Class conscious

In our narcissistic era, in which everyone is engaged in the un-Christian project of trying to live for ever, vegetables are becoming increasingly important. As Delia Smith says in How To Cook, Book Two, they are now "absolute stars in their own right", sharing top billing with meat in enlightened kitchens. And, as they become more important, so they become more significant class-wise. In the aforementioned book, Delia refers to the Victoria Wood sketch in which Wood says that her northern aunts like to put on to boil the vegetables for Christmas lunch in November. (This observation is given an exclamation mark by Delia to show that it is a joke and not a practice that she personally endorses.) Delia then goes on to say that recent years have seen the growth of an opposite problem: people tending to undercook vegetables.

On TV the other day, however, I noticed that Delia went further than this, and the class warrior that surely lies beneath that placid exterior broke through when she declared, almost with a sneer, the under-cooking of vegetables to be "snobbish".

So it is. It would be fair to say that I know nothing at all about vegetables - until recently, I thought that celeriac was to celery what Harold is to Harry - but for years after coming down to London from the north, I served them al dente, if not actually raw. I did so to align myself with progressive forces and to banish the memory of those weekday mornings of my childhood, when the washing machine would be throbbing and the condensation from the ever-bubbling vegetables would be streaming down the closed windows as Jimmy Young twittered away on Radio 2. Undercooked vegetables, I believed, represented a breakaway from petit bourgeois caution; they were also vaguely Continental, and healthier.

But I recently read that underdone vegetables can be carcinogenic, which is really poetic justice, and reminiscent of the scene in Sleeper where Woody Allen, having fallen asleep and woken up in the future, is assured that deep-fried foods have long been proved to be the healthiest after all. The upshot is that I have gone back to condensation on the kitchen windows, although not, I hasten to add, to the JY prog.

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The long war against democracy