Now, I know it wasn’t a competition but I couldn’t help feel that people enjoyed Lucy’s lemon drizzle cake more than my cheesecake. Oh sure, my cheesecake tasted alright but it was structurally weak, whereas Lucy’s lemon drizzle was moist yet crumbly, firm without being dry. Lucy offered up neat slices, where I slopped out citrus cowpats like a jolly dinner lady. People ate both desserts politely. They had no choice. We were at a feast. And we were on camera.
Forming part of a sprawling timetable of events, An Edible Compass – A Feast is just one fragment of what eventually will become the Pacitti Company’s On Landguard Point, a film which will be screened next year as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Exploring the concept of ‘home’, and starring the good folk of the East of England, the film is to be accompanied by an Encyclopaedia and a Cookbook for the East.
Ah yes, a cookbook. ‘Come to this marvellous banquet!’ hooted the organisers, ‘but please be aware it’s self-catering’. Once I’d got over this crushing disappointment, I started to get excited about the possibilities of inflicting my culinary talents on perfect strangers. Why, it would be like Come Dine With Me. Even better, it would be like Come Dine With Me and Me and Me And Me (and Me and so on).
Inside the Cookbook for the East, there are 60 recipes by local people, each onr special to that particular person, each one representing their idea of ‘home’. Would I opt for Norfolk Game Pâté? Or try my hand at Roast Gressingham Duck with Vietnamese Noodles? Siggi’s traditional Schweinhaxe mit Sauerkraut, perhaps? No, no of course not. It was clear from the outset that I would make Angela’s No-cheese Citrus Cheesecake. It didn’t involve cheese. Or cooking. It was a clear winner.
So, clutching my cake tin I milled at the entrance to the Museum of East Anglian Life’s impressively long hay field, checking out the competition Stowmarket had to offer. Here a homely granny brandishing a casserole pot (definitely one to watch there), there a child proffering a salad (hah! salad, no one wants salad). A town crier cried and off we raced towards the vast banqueting table.
Very loosely we were arranged into groups, the idea being to talk and share food amongst your gaggle of new chums. A clash of several dozen different ideas of good dining etiquette resulted in a very British period of time where we all spoke elliptically around the concept of food, before someone somewhere cracked and began to, you know, eat. Thankfully, in a sea of puddings, one local chap, Ian, had brought a rather wonderful pork curry. Someone else chucked a lamb shank our way (it was that kind of banquet) and there was sausage casserole for thosw who had any room left. With the bread having been broken, the ice followed suit.
As the chomping and chatting began in earnest, the feast was filmed. The camera swept down the long table, as each group took part in their own way. Some were instructed to whoop and cheer, some to throw balloons, others just to continue eating. With the filming done, it all sort of fizzled out. You couldn’t help but feel you had just been an extra in someone else’s film (we were, of course) and that something much bigger was going on that you didn’t quite understand. The camera crew drifted away. ‘Is that it then?’ said someone. It was, sadly.
All in all, it was very jolly and rather English, which was the point, I suppose. I would have liked our culinary camaraderie to have been sustained and supported (perhaps booze would have been the answer – it would have been mine, anyway) but we all got to share and share in each other’s time, company and food for a brief moment. Perhaps with the accumulation of events making up On Landguard Point, the hint of community engendered by An Edible Compass will be formed into something more meaningful. In the end, Lucy said that she liked my cheesecake and that’s pretty good with me.