How I wish I had met Mr Philip Harben, the TV chef… He sounds such a hilarious person, so full of fun and spontaneity, I am sure any evening spent with him would have been very memorable and the food consumed very memorable too… in one way or another!
Writing his ‘Cooking Quickly’ book in 1946, just after the war, when most food was rationed, and other things in short supply (I’ve mentioned this when writing about knitting wool, which was very hard to come by in those years) some of his ‘recipes’ do seem extraordinary, and very much remind me of when we were students, hard up, little cookery equipment, rudimentary cooker with maybe just a single burner, and concocting weird combinations of meals because we were hungry and had to be inventive with what we had.
He writes about Sir Francis Meynell whom he describes as ‘the great epicure’; Francis Meredith Wilfrid Meynell was born in 1891, so he was about fifteen years older than Philip. Meynell was a poet and he and his wife and David Garnett started the Nonesuch Press in the early 1920’s, to publish poetry.
Here is what Philip writes about his own hotch-potch omelette…
The great epicure Sir Francies Meynell once told me of his cooking methods. ‘I throw in everything within sight!’ it is courage of this sort, exploiting every possible flavour combination but avoiding obvious discords, which produces some of the world’s finest dishes.
There is no set recipe for a Hotch-Potch Omelette. Melt some fat in a large frying pan and in it throw almost ‘everything within sight.’ BACON, APPLES, MEAT, ONIONS, MUSHROOMS, BAKED BEANS, CHICKEN, POTATOES, FISH – almost anything and everything cut up fairly small.
Fry this conglomeration gently until such raw ingredients as it may contain have had time to cook. Meanwhile, take two eggs per person, break them into a basin and beat them slightly. Instead of shell eggs you can add reconstituted dried egg at the rate of 1 dry oz per person.
Increase the heat under the frying pan and throw in the eggs. Push the mixture about with a spoon or any handy utensil, until the bottom sets and the top just ceases to be runny but is still moist.
Cut the omelette across into portions and get them out as best you may.
I have used his capital letters for the ingredients – and what ingredients, imagine fish, baked beans and apple…. hmmm… I don’t think my family would go for that! I love his language – ‘courage of this sort’, avoid ‘obvious discords, throwing in the ingredients, ‘any handy utensil’… and above all, his serving instructions, ‘and get them out as best you may…’
The recipe which follows this is for ‘Crawfish in Mashed Potatoes’ – which being in the ‘Cooking Quickly’ book, is just that – a tin of crawfish (otherwise known as crayfish)mixed in with a pan of mashed potatoes and some milk, butter and chopped parsley… Definitely student cooking!