Mooching about our rented holiday villa, sorry, amazingly huge palazzo in Croatia, I found an extraordinary cookbook, Lady Maclean’s Diplomatic Dishes. Veronica Maclean was a Scottish blue-blood, born to Lord and Lady Lovat in 1920, photographed by Cecil Beaton 20 years later and celebrated as a fragile beauty. According to her Independent obituary, she led a “marvellously full life” as is always a distinct possibility when one is born into such a family.
She was a socialite and a diplomat’s wife, publishing a number of cookbooks that drew on her circle of aristos and diplomats to provide content, a little bit like guest blogging today. This particular volume is a rather unique record of dishes served at formal and informal weekend parties, luncheons and dinners in country house/diplomatic circles during the 50’s and 60’s. Heavy on the cream, pints of the stuff being required for some dishes, the recipes are supplied by embassy chefs and the wives of ambassadors, aristocrats and politicians from around the world. Few of the recipes even bother to mention how many people the dish serves, I think one is supposed to work it out from the context or the quantity of ingredients!
Lady Maclean lived on the island of Korcula in Croatia for many years with her husband “Fitz” Maclean. The Croatian connection is probably why so many of the recipes feature truffles, and why too the book pitched up on the shelves in my own rented villa in the Istrian hills, as it was owned by yet more Scottish aristos. One of the recipes, a breakfast dish of baked eggs, calls for “3 good-sized black truffles” to be grated over. Well, that’s about a thousand quid right there, and just for your brekkie…
I do understand her adoration of the black gold though. We ate out in the restaurant terraces of hilltop village squares, where dish after musty, truffly dish wafted tantalisingly past our noses. We were dipping our bread in truffle-infused olive oil, we truffle-tasted in old Venetian stone buildings, and we contemplated the utter ugliness that is a fresh truffle. What we actually bought were three little taster pots of tartufi, costing around £12. Tartufi is poor man’s truffle, a mix of white or black truffles with other ingredients, served like a sauce. I intend to serve up my little truffle extravagance with ribbon spaghetti later this week.
Lady Macleans Diplomatic Dishes (1975) is out of print now, but available from second-hand re-sellers on amazon.co.uk. I have ordered mine already.