Of Memories and Marmalade

Jack Sprat could eat no fat.

His wife could eat no lean.

And between them both, you see,

They licked the platter clean.

The name Jack Sprat was used to describe someone of small stature in the sixteenth century; sprats are small fish. Seemingly, it was an English proverb from the mid-seventeenth century, or before. It appeared in John Clarke’s collection of sayings in 1639:

Jack will eat not fat, and Jull doth love no leane.

Yet betwixt them both they lick the dishes cleane.

The saying became well known English nursery rhymes when it appeared in Mother Goose’s Melody around 1765, but it children probably recited it much earlier.

I had always believed this nursery rhyme to be about not wasting food – other sources link it to all sorts of political shenanigans, taxation, and even Robin Hood. My, how that man sneaks into nursery rhymes.

Having spent some time in Europe recently, this rhyme came to mind when I encountered the wanton greed and culpable waste when watching fellow guests in an hotel in Barcelona.

Our deal via Easy Jet was to stay in the Hotel Gothica (nice four-star hotel, friendly staff and very central) and breakfast was included.

I love to people watch and it was fascinating to see other breakfasters take far more food than they could possibly eat – stacks of bread for toast, rolls piled high, croissants, pastries, muffins, yoghourts, fruit, cold meats and cheeses, sausages and tortilla …

There was no way they could consume the quantities taken and they didn’t wrap anything in napkins for lunch, either – and sure enough, the tables were littered with the debris of untouched and partially eaten food. (It was like watching people eat in films; they never eat or drink more than a mouthful before they dab their mouths with a napkin and leave the table.)

Why do they do this?

Is it the ‘must get my money’s worth’ philosophy? Or the ‘it doesn’t matter if I take a bite, leave part or all of it because I have paid for it anyway’ school of thought?

I wondered if those families were the same in their own homes or encouraged their children to take too much and just leave it. I wondered how they felt when visitors wasted food – meals prepared with care in the pursuit of being good hosts.

Having been brought up to not waste anything – food in particular – whilst not a revelation, it was dispiriting to say the least. (My father claimed his garden fork had been in the family for over one hundred years and had only had 94 new handles and 30 new tines …) I remembered an elderly friend telling me that she had been orphaned at the age of four when both her parents died in a car accident. Her grandparents felt unable to take on a lively child and sent her to boarding school, where she was always hungry. She was taken to the cinema as a treat one Saturday morning, to see a typical child’s comedy – slapstick and silly and fun. Unfortunately, custard pies were flying across the screen, to great guffaws of laughter from other children in the audience. Not so my friend: she went beserk, screaming and kicking, beside herself.

She could not understand why people were throwing food around when she never had enough to eat.

On a more cheerful note, I did notice that when the apples on the breakfast buffet were not looking as shiny and inviting as usual, they appeared the next morning as baked apples with cinnamon – a favourite. However, the apples were those horrid, tasteless Golden Delicious so favoured in Europe and, I believe, the USA.

Nowhere tart enough for this tart …

Bakes apples DEMAND an old-fashioned English cooking apple – sharp, juicy, with flesh which falls to a tempting puree within the skin when baked properly. (I wonder if the EEC allows Britain to grow these anymore.)

However, not one to pass up on a challenge, I noted that the little plastic pots of marmalade (horrid but practical) contained real marmalade! With plenty of chunky peel for added bite and texture. None of this peel-free or finely-shredded  or over-sweetened muck! Popped into where the core had been, the apple was transformed.

They’d have been even better baked this way but then, as we tended to break our fast later than the dedicated tourist, they would probably have been piled high and left on tables throughout the restaurant.


March 2013

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