How to cook Mrs Thatcher’s mys­tery starter

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Hav­ing a sci­en­tific back­ground and an ordered mind, Mar­garet Thatcher, who liked to cook for her­self and her hus­band Den­nis as reg­u­larly as she could, was keen on fol­low­ing a recipe and, most es­pe­cially, a method.

In the case of a re­cent find, dis­cov­ered among her ar­chives, in a file with an of­fi­cial stamp, the method is very sim­ple in­deed, but the re­sult seems to have been one of her favourite din­ner party of­fer­ings, which goes by the in­trigu­ing name of “mys­tery starter”. Dated 1976, the dish flies in the face of the grand pieces one might have found at a 70s din­ner party: veg­eta­bles of all shapes and colours in aspic, fish mousse topped with pineap­ple and caviar – and all those dishes in­flu­enced by the likes of Fanny Cradock and her love of a starred pip­ing noz­zle and a drop of cochineal. It is sim­ply tinned con­sommé – a clas­sic of the gen­tle­man’s club – mixed with cream cheese and curry pow­der.

Hav­ing knocked it up my­self, the big­gest mys­tery I could find was: why would one con­coct such a dish?

It makes for a very unin­spir­ing cream-coloured mousse, a dish with a tiny bit of spice as an end note. Soft and un­chal­leng­ing, it would no doubt ap­peal to lovers of board­ing-school food. On the plus side, it is the kind of thing Lady T could have knocked up in her nightie at 5am if she knew she had peo­ple round for din­ner that evening, since it takes five min­utes to make but sev­eral hours to set.

The only op­por­tu­nity for flair seems to be in the dec­o­ra­tion. Sug­gested in the recipe is a black olive and some set con­sommé – but to re­ally hit the 70s vibe, a shell-on prawn ram­pant would add a bit of je ne sais quoi.

Mrs Thatcher’s mys­tery starter

1 x 400ml/12oz tin beef con­sommé. Camp­bell’s, Bax­ters and Crosse & Black­well were all pur­vey­ors of a beef tea-style soup in the 70s

2 pack­ets cream cheese. Kraft was the mar­ket leader in those days

1 level tsp curry pow­der. Foxes was the clas­sic 70s spice brand

Pour 100ml of the con­sommé into a flat dish and set it in the fridge for sev­eral hours, un­til solid. Liq­uidise the rest of the soup with the cream cheese and curry pow­der – pour into in­di­vid­ual serv­ing dishes and set for up to 12 hours.

Gar­nish with some chopped con­sommé and a black olive or what­ever other del­i­cacy takes your fancy.

Per­son­ally, I would want to eat this on some toast to give it a bit of tex­ture, but I won­der if, in its hey­day, it was eaten with a tea­spoon and a small glass of sherry. Even so, I won’t be adding it to my din­ner party starter reper­toire, mys­tery or not.

Rosie Sykes

and the in her kitchen up that make in­gre­di­ents

(be­low right) her starter

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