You can’t panfry mackerel from frozen: cooking with Henry James


I am, if I say so myself, known for my cooking. Just not in a good way

A few years back a friend begged me to enter the pudding competition at the village summer fete in aid of the church roof fund. As Artichoke is a very good friend and another good friend, Feltham, was to be the judge, I was delighted to oblige.

But I was also busy. A quick sort of trifle was all I had time to rustle up.

So, the evening before the competition, I put amaretto biscuits in the base of a glass bowl and added a layer of stewed apple. Then I whipped up some marscapone with amaretto. That was a mistake.

The amaretto curdled the marscapone and it was far too late to get more. Oh well, I thought, it’s only Feltham judging and he’ll understand. So I shoved in the separating gunge and covered it with chopped strawberries and almond flakes. Then I put it in the fridge.

In the morning, it did, admittedly, look a bit grey and watery, but I was confident that friendship would carry the day. I stuck a label saying ‘cod trifle’ on it and Standpipe took it to the village hall.

[A short note on the word ‘cod’. This, as my learned friends will know, is not just a type of fish. It can mean ‘fake’ as in ‘codpiece’ – the boxes which a long ago fashion dictated men should wear between their legs to enhance their – manlinesses.]

That afternoon, I arrived at the village hall and made straight for the table of puddings. There were about twenty entrants. For a nanosecond I was pleased to see that mine was at the front.

Then I saw my marks. Feltham had awarded my trifle nought  for appearance and minus four for texture. He had also noted that I needed to go to ‘pudding school’ for ‘about a year’. I could see him across the crowded room, laughing at the look on my face.

I do have form, I suppose. Among other disasters, I have proved empirically that you can’t panfry mackerel from frozen and that prune and watercress is a nasty salad.

I know some people can conjure a gourmet meal from a jar of Marmite, a tin of sardines and two purple crayons, but I think I’ve demonstrated that I can’t. I need to plan and take some care, maybe even use a recipe.

Recently I was cheered to discover that I’m in good company. The peerless Henry James says in a letter to his nephew:

There is only one recipe – to care a great deal for the cookery.

He was writing about writing and the rest of the letter is a real vindication of those of us who aren’t too proud to say we’re learning. He continues:

Live your life as your life comes to you; but, for your work, remember that an art is an art and that you must learn it with every sort of help, with the aid of all the implements. Read – read – read much. Read everything. You will always observe and live and feel; but for God’s sake be as accomplished as you can.

Well, I’m trying and I do think I am getting better, slowly, some days. At writing. I really can’t say the same about my cooking, sadly. Last time I tried something fancy, three of us were ill, quite badly ill. But that’s a story which is still too fresh in my memory to tell. Give me a few years and I might even tell it really well. Over dinner at a restaurant.

I have had my revenge on Feltham though. He’s still the judge for the pudding competition and last year my garlic and herb cheesecake made him retch. Who knows what delights I’ll bring him next?

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Posted in creativity, ethics, literature, reading, Uncategorized, Writing
13 comments on “You can’t panfry mackerel from frozen: cooking with Henry James
  1. zencherry says:

    Yes! Rofl! They DO say revenge is a dish best served cold…just make sure it’s cold, that’s all I’m sayin’. 😉

  2. So great Cathy – I needed a real laugh tonight & the cod trifle came through splendidly – If we’re ever in the same country, how about I cook, & you write!

  3. 🙂

    Come to my house and you can pick dog hair out of the home-made chocolate cookies.

    We know how to entertain.

  4. very entertaining, thanks

  5. alina says:

    I do remember your cooking tasting great, but then, who am I to tell? I’m sure the ‘boiling pasta’ episode is still vivid…

  6. Tina Rodwell says:

    I’m just trying to get my head around apple and trifle…………no, just cannot get my head around that one! But it made me laugh and I needed to read the quotes at the bottom to know I’m not the only one that thinks that way. So thank you x

  7. That is clever. Revenge can be so sweet. Keep writing even when something doesn’t work, because eventually you’ll perfect the flavor 🙂

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