I have just started re-reading the James Bond novels, I'm on the third as I write this. The more observant readers will have noticed that this isn't a cook book, or a book about food! Actually, this is a book that is obsessed with food and drink, so obsessed that a whole chapter is given over to deciding what to order for dinner! Why?
Casino Royale (the first James Bond novel) was published eight years after the end of WW2, in 1953. This was austerity Britain at its height, with rationing of many products still in place. Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister for a second time and we were still six years away from Harold MacMillan telling us that we had in many ways “never had it so good”. It was a tough time for most of the UK’s 50 million or so inhabitants. So, it is a simple question of escapism. Readers were enthralled by stories of intrigue in exotic overseas locations, high-stakes card games and thrilling car chases. This was not the norm for 99% of people, and neither was the food and drink that James Bond consumes on his adventures. Exotic food was incredibly alien to people and was every bit as exciting as what we would today identify as the typical ingredients of an adventure. Seems strange today, in a world where most people have at some point had access to most food.
Here are my favourite dishes from Casino Royale, which make an epic four-course meal…
Paté de fois gras.
Broiled lobster with butter.
Tournedos sauce Béarnaise. (Beef tenderloin, sometimes called fillet mignon.)
Fraises de bois. (Small, wild strawberries native to France.)
And here is the recipe for James Bond’s classic vodka martini, a cocktail of his own invention (which he calls the “Vesper”) as it first appears in the seventh chapter of Casino Royale…
Lillet (pronounced lee-lay), is a French Aperitif made from a blend of wine, liqueurs, fruits and herbs. I made this cocktail this evening and it blew my socks off. Nice as a treat, but would turn you blind in a week if drank regularly!
I wonder what the modern literary equivalent of James Bond’s food and drink escapism is? Somewhat depressingly, it is probably the latest offering from Rick Stein or Jamie Oliver!
James Bond will return.
In fact, he does so in Live And Let Die (1954) and eleven pages in he is enjoying “Soft shell crabs with tartare sauce, flat beef hamburgers, medium-rare, from the charcoal grill, French-fried potatoes, broccoli, mixed salad with thousand-island dressing, ice-cream with melted butterscotch and as good a Liebfraumilch as you can get in America.” What James Bond describes as “American cooking at its rare best.” Love that sentence, perfectly patronising!