A real English Roast
When we were first married we lived in the Punjab running a Christian
conference centre – anything from 8 to 68 for a meal – and just once
about 500 people.
The main problem we had in running such a centre was communication.
Letters were sometimes months late or they could take just a few hours.
Was that Christmas card 6 months late or very early? We only
knew of one telephone in town that actually worked. So often people
just turned up – in one case a coach full of 40 people whom we
just sat under a shady tree with cold drinks while we sent
out for takeaways. But mostly we managed.
Exotic food you might think – not likely. Our visitors were mainly
ex-pats. They ate spicy local food every day and might
have been away from home for several years or else had
arrived so recently that they hadn’t got used to the local stuff.
They wanted roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, apple pie
and custard. And toast and marmalade for breakfast.
And when local people came they wanted to try the
food we ate at home – you’ve guessed it, roast beef and
Yorkshire pudding. And they all loved marmalade.
The Yorkshire puddings weren’t such a problem
providing we could get gas, but the roast was
usually buffalo, sometimes goat. Toast – local bread
is usually flat bread cooked over an open fire.
Shop bread is sweetened and has a texture
like wallpaper paste as soon as it hits the tongue. We
made our own. Apple pie – most
of the country is far too hot for apple trees, but
guavas make a good substitute.
When I was going out there for the first time
I asked if there was anything I could usefully
bring and was told Marmite, stock cubes and any
dessert that comes in a packet and lasts for ages
– so custard wasn’t a problem. Crème Anglais
is fine on television, but this was for real.
Cheese and biscuits. I knew of two sources for cheese
– both over 70 miles away, but everybody knew that
so someone would bring some. I could get crackers
from a little shop nearby that still had tins of
Coronation tea on the shelves – this in 1985.
Five minutes in a low oven and the biscuits would be fine.
So here is my recipe for lunch for 40. First send someone
out to find the gas man and change the cylinder. If he
can’t be found by mid morning it’s down to the river
bank for driftwood. Someone else kills and butchers
a goat. I start to make Yorkshire pudding batter
but discover the eggs loose in a plastic bag and several
are cracked. Just enough good ones left. I chop up
guavas and hope that the market has vegetables
other than blue carrots, spinach and squash. The temperature
climbs up past 100 – but pastry made with oil and
rolled out with a marble pin has been in the fridge
since soon after dawn. I put the fan on full blast
and set to work to make pies, peel potatoes and all the other bits.
Soon after 1pm, in soaring temperatures, we sit down
to a ‘traditional’ English roast with stock cube gravy
followed by ‘apple’ pie and custard, the latter from
a packet with a best by date that I’d rather not know about.
And they love it. breakfast!
Tomorrow though. They are back on aloo sag and
chapattis – but there will be toast and marmalade for breakfast.
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