonzalo Gallas or Navas, succumb to the temptation of ordering a caña accompanied with mouthwatering delights.

6. Jaen

In the historic centre of Jaen you’ll find excellent free tapas options. To get you started, here are some of the delicacies you’ll find: sausages, black pudding with breadcrumbs, pâte and cheese or cold meats.

7. León

The bars of León have a long tradition of serving free tapas with wine or beer, the most popular being boiled ham, black pudding and seasoned Lacon Pork Shoulder.

8. Segovia

Segovia, recognized for its Roman aqueduct, has a tapas trail that is just as impressive. In fact just about every bar in this historic city, particularly around the Plaza Mayor or the nearby Infanta Isabel street, offer generous homemade tapas.

9. Salamanca

Pork is the top ingredient in the student town of Salamanca, where the best tapas bars are found in the old quarter or along Calle Van Dyck. Here, the black pudding with caramelized onions is a must for all meat-lovers.

10. Vigo

This Galician port city is also renowned for its tapas scene. A beer or wine will see a free appetizer placed on the table, with seafood the undisputed star of tapas in Vigo.

2 comments

  1. Loli found a bottle of something intriguing in Lidl and presented me with it.
    It was Heinz Salad Cream!

    Like

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