Imperfect memories

I’ve been trying to remember what we used to have in our Christmas order from Fortnum & Mason. I should think we ordered the stilton from there. We used to have a whole stilton; we had a round cheesedish with a big cover. The top crust of the cheese was cut off and we scooped out helpings with a cheese scoop. There was, apparently, a tradition of pouring port into the cheese, but we never did that – sounds like a good way of ruining both stilton and wine to me.

Then there were the sweets. I remember we had griottes en cognac – hope I’ve got the name right. Brandied cherries in dark chocolate. We also used to have butterscotch rolled in flaked almonds; I can’t remember their name. *Something* amandine, logically enough, but the missing word is the one that matters. They were gorgeous and I haven’t been able to get them for years – I’ve asked but haven’t tracked them down. We used to buy tea and coffee from F&M all year round; we drank Earl Grey tea and you couldn’t get that locally in those days. We sent for it and coffee beans every month or so.

I can’t remember what else we bought. Things like tinned anchovies, olives and olive oil, avocado pears … in the 1950s and early 1960s few people used these things, but my parents were early devotees of Elizabeth David and were adventurous cooks. My mother went to a great deal of trouble with food and my father was a keen vegetable gardener. We had a full-time gardener, but Daddy had an extra greenhouse too, where he grew the things he fancied. I remember one year he grew loofahs and had his picture in the local paper. We used them for years and the black seeds used to drop out in the bath. I’ve grown them myself, they are like cucumbers to grow, but you have to leave the fruit to dry out, until only the skeleton is left. If it starts to blacken at all, the whole thing will rot, so that needs care. I hung them above the Aga to dry out slowly.

Anyway, yesterday my sister and I pottered happily around F&M food hall for some time, and I bought a Christmas pudding. She says her contribution to Christmas dinner will be champagne and smoked salmon. I think I’m all sorted.

12 comments on “Imperfect memories

  1. Pat

    Ooooh z! There’s posh! BTW what’s happened to Polly? Growing loofahs sounds as barmy as Richard Dimbleby’s spaghetti trees. He fooled viewers with them one April fool’s Day way back when. Sounds like you’ll have a yummy Christmas and I’m not jealous. Providing we can get to Sussex we’ll be doing likewise but I won’t be doing it. Ho hum!

  2. Wendz

    Isn’t it odd to think how all the food we take for granted today used to be a luxury.

    I have never had Stilton with port poured in – sounds peculiar but I have heard of it before. Maybe it would be good?

    My Mom told me tonight that the Christmas cake she’s bringing with her weighs 3kg and she might have to toss it..well not really throw it away…but give it to my sister at the airport if she’s too much over her luggage allowance. I do hope not.

    I love those cherry choccies – they shops are full of them at this time of year – must have a look out for amandines in butterscotch. You never know.

  3. martina

    What wonderful memories! My first memory of Fortnum and Mason is watching All Creatures Great and Small. James got fabulous Christmas gift baskets from Mrs. Pumphrey after caring for TrickyWoo. Don’t think there is a F&M here in the U.S.

  4. Z

    Pat, I remember the spaghetti trees. Was it on Panorama? I was too young to stay up that late, but I remember my father laughing and showing me the article about it in (I think) the Spectator. Loofahs really are growable, in a greenhouse. Maybe I will next year if I can get seeds and post a picture. You’re right, Stitchwort, a comical picture, now you mention it!

    Wendz, I can see those sweets now. A white box with gold lettering and they were individually wrapped in
    silver paper.

    Martina, now the assistants in the food hall wear red jackets, but when I was young the men wore morning suits. And the young women in the upstairs departments were all frightfully charming and well spoken and obviously Daddy was subsidising their tiny wages, but that was all right because all Mummy’s friends came and shopped there so they felt at home. The older heads of department made a bee-line for the smartest customers in the hope of lots of commission.

  5. Angelina

    My nan had all sorts of things growing in the garden and at Christmas they would turn up on the table in pies jams and jellies which always completely fascinated me.

    I love the windows at Fortnum and Mason but I’m always too inimidated to go in there – it all looks so expensive and I’m afraid I’d knock things over!

  6. Z

    Hello, Angelina, and welcome – it is very expensive. I’d not do the weekend shopping there. However, I like to buy something, if just for the memories, and the food is lovely. I haven’t been upstairs for a few years, but I used to buy a particularly gorgeous rose-scented facial toner there. Must check it out some time.

    It feels so good to have a shelf-ful of home grown and home preserved goodies, nothing like it to make one feel like a Good Housekeeper. I’ll have to start doing that sort of thing again to give my grandchildren memories!

  7. Blue Witch

    The firm Mr BW uses to do his company’s graphic art send a F&M hamper to him at the FOTCRâ„¢. I have never tasted such disgusting stilton as that in the package last year. It was totally rancid.

    I rang to complain and was told in no uncertain terms that only the person sending the hamper could complain. Needless to say it seemed too ungrateful for him to complain to the sender.

    F&M went down a lot in my estimation.

  8. The Boy

    Hurrah, blogger is letting me post comments again!

    After extensive taste testing we found the F&M Xmas Puds actually were not quite up to the mark. Next to my aunt-in-law’s annual bake up, Waistrose gold pud in brandy is actually my favourite.

    Then again, perhaps its time for another test!

  9. Z

    By the time I’ve doused it in plenty of brandy and set fire to it, it will taste wonderful. The best we ever had (apart from the ones I used to make, of course) was one I bought from the local deli, which was not too heavy, very fruity and yum. Deli’s changed hands since and they don’t stock the same sort.

  10. Z

    BW, I’m remembering the 60s, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that things have changed for the worse since then.

    Greavsie, you wouldn’t be teasing an old woman, would you now?


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