To Milk the Bull

Regular readers of New Directions will understand with what trepidation I turn to the subject of cows. Thus far I have managed to avoid them; but needs must…

Poor Edwina Curry! It remains a mystery why destiny should have chosen to stalk her with strange agricultural phenomena. She lost her job, and her political credibility, quite unjustly, because she had the courage to point out that feeding faeces to chickens (not surprising) upped the statistical likelihood of salmonella in eggs. The world – or rather the agricultural establishment and its backroom boys in the Tory party – was not prepared to hear her. She was right, she resigned, she was forgotten.

Tenaciously, over a period of time, Ms Curry has clawed her way back from disgrace to Newsnight and invented for herself an entirely new persona. Yet just when her new-found role as Euro-fanatic-in-chief was bringing her once again very satisfactorily to public attention (in the run-up to a general election, what is more) came the crisis about beef.

Again, as a matter of fact (though facts are not much more use in the political arena than they are in the Church of England) Edwina is right. It is absurd, undignified and downright criminal to feed placid, aristocratic and amiable creatures like the Aberdeen Angus with the mangled detritus of sick sheep. And it is the more criminal to go on to feed the less attractive parts of those noble beasts to the innocent purchasers of bangers and burgers nationwide. Though those of us with little enthusiasm for the beefburger have always suspected that they contained nothing of which the manufacturers could be proud, that is hardly the point. The point is that in a modern democracy people ought to be entitled to eat things which are tasteless, unpleasant and nutritionally insignificant without contracting serious and incurable diseases.

But what Edwina did not bargain with was the symbolic significance of the Roast Beef of Old England. It would be hard to invent a subject on which the sentiment of the English could be more easily roused against the bureaucrats of Brussels. It is an article of faith with Englishmen that theirs is the best beef in the world. And since most of them have not tasted the filet steak of Kobe (Japan) or the magnificent beef of the veldt of Southern Africa, or indeed any beef at all

for some time, they continue in their superstition. If Edwina’s task is really to sell to the British people a closer association with a Community which not only refuses to eat our beef., but refuses us the right to sell it to others, she might as well throw in the sponge.

This is all the more strange because the English have a long tradition of rendering beef (and most other things for that matter) virtually inedible by the cooking. The Roast Beef of Old England, fairly accurately simulated by the sliced beef TV dinners which sell so well from suburban freezing cabinets, does not excite salivation in most of the EU. I well remember how chastened I was, some years ago, in a bookshop in Nimes, to read a French account of an English Sunday lunch. The vegetables were dismissed with derision, the meat was characterised as of poor quality and overcooked. But it was the sauce which commanded the ultimate in hauteur: `Abandonnez le gravy ‘ wrote the author from bitter experience, `a son destin douloureux’.

It has not always been so. In this crisis of our island race (when suppliers of cattle feed have come close to undermining our dignity as a proud and animal loving people, and look set to get away with it), for those who seek solace and reassurance, I offer the following:

Beef with Cabbage.

Take a piece of rib sufficient for six people. Lard it with between eight and a dozen filets of anchovy according to taste, inserting the blade of a small sharp knife into the meat and sliding the anchovy into the flesh. Roast the beef on a trivet over a shallow pan of water until it is done (i.e. until such time as it will carve easily, the blood following the knife). Cleanse the pan with port, boiling furiously to create enough gravy lightly to coat the required number of slices.

Serve with a savoy cabbage, cut into segments and gently steamed for a short while, refreshed and set aside. To the cabbage in a heavy saucepan add three ounces of smoked bacon, chopped into small pieces and fried until cooked but not crisp, a few ounces each of chantrelles, trompettes de mort and shiitake mushrooms, a palmful of freshly chopped thyme, three ounces of double cream, salt and pepper. Bring the cream to the boil and take to the table.

This will not repair the fortunes of Edwina Curry; but it will enhance the dignity of any cow.

Geoffrey Kirk iv Vicar of St Stephen’s, Lewisham in the diocese of Southwark. He bought all the ingredients for this month’s Way We Live Now in Tesco, Lewisham at a total cost of £15.80p