Our Man-in-the-middle pondering the merits of gravy
In America you can buy Thanksgiving gravy infused with cannabis which my daughter cites as one example of how gravy can enhance a meal.
‘Enhance is one word for it,’ I say thinking about the havoc a dose of THC, the chemical in cannabis, might have upon Mother who loves sauces like F Scott Fitzgerald loved Gin Rickey’s.
We’re debating the merits of gravy because we’re planning a BBQ to celebrate my daughter’s recent graduation and the question is: should we serve gravy or not?
For many this would be a non-issue. But I am passionately anti-gravy for many reasons, the key one being that gravy obscures and overwhelms the natural taste of everything it envelops. Poured over meat, it competes with the wonderful umami taste of cooked animal flesh. Slopped over steamed vegetables, the delicate flavour of the vegetable is drowned in a meaty fluid and what is the point of producing dry, crisp roast potatoes only to soak them in a tsunami of hot, brown liquid with lumps in it like slurry from a quarry? Gravy is fog for food.
‘Gravy is the glue in any roast meal,’ says my daughter.
‘Gravy is like glue full stop,’ I reply.
‘Only if made badly. Anyway, jus is just pretentious name for the same thing,’ she quips.
‘Gravy is starch gelatinisation disguised behind a homely word,’ I reply.
‘When flour is added to pan juices and heat applied the mixture thickens in a process called starch gelatinisation. That’s what gravy really is.’
‘You need to spend more time thinking about more important things than gravy,’ says my daughter.
‘I accept gravy is a First World problem,’ I say.
‘With you, it’s more of an OCD problem,’ says my son.
Clearly, most people wouldn’t waste three minutes of their lives, let alone thirty, debating the pros and cons of gravy. In Maslow’s hierarchy, gravy is a nice to have like self-actualisation, not a necessity like food and shelter. Nor is gravy integral to Boris Johnson’s ‘Bounce Back’ strategy, though I could imagine the word ‘jus’ being banned from all restaurant menus to send a signal to Michel Barnier we won’t hesitate to take back control of our sauces as well as our coastal waters, if the Brexit negotiations get a little more choppy.
‘Surely, it’s important for children to learn to discriminate between jus and gravy?’ I turn to my wife, who’s been sitting quietly beside us through this debate.
‘Let’s not get side-tracked,’ says my wife. ‘We’ve got other more important things to get on with for the BBQ. This argument about gravy is a storm in a tea-cup.’
‘You mean storm in a gravy boat,’ I say, smiling.
‘No. I don’t,’ says my wife.
My mother perks up.
‘You used to have gravy by the bucket as a child. Virtually drank it like water, especially with the Sunday roast.’
‘Yes. Your brother and you loved it. We used to give you your own separate gravy boats you loved it so much. You were paranoid about peas, too.’
‘Paranoid about peas? What do you mean, granny,’ says my daughter hoping her gentle question will unearth the smoking gun to give her victory over me in the case of ‘Gravy versus Jus’.
‘If they didn’t get exactly the same number of peas they’d fight. The only way to stop them fighting was to count the peas onto their plates one by one until they had the exact same number. Imagine it. Literally, counting peas one by one onto their plates before we could get on with the meal.’
‘That explains quite a lot,’ says my son.
‘I was more like a dinner lady in a canteen than a proper mother,’ she continues.
This complaint reminds me of my brother licking his roast potatoes the moment my father put a plate of Sunday roast goodies in front of him to discourage me from stealing them. I suddenly remember gravy fights, messing around, the dog snaffling food as it tipped from the table.
‘My God, there aren’t many good things about getting old. But not having to deal with you and your brother fighting over peas and potatoes is one of them,’ she says.
A shroud falls on the conversation not unlike a grey leaden gravy. Mother lifts a cup to her lips with both hands and sips her tea, silent. My wife googles something, my daughter leaves the room to find her boyfriend. My son asks me a question.
‘You know all this chlorinated chicken business?’
‘The UK / USA trade deal, you mean?’
‘Yup. Do you think we’ll be allowed to import cannabis gravy when it’s done?’
‘I don’t know,’ I say, while realising that in any case cannabis gravy has come fifty years too late to help my Mother stop the Sunday’s squabbles between my brother and me.
James Thellusson – Blog: Man in the Middle
Winner Sandstone Press Prize for Short Fiction (2020): An epidemic of Kindness