Well, in my eyes, at any rate. The hamper arrived, this week, along with many boxes and oddly-wrapped pieces of furniture, and chests, and diverse bits of garden kit and other assorted goods and chattels. The family home in Kent is being dismantled - a thought-provoking process, and one where all sorts of long-forgotten treasures have emerged from cupboards and attics and other dusty resting places. My father's army trunks, for example, which were last used in anger when they were shipped back from Egypt, some years before the Suez Crisis (the uniforms inside were donated to the local charity shop, last month, and the trunks are now doing service as containers for the TD's not insignificant collection of shoes and boots...while my father's swagger sticks - one formal, the other less so - are still trying to 'find their place' somewhere around the house), and about a dozen (at last count) crates of books, and some pictures, and various bits of silver...
The hamper came out of the big house at Mount Clare - my mother seems to think it was passed over to my grandfather, probably by Leggett, the Butler, after LHS died rather unexpectedly in 1941. And it was passed on to my parents at some time early in the 1970's; certainly, I can remember it being in active use for a picnic in the grounds of Fishbourne Palace at around that time (an occasion memorable both for my (paternal) grandmother finding it incomprehensible that the word 'pickaninnies' should no longer be acceptable in common parlance, and for the unrelated blazing row later on the same day between my mother and her mother-in-law, as the result of which relations were frigidly distant for several years afterwards, and we had to make an unplanned stop at the gardens at Wakehurst Place on the way home, in order to allow overheated tempers to simmer down somewhat. Wakehurst Place was rather splendid, I recall.)
It's tantalising to think that perhaps the hamper played a supporting role in romantic interludes between Jean Rhys and LHS, whose mistress she was for some time, I think in the mid-thirties. The hamper probably dates from the end of the twenties. Strawberries and champagne and intimate dalliances on the Sussex Downs, perhaps, or at Goodwood, or muffled up to watch a point-to-point in some muddy field somewhere. TD tends to think otherwise, though, and that their 'interludes' together were likely to have been a lot less public, and more likely ot have been conducted in the privacy of the rented accommodation in which LHS had set her up, in Kilburn or Kensal Rise, I think it was - in which case, little need for a packed lunch at the same time.
It is indeed a lovely thing. Missing only one of the three wicker-covered bottles from the original set, it is otherwise complete and exactly as it was when it left the shop, around ninety years ago. Thoughts gather of a summer picnic somewhere up in the Garfagnana, or on the shaded slopes of Monte Amiata, or on one of the unspoilt beaches down towards Piombino. TD thinks that the well-house at the end of the garden is a more practical proposition...and he may be right.
Ravioli, with grana & beef stuffing, in asparagus sauce.
Vallespluga chicken, boned and roast, with garlic & parsley butter under the skin; roast salsify.
Tarts of fresh raspberries, on Marsala creme patissiere.
Pictured like this, it looks as though it belongs in a hairdressing salon rather than in a kitchen...but appearances can be deceptive. This is the piece of kit par excellence for tenderizing steak, and I can tell you that it works wonderfully. Technical Dept first came across reference to something like this some years ago, when he was chatting with a rather garrulous australian assistant in Jack O'Shea's (the butcher, all-too-briefly based in Montpelier Street), who blithely passed on the information that they had a commercial-sized one of these down in the basement, and all of their meat, pretty much, was subjected to it before being sold. It works a little like those pin-things that were so popular about thirty years ago, where you could leave an impression of your hand, or face (or whichever parts of your anatomy you felt like representing) by pushing against the pins, and leaving a 3-D reverse image of yourself in the bed of pins. In this instance, however, you push the pins down, and use them very efficiently to puncture the fibres inside the meat you are tenderising - it takes three or four pushes to tenderise one steak (and I tend then to turn it over and do it again from the other side, just to be sure)...and, that's it. Thereafter, a half-inch thick steak takes a minute on each side on a hot grill, and will be tender and succulent, and mouth wateringly good.
I don't know for how long domestic versions of this have been available, but TD was on the case, and I found one of them for me under the tree, last Christmas. It has the clear advantage of my being able to buy sirloin steaks of less than optimal quality, and by tenderising them with this thing, as a result of which they're pretty much as good as the best. These days, I tend to buy a complete entrecote at Metro - generally South American in origin - and then cut it into steaks for freezing...which means that a tenderised-to-be-perfect sirloin steak comes out at around one euro twenty a head. Which has much to be said for it.
Fettucine with lemon sauce
Rabbit, boned & rolled, stuffed with prosciutto and celery; mirepoix of vegetables.