“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beats and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, friend hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.” Ulysses, James Joyce.
When I read this over the phone to my sister, she asked what sort of relish I thought he’d had with all that meat. Leopold’s favourites are out of fashion these days, so if reading his menu has turned your stomach then try to relish the words instead, which is what I’m doing as I make my way through Ulysses this summer. At the back of my mind, chivvying me along in my read, is the question: How do you eat an elephant? I’d rather not eat an elephant (can’t imagine Bloom would either; you should hear what he has to say about oysters, though I shan’t quote it as it would put you off oysters for life), and much of Ulysses is lost on me, but I love taking small bites of Dublin on that long summer’s day in 1904: eating bags of plums, supping tea, popping into Davy Byrne’s for a Gorgonzola sandwich with a little mustard, a glass of Burgundy to wash it down.
Outside of the heaped dining tables of the Christmas season, Eating is one of the great pleasures I associate with summer. It seems to be non-stop. Picnics of sandy sandwiches and jam buns eaten from an old biscuit tin on the beach. Meetups at the meadows with food laid out on a tartan blanket while shooing impertinent seagulls, so persistent they almost take the bite out of your mouth. Quay-side fry-ups of freshly fileted mackerel on the small blue gas camping stove. Crispy whitebait, haddock tacos and chips at Dunbar harbour picnic bench. Back door visitor bearing warm sultana soda wrapped in a dish cloth, and everything stops as it’s sliced up and shared round with butter and raspberry jam and a pot of tea. Sneaky Monday night dinner out with the ladies, cocktails in a corner booth, eventually ordering from the thrice turned away waiter. Back garden visitors arrived on the bikes (quick wipe down of the seats, the starlings have been at it again!) and we gather what’s left in the cake tin and make more tea – maybe coffee this time too – and juice for the children.
And who doesn’t love to read a menu, especially in summer when it’s so much more interesting, varied, abundant, fresh? That fantastic one I chose from in Canada last month: Sashimi tuna with caperberries, anchovy aioli, chilli oil; watermelon salad with lime zest, mint, basil, maple pepitas, black pepper; beef bresaola with house pickles, shaved parmesan, and white truffle oil; crusty bread and dukka with warm olives in a chilli fennel marinade. All washed down with a Sicilian white that smelled of oranges and tasted like heaven.
Each evening I go to bed thinking I’ll eat less tomorrow, but I never do. The conviviality of summer goes beyond conversation and extends to the sharing of food, so it’s a yes from me to pots of soup, boiled potatoes, rhubarb crumbles, oatmeal biscuits, ice-cream, double cheese macaroni, breadsticks and bowls of hummus, bacon baps, flapjacks…
Come September, it’ll be back to porridge with a side order of relief and regret.