Monday, 19 March 2007

End Of An Era

Last week brought news of the end of a culinary era. Not a truly great culinary era, you understand, but a truly English culinary era. In fact such a tribute to England and its food that I have decided to submit this as my entry to Fish & Quips, Sam Breach's warm and wonderful St. George's day tribute to the gastronomic delights of her native land. Please don't laugh. Not at this stage. Bear with me.

Three brands that made England what she is todayHeinz workers ask The Queen to intervene to save HP production
Shock news of the week was that the last bottle of HP sauce has rolled off its Midlands production line and that the classic English brand, with its Royal warrant and picture illustrating its name (Houses of Parliament), will henceforth be produced in the Netherlands (Holland Produced). Owners Heinz said: "HP sauce will continue to taste the same", but trade unions at the Birmingham factory responded by organising a mass protest and claiming The "swines" are taking away a great English iconthat the company's decision "left a bad taste in their mouths". Ray Egan, a 69-year-old retired policeman, barricaded himself on the roof of the HP plant at Aston Cross. Draping flags and banners over the building, he told reporters: "The point I am making is that we are losing a true icon - a bastion of Britishness and a worldwide product and brand". Underlying the great HP debate is a classic piece of class snobbery. Former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was said to play up his working class credentials by drowning everything he ate with HP sauce, whereas Conservative Prime Ministers traditionally make no secret of their penchant for the more up-market Worcestershire Sauce.

The classic English "balti" - invented in BirminghamIf the loss of England's iconic brown sauce was not enough to bear, the shock was compounded with the news that another unique symbol of food excellence - Patak's traditional English food empire - has been put on the market for £200m and is expected to be snapped up by... of all people... a group of Indians. Mumbai-based company ITC has expressed a strong interest in acquiring the 50-year-old family-owned company which makes a range of typically English ready-to-eat foods, cooking sauces, snacks, spices and pickles. The magic red paste that transports you to the PunjabOne of their best selling lines is chicken balti, a great Birmingham invention. The term "balti" is Hindi for "bucket" - believed either to be a tribute to refined English table etiquette or a reference to the post-prandial requirements of those who have consumed excess quantities of this traditional English fare. Demonstrating his disgust at the Board's decision to sell, Group Managing Director David Page has decided to quit the world of refined food altogether and take up a job offer with Jamie Oliver. Patak's soared to fame in the 1980s as owners of the closely-guarded secret sauce recipe for England's most traditional and popular meal, chicken tikka masala. For many years, the company vied with Britvic for the honour of producing the most garishly orange food product. Patak's was also famous for producing a bright red marinade paste with the magical property of making chicken cooked by students in London bedsit gas-fired ovens taste identical to murgh prepared by Chandigarhi master chefs in tandoors - especially after consumption of a few pints of lager.

We fought the Nazis for the freedom to drink OvaltineFinally, to Ovaltine. The wikipedia entry shows clearly the dangers of open access web technology, as Americans have seized the article and created the illusion that Ovaltine is some kind of US product. Think again, guys! Ovaltine is what gave my grandparents the late night energy to make my parents as they listened to The Light Programme and my parents the calories to create Joel and I while listening to pirate Radio Luxembourg three decades later. Although originally developed in the Alps, Ovaltine is to generations of English men and women what pumpkin pie is to Americans and Pavlova is to Australians NewZealanders Australians antipodeans. It's hard to imagine what little Elsie, Winnie and Johnnie would have made of the word "microwaveable" on today's packaging. Now, in a fit of pique clearly designed to teach the people of the Indian subcontinent a lesson for stealing our curry sauces, we have just decided to inflict Ovaltine on them. This warming winter beverage is just what the Indians need, especially launched into the market during the late Spring and early Summer, when temperatures in the capital reach as high as 45ºC.

English cuisine - the greatest food to be found anywhere between Scotland and FranceSo a massive tragedy has struck England's culinary heritage, equivalent to France imposing a ban on foie gras, tomato blight in Italy or extinction of the Russian sturgeon. What will we do next, with HP disappearing and leaving nothing but a choice of the ballooning Branston's or the inappropriately named Daddies sauce? How can we survive without our beloved English processed curry meals?

And will we have to settle for a load of old Horlicks, or perhaps a mouthful of lassi, now that the Indians are washing down their chicken tikka masalas with Ovaltine? Only time will tell. Either way, it's the sad, sad end of a great English culinary era.

Many thanks to my dad for a lot of help with the writing of this post. He's Polish.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Without sounding chauvinistic, the origins (and flavour) of Patak are as English as the Imperial Tobacco Company (ITC) is Indian! Cheers to globalization.

Trig said...

So I'll record that as a "no" vote in the "Can the English make us laugh?" contest, then.

Sam said...

ha ha ha

YesBut said...

This is the ninth stop in YesBut’s tour of blog land. I arrived here by entering the key words “English factory” in Google Blog search.

How can HP sauce be produced in Holland - sacrilege . But now I must move on using the keyword chosen at random from your blog “classic piece”. If you want to know where I have come from and where the key word takes me check my blog
http://grumpyandfarting.blogspot.com on Tuesday 20th March.

david L said...

FYI Aidan: My email that I sent to you came back as well! must be something between us darned Americans & you Ovaltine-swillers
; )

The TriniGourmet said...

i grew up on ovaltine. always drank it cold. can't imagine it hot...lol :D Milo was always more popular tho. love horlicks as well!

Trig said...

Believe me, Sarina, if you had British weather you'd drink your Ovaltine hot. Mind you, with global warming, maybe... No. I can't imagine Ovaltine with ice.

maki said...

...but Ovaltine (Ovomaltine) is actually Swiss in origin...

or so my (Swiss) husband says...

zorra said...

maki's husband is right. Ovomaltine is Swiss in origin.

Trig said...

OK guys - the Swiss may have invented Ovomaltine (which sounds to me like something that happens to women at a certain time of month), but it was we English who invented Ovaltine, turning a perfectly healthy beverage into something disgusting by adding loads of sugar to the recipe and then inciting customers to add even more when pouring a cup. And better still, we exported the sucrose-laden slop to the US so the Americans could become even more obese than us.

Don't tell the English that Ovaltine is not a native product or we are likely to get very upset and dispatch a naval armada from Portsmouth. Mind you, in the case of Switzerland this might be a tiny bit of a problem so we would probably impose a boycott on cuckoo clocks for the next ten years instead.

Ovaltine is a very important aid for English people of my parent's age to help them get to sleep at night. The French, Italians and Trinidadans of course have other methods of night-time relaxation. What do the Swiss do in order to sink into a night's oblivion?


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