The silence after the hubbub of Sunday lunch is like the white noise that fills the brain as a general anaesthetic takes effect. There’s a mixture of narcotic pleasure in the cushioned lushness of the collapse from consciousness, combined with the feeling that something is missing; that there was more to come and now it’s passed out of reach. It’s a good feeling, if you can keep your eyes open for long enough to define it.
There is a fragmentation of time during the summer months, on account of the absence of friends and family through staggered holiday breaks and the simple pleasure of being outside doing summery things. It needs the onset of Autumn to renew the pleasure afforded by a family Sunday lunch around a table. Such was today’s lunch, which was followed by a walk in the forest with children and dogs. We’re still in shorts but our hearts are full of Autumn intent.
We ate a simple lunch to suit the tastes of a table laid for three generations. Roast chicken and gravy, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, and bottled petit pois and carrots ( which are a weakness of mine) followed by meringues and chilled, apricot compote, or sponge cake filled with apricot jam and cream, with vanilla ice cream if needed. The ingredient that made the flavours more than they might have been was thought, if thought can be an ingredient. I thought about how to cook this chicken and opted for Annie Bell’s clever idea of poaching the chicken first and then roasting it. This recipe flies in the face of so many aficionados of the roasted chicken, but it works. A chicken, wet from poaching, miraculously and against the odds, becomes a golden, crisp skinned, juicy roast bird. You are also left with very good poaching liquid to help flavour the gravy. The potatoes are parboiled, drained and banged around in their cooking pan until all their edges are a fluffy mess and then rolled around in hot olive oil in a roasting tray, fresh from the oven. Sea salt, black pepper and a fine sprinkle of polenta ensure a crisp, golden crust around a fondant potato. Parmesan and Cantal Entre Deux are grated into the bechamel for the cauliflower cheese and we’re ready to eat. Flavours forgotten over summer create a certain silence at the table save for the cries that would have enraged the Beadle – “MORE, DO I HEAR MO-O-R-R-E”.
Then there’s walking, and tea and second helpings of pudding and then it’s the end of the afternoon and goodbyes and kisses and dogs barking and the anaesthetist starts his work……