That’s men: For a nostalgic feast, it’s Smash for my mash


‘But they all ate organic rice!” protests the newly awoken Miles Monroe in the Woody Allen movie Sleeper, when told that everybody he knew has been dead for nearly 200 years. In another scene, two doctors snigger because Miles has asked for a breakfast of “wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk”.

“Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties,” chuckles Dr Aragon. “You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or . . . hot fudge?” asks the other doctor.

“Those were thought to be unhealthy . . . precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true,” says Dr Aragon.

Have you ever felt that you have been living through a scenario like this? Our local butcher explained to me last week that steak has now been found to be extremely healthy because it isn’t processed: eat enough of it and you’ll live forever, he said. I was happy to take his word for this, bought a t-bone steak and still feel fine.

And there’s butter. Lots of people moved from butter to margarine when butter began to be seen as an agent of Darkness. Now, if I’m not mistaken, butter is back and seen as a good thing to put on your dinner. Meanwhile, the whole confusing business about trans-fats and saturated fats and unsaturated fats and poly-this-that-and-the-other fats has made buying a tub of margarine feel like playing a round of Mastermind in which you have to “pass” on all the questions.

Sugar used to be good for you. You could put lots of it in your tea or you could butter two slices of bread, lash sugar onto it and make a sugar sandwich out of it. Once, when I was a child, I gave up sugar for Lent. My father expressed alarm at the damaging effects that this could have on my health, and I returned to sugar straight away. For a time, I used to take four spoons of sugar in every mug of tea to be on the safe side. Then sugar became bad for you and some of the more excitable food police practically declared white sugar to be the work of Satan. I get the impression that white sugar is inching back into favour today, perhaps helped along by the “bake-offs” on TV.

Health aside, I recall, misty-eyed, certain foods that I really liked when I lived on my own in a bedsit, but which married men generally are not allowed to bring past the threshold of the family home. These included:
nPackets of Smash. These were potato flakes that turned magically into mashed potato with the addition of boiling water. They didn’t taste as good as “real” potatoes but they had a certain je ne sais quoi that I enjoyed.
nTinned potatoes.These were perfect, oval-shaped, peeled and boiled potatoes in a sort of syrupy liquid. Heated up, and with lots of butter, salt and pepper, they were a delight.

nInstant cabbage. This was chopped, dried cabbage in a packet and to which you added boiling water. Chef sauce gave it a zing.

nCorned beef in one of those square tins with a handle to peel off the top of the tin. You would shake your corned beef out onto the plate and wolf it down. The really good stuff was mottled with white fat.

Marriage has driven all of these off the menu but perhaps one day when I have the house to myself I will give myself a nostalgic feast beginning with an hors d’oeuvre of tinned potatoes, followed by slices of canned corn beef, instant potato and instant cabbage, all with lots of butter and Chef sauce. Dessert will be a sugar sandwich, made with real butter and white sliced pan. Miles Monroe would have a heart attack – but I hope not to.
Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.

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