Sunday, February 05, 2017

A Picnic on the Cusp of War.

A scant two weeks before Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, The Times (of London) included a feature article (in the section clearly aimed at women) entitled “Luncheons for the Moors: Ideas for Menus.”

One could have skimmed the newspaper and barely been aware that war was looming. Three short paragraphs half way down the first column on page 7 reported the need for more volunteers in the eventuality that children may need to be evacuated from London; about half of page 9 was given over to “World Peace” and events in Europe; and in a few column inches on page 11 under the header “Critical Days” it was noted that there were “many signs of heightened tension in international affairs.”

In view of the imminent inevitability of war in Europe at the time, the tone and tenor of the piece seems rather surreal today. Was the focus on the concept of a leisurely 3-course lunch on the moors (after a bracing walk, of course) a determined celebration of all that was good about England, in spite of the situation evolving in Europe? Was it outright denial that the Best of Times was about to devolve into the Worst of Times? A simple example of a British stiff upper lip and carry on regardless? An offering of “bread and circuses” to the masses?  

Here is the piece: may you enjoy it in all its evocative, nostalgic glory:


“Young people enjoy the scramble of a picnic on the moors, but after perhaps a hard morning’s walking older men would often be glad of a leisurely and ordered meal. It is also economical, for the housekeeper knows just how much to provide for each course. If the meal is carefully thought out beforehand, it actually takes up little room and can be packed in one side of the usual large leather pony bags, the other side being kept for drinks, glasses, and so on. This is an important consideration where there is no road near the trysting place.
The only extra that is wanted for a “course” luncheon is an additional set of plates, but these can be had in aluminium quite inexpensively, and are so thin and light they take up hardly any room. The second set should be only “cheese” size. These are for the sweet and cheese courses, but “dinner” sized ones will be more easily balanced for the meat course, when both hands are wanted for knife and fork.

Everything should as far as possible be in rectangular packets to save waste of space in packing. Bright biscuit tins can hold any course that is in small portions, and for the two main ones, the enameled oblong tins of luncheon baskets are best. The hostess should have a good eye for a “terrain” where everyone can sit in a rough circle and pass things without having to get up.

The bag should be put down beside her and she should, if possible, unpack it herself, placing each packet in its proper order. Every parcel should of course be carefully labelled. She will want only one person to help her by giving out plates and another to take round knives, forks, and spoons, the dishes themselves being handed to her nearest neighbor and passed on when he has helped himself. The drinks naturally will be in the charge of the host. The first course should be something that can be eaten in the fingers. Here are some ideas for menus:-“

I have chosen menu Number 2 for you today: stuffed eggs, cold lamb with mint jelly and salade russe followed by pain d’apricots, and a “black” gingerbread to serve with the cheese and butter course.  As an alternative to the salad, a cold curry of vegetables might be served, in which case it was suggested that the mint jelly be omitted, as “the strong flavours would not agree.”

Naturally, the article included a couple of recipes:

Stuffed Eggs.
Hard boil the eggs, cut them in two crosswise, take out the yolks, pass through wire sieve, mix with a very little thick whipped cream, salt, pepper, and a dash of Worcester sauce, fill the eggs, put the two halves together and twist up in greaseproof paper. Pack in tin and warn guests to open the parcels carefully.

Pain d’Apricots.
It is a pleasant and refreshing sweet.
Take 2 lb. of fresh or bottled apricots stewed and then passed through a sieve. Add four leaves of melted gelatine and see that the mixture is sweet enough. Pour into the enamel box to set. Serve this with a pot of Devonshire cream, which can easily be had by post and will keep fresh for a day or two.

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