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From Suffolk pubs to gastro-pubs

PUBLISHED: 01:16 23 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:39 20 February 2013

Peter Sampson bemoans a new and unwelcome trend in eating

Peter Sampson bemoans a new and,in his opinion,unwelcome trend in eating

I have an undying passion for steak-and-kidney pudding and for gravy you could trot a mouse across. I will cheerfully rob any passing widow or orphan for a steaming bowl of succulent hotpot. I believe that chips must be chips, not those French things the size, taste and consistency of dead matchsticks. After all, the whole purpose of eating is to fill the belly and plump the muscles, with none of that business of twirling ones fingers and gazing at the ceiling in ecstasy. Head down and tuck in thats the way to eat.

At least, thats the sort of plain, un-fancy food we ought to be able to expect when we go out to a Suffolk village pub tucked away down some quiet lane behind the medieval flint tower of the church. Suffolk pubs should leave the fancy stuff to restaurants, places that dont pretend to be pubs, places where eating is quite openly an expensive, fussy and niminy-piminy charade in which cubes of raw fish squat demurely in a puddle of purple coulis, theres always coriander somewhere and the whole absurdity would leave a hamster banging on the table for real food.

But a real Suffolk pub should have nothing more on the bar than a jar of pickled onions and a few Scotch eggs. A landlord with social pretensions could add the odd pork pie or two.

Sadly, in Suffolk, I seem to be almost alone in these beliefs. Just about every pub you go into, north, south, east and west of the county, is desperate to be thought of as a gastro-pub, where the regular local drinkers are hidden away in a dark corner near the loo with a free bag of crisps between them, so as not to offend the middle classes chattering brightly over their garlic bread and Chardonnay in the restaurant.

Actually, this gastro-pubbery has an influence that goes much wider than the village pub. Its changing the way Suffolks middle classes bring up their children.

Look at the faces of their offspring nowadays. Watch them in the gastro-pub on a Sunday lunchtime. Vaguely dissatisfied by the sugar, fat and salt diet produced by the obesity industry and left hungry by what the gastro-pub has to offer, these children yearn without knowing it for creamy rice puddings with a heavy brown skin on top or for lentil soup thick enough to eat with a fork. They need stoking up on condensed milk sandwiches and, at five oclock every Sunday, a ham-and-tomato tea. They need large helpings of sausage-and-mash for supper, with jam roly-poly for pudding. That would keep the little blighters asleep.

But what do they get? Suffolk parents who read the Sunday colour supplements and eat in gastro-pubs feed their offspring on baby buffalo mozzarella, stuffed mushrooms, tzatziki and soup out of cardboard cartons. No wonder their children are pallid, whining little nuisances.

Where have Suffolks grandmothers gone, those ancient matriarchs in black bombazine and sequins? They knew the difference between sense and nonsense. They understood what food was for. Grandmothers knew how to roast potatoes that were crisp outside and crumbly inside. They fed grateful grandchildren on strawberry tarts with pastry sublimely soggy and rosy with juice. Grandmothers made apple pies with precisely the right degree of sharpness and a whiff of cloves.

Grandmothers in Suffolk knew food was meant to put a solid lining on your stomach, so that you could face whatever a cold East Anglian world could throw at you. They were right.


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