I don’t know when people started hating food. I had a fantastic dinner yesterday, a fairly ordinary spag bol sauce albeit using venison mince and – gasp!! – a veggie stock-cube along with Worcestershire sauce, with furmity. I liked it so much that I said so on Facebook.
One person said they didn’t ever want to see such a thing again. Another told me to fuck off. The first one I blocked, not least because I don’t want anyone posting Our Brave Boys knee-jerk seasonal adulation on their time-line anywhere near mine. The second I know as a farmer and I know what she meant. Which is ok. Mostly.
What isn’t is people thinking that anything doesn’t come out of a packet is suspect. There is a distinct meme running through what passes for contemporary life that the only good food comes from a factory. At the same time that the number of TV programmes about food increases, so does the number of ready-meals and cook-at-home pizzas sold. Tabloids scream that if people used all the spices Jamie Oliver does it would cost a whole week’s JSA. Which if you used all of all of the herbs in his kitchen it undoubtedly would, but nobody would ever need to go and buy them all in one go anyway. The fact that every packet of processed food, the kind that directly leads to coronary heart disease, Type II diabetes and ADHD has a list of ingredients far more disturbing than a pinch of oregano and half a nutmeg, grated, is irrelevant. Since when did nutmeg buy any advertising space?
What was really surprising was the horror about furmity. As you remember from school, when you had to read Thomas Hardy and snore through The Mayor of Casterbridge, or watch it on TV one Sunday afternoon to be polite to your girlfriend’s parents before they went out for the evening and you could maybe listen to that new Santana album again but shut up until they’ve gone or they’ll hear you, furmity was what got Michael Henchard into trouble. It also made a success of him for the next twenty years, which isn’t bad going for some raisins. Admittedly, I’m biased. A friend once lived in Thomas Hardy’s sister’s schoolhouse and his was our country in our twenties. We read every single book. Not so much because they were great books, I think, but because they were about our land. A half-mythical place. The place we were from. But anyway.
My Furmity Recipe
- Put some cracked wheat (bulgar) in a pan of water overnight. I have two measurements, “some” and “many.” This is “some.” Maybe two handfuls. 200g if you want to be picky about it. Don’t be.
- Next day, drain the water off. Find some cinnamon in the back of the cupboard. And some raisins. Oh and there might be some allspice there as well.
- Those walnuts you tried to pickle in port might be an idea too.
- Or pine nuts.
- Some of that ginger cordial because frankly I can’t see what else you’re going to do with it. Or why you bought it, to be honest.
- Why DID you, anyway?
- It’s like that knock-off Microplane grater you got in Paris, isn’t it? Except that at least you’re going to use that in (8).
- Microplane half a nutmeg into the mixture.
- Oh the mixture of all of it. What did you think you were going to do with it?
- Add some almond milk. You could make it but it would be far more sensible to use some soya almond milk stuff.
- Enough to cover it, obviously. Have you never cooked anything before?
- Some of that ginger puree. About two-thirds of the nearest spoon in the drawer, which happens to be a soup spoon. Well, wash it then.
- Add some brown sugar. Not the granulated stuff. You can’t do anything except apple sandwiches with that. About 50 grammes.
- Two egg yolks. Separating them out using the two half shells looks really cheffy. I’m not convinced they actually add much to the experience though.
- Heat it. Don’t let it boil. Just get it hot enough to burn your tongue on.
- Eat it.
Henchard added rum to his and sold his wife, prompting two decades of abstinence in a nicely moral plot. The taste is amazing, layer on layer of complexity and warmth. The ginger isn’t part of any traditional recipe, or rather the Waitrose one I cribbed from, but I was trying to go for tastes that might be found in a country kitchen of Henchard’s time. Or if they might possibly not have had ginger root, at least they would have known about it.
It’s really easy to cook and like a lot of recipes that people say “I haven’t got time to do all that,” it actually takes about five minutes. Most of the ‘time’ is overnight while it’s soaking up water and you’re not doing anything to do with cooking then. I didn’t think I’d like that sweet-and-meat thing that seems to have been so popular in medieval cookery. It still is if you go to Moro or eat duck pancakes with plum sauce. But still quite hard to see why it should irritate people so much. Apart from the fact it’s not Pot Noodle.