Hum­ble Fare

In re­cent times the con­cept has been ap­pro­pri­ated by mil­lion­aire celebrity chefs, but when you boil it down to its bare bones, the no­tion of ‘peas­ant food’ is a ter­ri­ble af­front to a world of peo­ple who live from hand to mouth

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - WORDS BY KIT DE WAAL

Kit De Waal cooks pigs’ trot­ters and de­con­structs the no­tion of ‘peas­ant food’

Un­til the potato, Euro­pean peas­ant food con­sisted over­whelm­ingly of bread, and ter­ri­ble bread at that, of­ten con­tain­ing chaff, grass, bark and saw­dust, and in times of famine, peo­ple ate lichens, moss, dirt, dogs, cats, frogs and in ex­treme cases, each other. And, of course, after the potato came the Great Famine of 1845

Ionce tried to recre­ate one of my favourite child­hood dishes, souse, aka pigs feet pick­led in le­mon and gar­lic. I was work­ing off a com­bi­na­tion of YouTube videos, my sis­ter’s mem­ory and what my tongue could rec­ol­lect; the slip­pery give of thick, soft skin, the unc­tu­ous jelly, the bounce of sin­u­ous ten­dons that slid be­tween the teeth.

I didn’t fancy ask­ing for trot­ters at the hip, ar­ti­san butcher in my spa town that sells or­ganic burg­ers at the price of an MOT. I didn’t fancy try­ing to claim they were for the dog. (I don’t pos­sess one and couldn’t with­stand even the small­est de­gree of in­ter­ro­ga­tion on that point). I couldn’t imag­ine Sains­bury’s slaugh­ter­ing their own pigs out back, but I knew I’d find the trot­ters where im­mi­grants live, still mak­ing food from back home, one of the last con­nec­tions to the past when dress and lan­guage have all but gone.

My fa­ther cel­e­brated ev­ery Christ­mas by mak­ing West In­dian fruit­cake. Heavy with plump, rum-soaked fruit, black­ened with trea­cle and burnt sugar, the smell per­me­ated the very fabric of the house; you could smell it on the sheets and cush­ions, taste it on your skin. He ac­tu­ally started bak­ing mid-De­cem­ber, hours he’d be at it, but not a slice was cut un­til Christ­mas Eve after it had had time to ma­ture or “cook again”, as my fa­ther called it.

As we were chil­dren of a Je­ho­vah’s Wit­ness mother (ex­cess of any kind, present-giv­ing, carol-singing, merry-mak­ing, even the word Christ­mas it­self was Satan’s work), this was the ex­tent of good times over the fes­tive sea­son. Of course, like ev­ery­one else, we spent the whole of the hol­i­day in front of the telly which didn’t help our feel­ings of be­ing left out. Ev­ery film and ev­ery ad­vert screamed “Look at the bloody food!” Enor­mous hams jew­elled with cloves, pick­les, heavy pork pies, dainty mince pies (we thought they con­tained meat), stolen dusty with ic­ing sugar, sauce of ev­ery com­plex­ion, roast turkey, cold sal­mon, moun­tains of lit­tle sausages cov­ered in ba­con, choco­late, tri­fle, tins of tof­fees, sacks of sweets. But the truth was, we were hun­gry all year round; Christ­mas only mag­ni­fied it.

It’s not that we didn’t eat, we just lived in a house where food came in, was quickly gob­bled down and then the cup­board was bare. Since meals were mostly my fa­ther’s do­main and he

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