Whenever I hear of duty and the honour bestowed on those who, when called to it, perform it without question, I am whisked back to a much earlier time when, early each morning, I was to be found perched on a lavatory in a crumbling country house deep in the Worcestershire countryside. Our raw boned Scottish headmaster, a ringer for Thring in Ronald Searle’s “Molesworth”, was of the belief that the first thing opened each morning by a child in his charge should be his bowels. This quotidian dump was known as “Doing one’s Duty” and to ensure that evacuation had indeed occurred, a burly matron stood outside the lavatory door, her trained ear cocked to confirm the expected sounds that would signal success in order that a tick might be placed, next to the current incumbent’s name, in the impressive Duty Register that lay open upon her heroic folded arms. Failure, as with the Light Brigade, was inconceivable which resulted in most of the boys being able to mimic the sounds of various styles of defecation in the way that freer children can imitate bird song. Ours was an ear for a turd song. It was eggs that moved me into that train of thought this morning or rather the lack of them at that time of my life. Nothing that bound was served in the refectory. It was a system that produced alumni with highly educated bowels together with a skill that would have made them a fortune in the music halls, if they had still existed, or on “Britain’s got Talent”, which had yet to be created.
Notwithstanding Thring’s admonition on eggs and all things eggy, eggs and I have become well acquainted without them making me any less dutiful than I was in my adolescence. Moreover, with the arrival of summer they become essential ingredients for summer cooking and eating. Without them we would be bereft of mayonnaise, aioli, oeufs mayonnaise, cheese or crab soufflés, meringues, oeufs mollets, salade Nicoise, eggs with tarragon in aspic and, a favourite of mine, thin cold omelettes such as the omelette aux fines herbes in the picture. This was a truly summer dish as the omelette was made with the egg yolks left over from making meringues, which were eaten with a pile of raspberries and thick, yellow creme fraiche. A very delicious way to enjoy these small, cold omelettes is to make five or six of them, each slightly different …let us say that two may be flavoured with Parmesan, two with fresh tomatoes and two with courgettes..and then pile them on top of one another to make a layered omelette cake. Cut slices as you would a cake…..Caroline Conran showed me this idea many years ago and it has never failed to please.