There aren't many people quite as clever as my big sister, when it comes to food. So, you can imagine that an invitation to Sunday lunch after arriving jet-lagged and groggy from arid old Los Angeles, was something one couldn't possibly turn down, and of course, it was far better than I'd dreamed.
My sister lives in a lovely farmhouse near Royston and you have to drive through what used to be the largest field in Hertfordshire to get there. We were greeted by the black and brown Jack Russell, and the black lab, who are both immaculately well-trained and remember to sit in the kitchen and not come through to the dining room while we're having lunch, without the benefit of a door. My girls could learn a thing or two from my sister's dogs. Mine lie wantonly under the table awaiting the scraps they know are coming to them.
After a glass of champagne, and a delicious smear of smoked salmon pate on a cracker, lunch was roast pork with crackling and the most delicious sage and onion stuffing, with sage from her garden. With it we had red cabbage cooked with just a hint of caraway, brussells sprouts, broad beans, sugarsnap peas, carrots, roast potatoes, apple jelly and apple sauce and delicious gravy. And a very good St Emilion red wine. For pudding, there were meringues, fresh fruit salad, chocolate refrigerator square and heavenly bread and butter pudding. Andrew, my brother-in-law brought out sloe gin from 2003 and 1998, one a little sweeter than the other. The one with less sugar made all our mouths look like dogs' bottoms. A spirited discussion about the proper way to make sloe gin ensued. Gerry, my sister's friend, doesn't like to freeze them first. My mother pointed out that the way my great grandmother made morello cherry liquer was to macerate the fruit in sugar before adding any alcohol. "I suppose you don't have sloe gin and crabapple jelly in California, do you" asked Gerry's husband. "Well no, we don't" I said, racking my brain "but we have guava jelly and olives."
And there was cheese. Two kinds of local Norfolk cheese, both utterly delicious. And coffee of course. The American habit is to serve coffee before pudding or with pudding which I think is wrong. It's far better right at the end of lunch to wake one up.
As I think long and often about roast pork, you can imagine my utter joy at this lunch. The sun was beginning to set as we left and I realized to my horror that we'd stayed until five o'clock.