Great Literature Of The 20th Century: Further Reading (and Further Eating)

Last week on Great Literature I featured that classic tome, The Doctor Who Cookbook. At the end of the article I included the full recipe for Elisabeth Sladen’s Cauliflower Cheese – you may remember Elisabeth Sladen as dauntless lady journalist Sarah-Jane Smith – here’s a picture of her being possessed by a stone hand while dressed as Andy Pandy:

I set the challenge to Outland Institute visitors to make this dish at home and report back (the Cauliflower Cheese, not the stone hand). I didn’t think anyone would be brave – or foolhardy – enough to try… 

I was wrong. Journalist and travel-writer Tim Richards was up to the task, and he even invited me along to try the finished product (incidentally, Tim and I share a set of parents – it’s a funny story).

Tim has sent in this report:

Tim’s Notes on Chemistry Experiment #1: Sarah-Jane’s Cauli Cheese, or The Cauli of Morbius

When I first saw Elisabeth Sladen’s unconventional cauli cheese recipe, I thought “It’s a pasta recipe which has somehow collided with a cauliflower. Was she living in a poor student household and they had to substitute cauli for the more usual carbohydrate, because that was all that was left in the fridge?”

Other blog commenters derided the recipe as “weird”, but I thought it could work. So I invited John over on a Sunday evening, created the dish… and it turned out to be a bit weird.

In the cause of full disclosure I should reveal certain facts about how I interpreted the recipe, as Sladen was a bit vague (probably distracted by that big spider). For “onion” I used a red onion, for “red wine” I used shiraz, and for “farmhouse cheddar” I used Bega Strong & Bitey Cheddar (apparently “bitey” is now a real word you put on labelling).

I think my only mistake was using a fairly earthy shiraz (due to the bottle being already open). In the process it rendered down to a thick, dark, almost bitter sauce, at odds with the flavour of the cauli. In retrospect, I think a lighter wine, maybe a pinot noir, or even a sweet Italian red might have been in order. Salt did seem to even out the taste, but it was a bit odd.

Everything else was fine; it cooked as indicated, the cauli ended up nice and tender all the way through, and the sauce had lots of flavour. In conclusion though, it was a sauce looking for a pasta dish, and the cauliflower seemed overpowered.

I do wonder what sort of red wine Elisabeth Sladen had in mind. What were they drinking in British student dives back in the 1960s? (I’m still imagining she created this as a student…) But it was fun creating it, and it even looked a bit like the Brain of Morbius, so it was a fitting tribute to classic Doctor Who.

– Tim Richards

Thanks for that, Tim. I have to agree that the cauliflower itself was beautifully cooked, but there was an odd bitterness to the dish.

I also found myself wondering about how taste change over time – this recipe came from a book published in 1985, and we don’t know how old the recipe was then. Was the bitterness considered sophisticated at the time, and our palates have since changed? Or did “red wine” to a UK drinker in the 1980s mean something much sweeter than we would know now? Food goes in and out of fashion just as much as anything else, and the epicurial landscape of the early-80s would be quite different to today. Had cos lettuce and sun-dried tomatoes happened by then, or were they still to come? Someone should make a version of Life On Mars about celebrity chefs…

It also occured to me that we may well be the first people eating this dish since 1985. What would Elisabeth Sladen think, to know that half-way around the world people were sitting down to eat a dish she recommended 25 years ago?

So the challenge is still out there – if you would like to take part, simply make the recipe found here and let us know how it turns out – remember to take pictures! The internet audience loves nothing more than looking at cauliflower… And email it to outlandonline@gmail.com.

You can read Tim’s travel blog at www.aerohaveno.com, the original review of The Doctor Who Cookbook here, and the review of Passport To Survival here.
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13 Responses to Great Literature Of The 20th Century: Further Reading (and Further Eating)

  1. Tim says:

    In a strange twist of fate, that final photo of me and John at table contains a Polish science fiction film poster on the wall behind us. Can you guess the movie?

  2. outlandinstitute says:

    There’s a woman in a bikini, possibly with a gun… is it Annie? The Adventures Of Milo & Otis? Storm Boy?

    Incidentally, I often describe my cat as “bitey” (and sometimes as “Whiskers McBitey”) but it never occured to me it could be used as a selling point…

  3. Dave AA says:

    “It’s a pasta recipe which has somehow collided with a cauliflower.”

    Are some people not even familiar with the whole idea of cauliflower cheese? It was one of my Mum’s staples, but it was a much simpler version – just cauliflower in a basic cheese sauce. I refused to eat it because I couldn’t stand cauliflower.

    Anyway, while I may not be inspired to cook this reciepe, I was inspired to spend my working hours photoshopping this;

    (warning: may only be funny to Dr Who geeks.)

  4. Naomi says:

    Hmmm…..way too early for cos lettuce and sun-dried tomatoes. Maybe the “red” in question was Mateus though.

    BTW – brain shaped jelly molds are avaiable if you’d like to go the whole hog and have a Morbius dinner party.

  5. Sam says:

    I just can’t come at cauliflower – I think I was scarred in the US where they serve it raw with dips… not to mention the brociflower – which does sound something Morbius would have loved. No, you can keep your Brain of Morbius… not that I’m against strangeness in the kitchen, having once served Un Chien Andalou soup.

  6. Narrelle says:

    As one of the participants of the feast in question, I must concur that the dish was… odd. Not bad, but not quite right. It reminded me of the time Tim and I went to a gourmet pub in pretty Shell Harbour and we were served mango chutney with our garlic bread. Two quite nice items that did not belong together. And the two small cauliflowers (we couldn’t find a single large one at the shop) did look remarkably like twin brains, only without all that icky pulsating that usually goes along with brains in jars.

    Naomi – a Brain of Morbeus dinner party? Now *there’s* an idea whose time has surely come!

  7. Tim says:

    By the way, the poster on the wall behind us is from that great Ridley Scott film Łowca Androidów (Android Hunter in Polish) – better known as Blade Runner.

  8. outlandinstitute says:

    David AA – fine, fine photoshopping there.

  9. Janet says:

    From what I remember of red wine in the seventies (and eighties, for that matter) it was generally known as ‘rough red’ and a lot of it was imbibed on university campuses with chunks of cheese. They used to send barrels of Australian red and white to the UK to be sold at Wine Lodges. The only way you could drink the white was to add hot water and a lump of sugar. Paint stripper ran a close second.

  10. outlandinstitute says:

    So I’m guessing the red wasn’t sweeter then? You didn’t drink it and say “you know what this would go well with? Cauliflower.”

    I make a chocolate-and-red-wine cake that’s pretty good. But if I was putting it into the Doctor Who Cookbook I guess I’d have to add anchovies. Or cauliflower.

  11. Janet says:

    Sweet? God, no, it made your eyes water!

  12. DaveAA says:

    There I was thinking I’d developed a taste for red wine as the years go on, and it turns out the wine’s just gotten better!

    I think the thing with the Dr Who Cookbook (and no doubt similar cookbooks of the era) is that a lot of the recipes are pretty much standard everyday food that’s been souped up (tarted up?) to seem worthy of a cookbook.

    My Mum (and no doubt many other English women with a full time job and a family of four to feed) would make a simple cauliflower cheese because it was something that could be made quickly from ingredients that were in the house already. But to be worthy of being in a cookbook it needs to be something a little special, thus Cauliflower Cheese with red wine and anchovies or yorkshire pudding with olives and black lumpfish roe or french onion dip a la escargot.

  13. Sam says:

    Now a Dr Who themed toad-in-the-hole is definately something i’d try… anything with yorkshire pudding for that matter…

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