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The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery began with a pre-conference Picnic of Decadence, themed around Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall. The book begins with a meeting of the Bollinger Club, feasting at Christchurch college. Our picnic, therefore, was - with Christchurch's permission - in their grounds, tranquil and expansive and green. Picnic blankets and Turkish rugs were spread on the grass, and wooden tables were laden with traditional British goodies. A decent handful of people had dressed up thematically for the picnic. Others of us had merely dressed up.

I strolled down through the grounds of Christchurch along the Cherwell with other symposium attendees to the picnic site, where we were greeted with glasses of - what else? - Bollinger champagne (donated by the company itself). Peter Lehmann wines sponsored the rest of the alcoholic selection, with bottled water to supplement. The meal started with open-face sandwiche, three kinds - whisky-cured salmon (from Summer Isles Foods); cucumber; and foie gras. They were accompanied by hard-boiled quails eggs, which took a bit of practice to peel elegantly.

We moved on to a vividly rich tomato aspic (savory jello/jelly, in effect) with a side of horseradish and the best meat pie I've ever had, smooth grained and beautifully spiced, made by Heal Farm. The accompanying salads were nicely balanced and dressed; and now, thanks to meandering condiments, I know that horseradish makes a nice addition to green salads.

For dessert, we carved slices from a wheel of Stinking Bishop cheese (which isn't really all that smell, but has a nice slightly sweet softness) and ate them with Sharpham Park spelt biscuits with seeds. We unwrapped lovely little clay pots of damson flummery, light layers of lovely, light smooth cooked damons (like plums) with layers of creaminess. There were half a dozen baskets of fruits to accompany, including an intriguingly delicate apply with snowy white flesh.

It was a lovely, relaxed, sumptuous picnic, an excellent way to start the conference, to meet fellow symposiasts, and a satisfying prequel to punting.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 13th, 2007 12:45 pm (UTC)
Isn't Decline and Fall the one with the Welsh musicians who refuse to play anything but "Men of Harlech"? I do hope that that was the music provided by the symposium, and that the musicians began every sentence with "Look you".
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:02 pm (UTC)
I haven't actually read the book. The picnic was music-free which, based on your description, sounds like it was probably for the best.
Sep. 14th, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)
Picnic story
An amazing picnic and fabulous journal. I would be honoured (bow, scrape etc.) if you'd post this extract as a story on my picnic site - http://www.the-picnic-site.com/picnic-story.html

It's only been the past week that I've been able to accept contributions (other than by email) and I'd really appreciate you getting the ball rolling! Or maybe this would set too high a standard!

Emily (editor@the-picnic-site.com)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )