It’s Sniven’s fault. It was he who encouraged us to come to Gold Canyon, and he who put the Captain back in touch with Captain Harris after many years. Sniven makes an almost-annual visit to the Southwest, and being a democratic fellow he divides his time; one year he stays in what he amusingly calls ‘The Harris Hovel,’ and the next he stays with us. Once he took a year off and it completely confused all of us to the point that we didn’t know where he should stay. During his visits the five of us are very likely to gather for the evening meal and a catch-up of the day’s activities. Also, perhaps, some gin. Not the game.
This year one of the evening conversations turned to the Aubrey-Maturin series of nautical tales set during the Napoleonic Wars, written by Patrick O’Brian. The three gentlemen around our table had all enjoyed reading the books enormously, and began to reminisce about various elements. “What on earth,” asked Sniven, “is Soused Hog’s Face?” referring to a dish that appears in Master and Commander. Research ensued, and the assembled group decided that nothing would do but that we would try it.
Unfortunately an actual hog’s face, while readily available, was nothing either of the principal cooks wished to tackle (what to do with the teeth?). But the Captain found an acceptable recipe which called for ‘pork,’ and he took on the job. It turns out there is more onion than anything else in this gelled dish. It also turns out it is absolutely delicious, and is perfect for a hot summer meal.
(An interesting post-script: we served leftover Face to Italian friends a couple of days later. Marguerita said, “But we make exactly this dish in Bari, but without the onions.”)
The discussion then turned to amusing English dessert nomenclature, specifically Boiled Baby and Spotted Dick. Both, it turns out, are puddings, and neither difficult to make. We opted for Spotted Dick on the theory that it was somehow funnier, and I volunteered to make it. It is served under a ‘lashing’ of custard, not shown here, but happily consumed at our meal.
Sniven wasn’t done with us, though. Years ago his adored Granny from Nova Scotia used to make him some kind of milky, custardy dried cod dish. (She served it with dulse, which the kindly Sniven inflicted on us (I mean ‘brought to us’) several years ago; we went without this year.) Mrs. Harris, of whom I’ve spoken in other posts, is an amazing cook and has an encyclopedic knowledge of food, food history and food preparations. She took on the chef-detective task of replicating a food memory from long ago. I’m not a great fan of baccala, the Italian name for dried salted cod; in fact I hate it, so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy Granny’s dish. I could not have been more wrong, which simply proves the theory that the addition of cream and butter makes anything divine.
Somehow it all worked. It brought to mind those enormous menus we read about from the 17th century and 18th centuries, where the meal would begin with fish, travel through foul to meat, and end with some extraordinarily complex dessert, all washed down by barrels of ale (if you want some fine examples, dip into the Diary of Samuel Pepys).
It was, to be sure, about the strangest dinner any of has eaten, at least in its joining of disparate components. The pity is that Sniven has taken himself back to the shores of Maryland where he resides with beautiful Judith, and we are unlikely to be doing much more experimenting with odd menus in the next little while.