I am one very lucky girl. One mention of my difficulties in procuring lard for my culinary shenanigans and a volunteer stepped forward.
Meet Mary, a hospital housekeeper from the Midlands, who brought me a second delivery of lard and dripping today.
Mary – you are an absolute diamond.
I think chips are on the cards – I haven’t made any since July – and this time I’m going to see what the results are like using dripping.
There is also the question of pies. Only yesterday, I noticed that the Hairy Bikers have a new book out all about pies, pies and nothing else but pies.
Since I seem to have dipped into a state of nosh nostalgia – thanks largely to Nigel Slater’s utterly delightful Eating for England – I have been drawn to pies.
Well, that and frequent trips to football matches where, after the hiccough of Manchester City’s legendary chicken balti pie, I have settled into a routine of eating a meat and potato pie at half time.
If I had an extra hand, I’d get a drink of Bovril too: the other day I caught a whiff of the stuff somewhere and I was instantly transported to a wintery, Pennine terrace where that beefy drink acted as half-time anti-freeze.
Slater talks of Marmite but not Bovril: for me, it's the the latter that has a Proustian quality – Proust, that is, given a football makeover.
Why on Earth would anyone consider memories of being so cold with such fondness? A certain innate masochism, perhaps? That might – until the last few years at any rate – explain my love affair with Manchester City.
But back to pies: with the nights crowding in, I want food likes pies. And I want to cook pies. Nothing fancy – but real big-flavoured comforting pies. With lard in the pastry.
It can’t be steak and kidney, since The Other Half doesn’t eat kidney, and even chicken and mushroom seems too fancy Dan for my present mood.
Meat and potato pie, then. It’s the season, I’m sure. I remember eating meat and potato pie, with black peas on the side, at bonfire nights near Mossley. Jacket potatoes too, baked in the fire. And parkin – real parkin.
Simple flavours. Food that was hot in the hands; warming against the cold and the night. The heat and the crackle of the fire; the pop and the fizz of fireworks blossoming in the velvet black above.
This drift into the joys of nostalgia and northern food took another, unexpected boost on Saturday. Shopping at Euston for fodder for the trek to Manchester, I was rendered nearly giddy with delight to find a pack of four small Eccles cakes. It was like coals to Newcastle: they’d been made just up the road from City’s stadium – just down the road from my old school.
I don’t recall having Eccles cakes in my childhood. This is a different nostalgia – something more collective and region based. This is roots food. This is food as something that is about who you are – who you think you are – who you want to be, where you come from.
And this, in so many ways, is what I think we have lost – to a degree at least. It's not that we shouldn't enjoy foods from other culinary cultures. I think, for instance, that Jamie Oliver makes an interesting point about this in his new book/series: that other foods have become our cuisine. Yes – to an extent.
The French have quite taken to couscous in recent years and it has become part of their national cuisine.
But I do think we'd done a bit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in culinary terms. Don't mess around with a Yorkshire pudding, for instance – there's no need, because it's perfect to start with.
London isn't the only place in Britain – and as such, it isn't representative of the country as a whole – but it seems that the bulk of eateries in the places that I move on a daily basis don't serve any British food.
And there's nowt wrong with pie – any more than there's anything wrong with Yorkshire puddings or fish 'n' chips or many, many other dishes.
But let's not get too serious tonight. I need to try making some of those Eccles cakes too – and it occurs to me that lard might be helpful there as well.
Mary – thank you for the gift today (and for your previous delivery). I promise to use it well and appreciate it. And I promise too to write about at least some of what I cook with it.