I came across the term “anthropology of food” recently and, being a bit bemused by what that meant, I tried to find out and understand its relevance. The Wikipedia definition is “a sub-discipline of anthropology that connects an ethnographic and historical perspective with contemporary social issues in food production and consumption systems.” A bit high brow for me but I was lucky enough to have someone in the know bring it right down to basics so I could understand what it might mean for the food we eat day to day. One way it was explained to me (which I can get my head around) is that the food we cook might be based on recipes (not necessarily written down) handed down to us through family and friends. So, a certain dish or meal might have a link in our minds to a person/people we know or knew and that link might include shared or handed down stories or memories.
I do have certain dishes or meals which I link to people and these naturally take on more significance if that person dies. So I hold very dear some recipes, such as my Dad’s Greek Style Lamb. He came to cooking later in life and embraced it wholeheartedly in his retirement. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this particular recipe written down but I cook it every year (spring and summer only so as to get as near to Greek temperatures as we’re ever going to get here!). It may not have great historical meaning or anthropological depth but I hope to pass it on to my son (along with lots of others). I like the idea of being remembered for the food you cooked and shared with others. So here is the recipe for my Dad’s Greek Style Lamb, written down at last:
Ingredients: 1 leg or shoulder of lamb (on the bone), zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1-2 tsp of juniper berries (crushed), black pepper, 2 glugs of olive oil, 2-3 bay leaves, 3-4 garlic cloves (sliced), 2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Method: Make incisions with a sharp knife all over the lamb and insert the slices of garlic and some rosemary leaves into each slit. In a strong plastic food bag (or 2 normal food bags), add the oil, lemon, berries, bay, pepper and the lamb. Tie up securely, excluding most of the air so the marinade is in touch with the lamb all over.
Refrigerate for 24-48 hours, turning occasionally so the whole joint gets a good soaking in the marinade. Bring up to room temperature on the day you want to cook it. In a roasting tray, arrange a layer of small baby potatoes (halved if necessary) and simply tip the contents of the bag onto the potatoes and roast at 180c to taste – I like mine well cooked and you can’t really ruin it. Serve with a Greek salad.
And, as I hate waste, what about this for a great way to use up any leftovers – an Italian style shepherds pie, based on a recipe from an old cookbook of mine.
Dice the leftover meat and potatoes and place in a gratin dish, nestling slivers of red onion and whole small tomatoes in between (if you’re using tinned tomatoes, drain the juice to reduce the amount of juice before adding). Add a splash or two of white wine or water. Then, mix a couple of generous handfuls of breadcrumbs with plenty of fresh herbs (less if you use dried), some grated parmesan, pepper and a glug of oil. Spread the breadcrumb mix over the dish, drizzle with more oil and bake in a preheated oven at 180c for 30-40 minutes. This was so nice, I shall definitely use it again for any leftover lamb.
If I can pass on anything to my son, it will not just be the love of good food but also the pleasure of making a great supper out of what you can find in your fridge and store cupboard.