A taste for travel

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

AN an­tique-sil­ver dealer I once knew re­fused to travel any­where with­out his Georgian sil­ver dessert spoon and fork. These, he felt, would be use­ful with a Bri­tish Rail restau­rant car meal, an air­line plas­tic tray of plas­tic food and in­stead of the sort of beaten-up steel cut­lery you get in cafes. He wrapped them in green baize and cer­e­mo­ni­ously re­vealed them to fel­low trav­ellers.

They may have thought him ec­cen­tric or pre­ten­tious, but any­one who’s used to eat­ing with Georgian sil­ver finds it hard to ac­cept any­thing else. I cite the Min­i­mal­ist de­signer John Paw­son, who agrees that there is noth­ing so el­e­gant or pleas­ant to use.

Be­fore you ac­cuse my dealer of a Cham­pagne life­style, I reckon that buy­ing a sin­gle 18th-cen­tury dessert spoon and a lonely fork would set you back be­tween £50 and £60 for the two on ebay— a good bit less than the rail fare. Plus they’ll last longer and in­crease in value as long as you don’t use a scourer on them. Even out of green baize, an­tique sil­ver is pretty ro­bust and can be re­paired with hardly a mark vis­i­ble.

The well-known Amer­i­can chef, David Ta­nis, from Alice Wa­ters’s fa­mous restau­rant, Chez Panisse in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, rec­om­mends a travel pack for those who want their food to be a lit­tle bit more in­ter­est­ing than the ‘atroc­i­ties of air­port fare, the hor­rors of the mini bar’. In his book, Heart of the Ar­ti­choke (2010), he de­scribes what he puts in his gro­cery bag be­fore set­ting out: ‘It’s a kind of trav­el­ling pantry to check in my bag, keep handy in the car, or save for a ho­tel pic­nic… think of it as food in­sur­ance—a way to re­ward your­self for suf­fer­ing the end­less in­dig­ni­ties of travel.’

He then lists: ‘a tube of harissa, the spicy Moroc­can paste that’s bet­ter than most com­mer­cial hot sauces; a jar of good mus­tard; a few fresh chiles; a cou­ple of limes; a lit­tle packet of sea salt, and one of red pep­per flakes; a pep­per mill; a hunk of cheese; a par­ing knife; and a corkscrew. You get the idea.’ The cheese, by the il­lus­tra­tion, seems to be Parme­san—a good choice as it’s so adapt­able.

I would also go along with most of his list, al­though I have yet to try harissa. Corkscrews used to be es­sen­tial, but have been less so since grow­ers have seen rea­son and es­poused the screw top. I once moved house and stayed overnight with­out a bed but with a trusty corkscrew in my hand­bag.

As well as most of these foods, my list would in­clude lemons rather than limes (think smoked salmon, gin and tonic), nut­meg and a grater, flaked al­monds and some golden raisins. If I could find a way of trans­port­ing olive oil—the most wily es­capol­o­gist of the food world—i’d in­clude that and some wine vine­gar for sal­ads. My mus­tard would ob­vi­ously be Di­jon and salt from Mal­don. I par­tic­u­larly like the smoked ver­sion. Chilli flakes, yes. I once knew a French Cana­dian who al­ways had a small, sil­ver chilli mill in his pocket. My knife would be a Laguiole.

If you’re trav­el­ling by air, of course, the knife will need to be hid­den in the hold lug­gage and too di­verse a com­pen­dium might cause alarm among se­cu­rity. Then again, one of my abid­ing mem­o­ries of Ital­ian air­ports is the re­volver-hung, hand­some se­cu­rity men crowd­ing round me and ar­gu­ing how best to make sauce from the large bag of toma­toes I had in my hand lug­gage.

When you’re trav­el­ling by car to a self-cater­ing place, it’s eas­ier. We take plates, rum­mer glasses and, dare I say it, a small sil­ver salver. It makes a hol­i­day cot­tage seem like home.

It’s worth think­ing of your own list. Of course, pack the salt and mus­tard into dinky con­tain­ers (I like Lock & Lock)—but first in­vest in your Georgian sil­ver spoon and fork.

‘We take plates, rum­mer glasses and a sil­ver salver

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