But suddenly I was hit the other day by a great yearning for Patum Peperium. Fellow deracinated Englishman Nigel Richardson, of Austin, put something on his Facebook page about it and I got all Prousted up.
Patum Peperium calls itself a gentleman’s relish, which I think is overstating the case a bit – it’s a savory spread, butter and anchovies mostly, but there’s also rusk in there, and miscellaneous herbs and spices that add up to a “secret recipe” first devised by chap named John Osborn in 1828 when he was living in Paris.
I can’t tell you at what point in my life I discovered the stuff – I’d guess it was after I’d finished college and was living on my own in London. I can’t say it was a life-changing discovery but it was pretty good, though in fact I hadn’t thought about it in years.
Now I had to have it, so I ordered a couple of pots of the stuff from England, and although I feared the customs folks might impound it, my order in fact arrived sooner than expected.
The first thing that seemed to have changed was the pot – it used to be porcelain, now it’s plastic – there are people on eBay trying to get a hundred and fifty fifty quid for the old pots.
There are also fancy porcelain ones that have sporting scenes and transport and characters from Dickens, but that’s seems to be trying too hard for the gift market.
I opened up the pot, was amused to see the serving suggestion that it should be used VERY SPARINGLY – who could disobey CAPITAL LETTERS? Though the fact that it’s made on an industrial estate in Kent seems a bit less gentlemanly.
Anyway, it was good - umami coming out the wazz. If anything it was a bit less intense than I remembered, but that may be because of my shell-shocked taste buds. And it seem more solid too. But no complaints at all. And of course if you put in on buttered toast you’re having butter with your anchovy butter.
But I am left thinking that secret recipe or not, the entire contents of the pot couldn’t cost more than a few pennies: – a man with a moderately well stocked kitchen cabinet could surely make a stab at recreating it. Perhaps the real secret is in the rusk.