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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9 thoughts on “Of Memories and Marmalade

  1. We agree on the apples. Golden delicious is not my favorite nor is the red. I prefer apples that bite back when I bite them, 🙂

    I think it’s the consumerist world we live in. Everything is supposed to be fresh… all the time. Or what people think of as fresh, anyway. They’d learn the difference if they ever picked an apple straight from the tree. Or picked vegetables from a garden.

    1. Steph, I do so agree with you! I cannot abide those dry, red dessert (desert!) apples punted as being ideal with cheese. As for fruit and vegetables from the garden … no contest. so many apples nowadays have leathery skins, little crunch and no longer does the juice dribble down my chin. Pink Lady are good, provided they haven’t beenin storage.
      regarding consumerism – well, fresh is available, daily, but that should not be a licence to be embarrassingly greedy and then throw the food away.
      I’m sure your gran used to tell you to ‘always leave the table feeling you could eat a l ittle more’?

      1. I grew up the oldest daughter of 11 children. There was no choice but to leave the table feeling like I could eat a little more, 😉

        What I meant by consumerism is that people have taken for granted what is available to them and are always looking for something “new” or “fresh”. What is here today will be old tomorrow so no longer attractive to them.

        Yes, people are greedy. What’s funny about that is they don’t see it as greed. I’m not exactly sure what goes through their minds with stuff like that.

        1. Ah – I remember that well. My family and extended family were on the poor side of affluent … and the boys and men were always given more than the girls – and I had a very healthy appetite! But there is a distinction between never having quite enough to eat (or most of the time) when there is insufficient to go round, and having a small space – just a spoonful – when you are replete, so that you don’t feel stuffed to the gills.
          But does the form of consumerism you describe, encourage or condone the type of excess I was describing? How many children or adults do you know who could really eat 10-12 slices of toast plus 3 or 4 croissants, plus bread rolls, plus pastries, plus muffins, or plus several slices of different cheeses, a stack of cold meats from the charcuterie display, a rather large cut from the omelette … by all means take a selection and then go back for more if you want. Don’t take more than you can hope to squeeze into your stomach, when what is needed to fill it is a quantity about the size of the palm of your hand, according to dieticians. (Not sure I agree with that … I don’t know a calorie that I don’t love and adore …)
          I agree that ‘stale’ can be unappetizing (it ain’t necessarily so, as that wonderful song tells us) and if someone can eat as much as I saw taken, then fine – but to take a bite from most of the items, then leave the majority … saddened me. That is not enjoying or appreciating what you are eating or enjoying and appreciating the company of whoever is with you. It is also a strange form of parenting to both set such an example and to ‘overlook’ what is happening.
          We’ve all had meals, parties, gatherings, where we end up fit to burst (I am as greedy as the next person – my eyes are MUCH larger than my stomach and my mother-in-law was powerfully persuasive) but I bet most plates are clean.and that everyone enjoyed what they ate and had fun with the assembled company – family and/or friends.
          All things in moderation – and moderation in moderation! – and take great pleasure in the odd excess …

          1. Stale is not unappetizing unless that’s how one thinks of it. In cooking stale presents opportunities for experimentation.

            Besides some things stale taste better than they did when they were fresh. Take chili or spagetti sauce, for instances. Both are much better after having sat at least overnight..

            Stale bread is the main ingredient in a popular southern dessert called bread pudding. Fresh bread just can’t make the same dish. It just doesn’t happen. Olive said I had to share the recipe so I’m going to try to remember it off the top of my head . (I hardly ever have a recipe in front of me when I cook.)

            4 cups of cubed old bread. Old, not moldy, mind you.
            1 1/2 cups milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 eggs.
            A few pats of butter. (or Margarine but that’s an argument for another day.)

            spread the bread cubes evenly in a rectangular baking dish. Mix all the other ingredients except the butter. Pour the mixture over the bread crumbs making sure all the bread is coated with the mixture but don’t smush them.

            Bake at 350 F (I don’t know the C equivalent) until lightly brown. Let set for 30 minutes.

            This can be glazed with a sugar and lemon glaze. A very rich dessert, but inexpensive and easy to make. Why throw out old bread when it’s so much better put to use?

    1. Thanks, Steph. You obviously like to cook – for anyone who cooks knows that many food improve with keeping, be it curry, casserole or marinaded foods before they are cooked.
      Bread pudding is one of those comfort/nursery foods that has become fashionable again – a reflection on the fiscal shenanigans worldwide? – which historians have traced to the 11th/12th century. There were notions that the Romans may have devised it as a dish – but as custard had not been invented then, they could not possibly have eaten REAL bread pudding. There are records of this dish being made in 13th England. As ever, the 100th monkey syndrome kicked in and it popped up in many other countries too – maybe because of migration or perhaps because of need. Whatever, it is a terrific dish – thank you for sharing your recipe. BB is so versatile … it is also delicious made with ‘stale’ croissants! And chocolate …

    1. I am so embarrassed – I scrolled down and found some comments I failed to acknowledge -mea culpa. Even for a hardened procrastinator like me, this is record-breaking! Please accept my apologies. I hope you still like the posts …

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