The last supper

It sometimes felt as though the end of the world had come during covid lockdown, because all the norms were thrown out of the window. There was nothing to do, everyone was ill or bored, and shopping trips were a hateful experience: long queues, a scarcity of ingredients and everything seemed to have doubled in price. Daily news bulletins aside, the one thing lacking was a sense of drama, at least for many of us stuck at home. Unease yes, but – maybe because the sun was often shining – it felt more like an endless dull Sunday from my childhood.

When the day finally comes, I hope I have a bit of warning as I’d like to nip to the shops and blow the budget before gathering my family together and cooking them an amazing last supper. Typically, there is not much to eat in the cupboard at the moment, apart from some cereal, rice, pasta and a tin of anchovies, which sounds like a nightmare version of Ready Steady Cook. The trouble is I shop for what I need, rather than for emergencies. My freezer is not full of gourmet delights but unappetising bits and ends of dishes we have all grown tired of. And nothing is improved by time spent in the freezer, where the labels can come adrift, leading to unwelcome surprises. One newlywed friend went to stay with her in-laws, where everyone sat down and tucked into a bowl of soup from the freezer for supper, despite being unable to identify the flavour, which was creamy and sweet. It turned out they were eating reheated gooseberry fool.

We have a small larder that could be prepped for Armageddon, but even that isn’t particularly well stocked, apart from multiple jars of unlabelled jam, harissa, porridge oats and raisins. I just don’t do hoarding – I was put off by studying Shakespeare’s Coriolanus at school, in which Caius Marcus amasses a private store of grain, forcing the people of Rome to starve. My emergency reserves currently consist of two packets of crisps, which the children will have eaten long before I get to them. Perhaps I should have followed the example of former PM Margaret Thatcher, who once admitted to stockpiling food in a magazine article, much to the annoyance of the general public. Her stash included six jars of marmalade, honey and jam, twenty tins of fruits and six tins of canned salmon.

The last supper is a frequent topic of conversation around our kitchen table, the only trouble being that we all have very different ideas. Right now, mine would include smoked salmon blinis, pommes dauphinoise and some form of pear and apricot tart. But it depends on the time of year. In summer, for example, I’ll be dreaming of a Thai feast. Many years ago, I stayed with family friends in Bangkok, my first time in South East Asia, and what an incredible experience it was to be introduced the complex array of Thai flavours and spices in a family home, where my endless questions could be answered. So much care and thought went into each dish, such as the way the heat from chilli and ginger was used as a contrast to the pop of sweet prawns and the satisfying crunch of crispy onion. Our English food seemed so bland and dull by comparison.

My reserves currently consist of two packets of crisps

But as spring approaches I’m starting to rethink my Last Supper menu. Perhaps, after all, it would be English asparagus and hollandaise sauce followed by Beef Wellington. That could be the definitive final meal, accompanied by evocative music such as Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds and “Mars” from The Planets Op 32 by Gustav Holst. It might be helpful to prop Hieronymus Bosch’s panel depicting “Hell”, from the Garden of Earthly Delights, on the sideboard next to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper – just to remind us what we have to look forward to!

This pudding is a perfect blend of fire and ice, in which the hot sauce deliciously thaws the frozen berries. It’s very quick to make in an emergency – a marriage made in heaven while the clock ticks down.

The Ivy’s iced berries with hot chocolate sauce

Serves 4 

500g mixed frozen berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, redcurrants)
For the sauce:
142ml carton double cream
140g white chocolate

To make the sauce, pour the cream into a small saucepan and break in the chocolate. Heat gently, stirring, until the chocolate melts into a smooth sauce. Take care not to overheat or it will seize into a hard lump. Scatter the frozen berries on four dessert plates or in shallow bowls. Pour the hot chocolate sauce over the fruits and serve immediately, just as the fruits start to defrost.

Lydia Brownlow is a former cookery editor at Good Housekeeping magazine and contributor to The Daily Beast. She currently inspires children to cook. More info at lydiabrownlow.com

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April 2024, Food For Thought, Life

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