If your idea of finger food is a limp sausage roll, think again. And I'm not talking industrial accidents.
Be that as it may! In the past we called them canapés, and they were bread based, but that word and the description, seems to be in decline. Nowadays, it's finger food that's served at parties and receptions when you prefer, for whatever reason, not to have a proper sit down meal. With 650 guests to accommodate, some of whom she probably never clapped eyes on before, it's no wonder her Majesty chose finger food for the main reception after that wedding last year. And wisely scarpered before the full sit down meal for the kiddies in the evening. I sincerely hope that after 60 years on the throne, she was absolved from any whisper of catering duties this weekend. After all that standing on Saturday she deserves a massive G & T with her feet up.
Finger food these days can be very posh indeed, with companies such as Nomad Food and Design, Urban Caprice and Rhubarb having elevated the genre to an art form. A far cry from the limp vol au vents, soggy sausage rolls, and everything on a stick of bygone days. While there may not have been a wisp of foam or reconstituted pea in sight, nevertheless the food served at the palace that Friday reflected the very best of British. Except for the puddings, which had a distinctly French air about them. French nomenclature, if not recipes, also crept in with the odd savoury chausson (a posh turnover). However, for the most part, it was all good British fare. All very lovely and appropriate. And all very modern.
Except that it's not. For there's nothing new about finger food. Our very remote ancestors, the ones who'd barely assumed an upright position, almost certainly ate with their fingers. 'Fingers were made before forks', as my mother used to say. Many cultures and peoples still eat with their hands, or to be more precise, their right hand. Eating with the left is considered very bad form indeed. From Africa to Asia to Oceania fingers replace knifes and forks and spoons, though of course there are exceptions. In Pakistan, fingers and cutlery are permitted. In the Philippines, a fork and spoon are used. In many of these cultures there's a precise etiquette about exactly how to eat - three fingers or four, which bit of the finger, whether or not to use your thumb. Rules that would not be out of place in the highest of high Western society. Never let it be said that we lead the world on manners.
Mind you, eating with your fingers is not necessarily the same as eating finger food. A greasy hunk of roasted camel doesn't compare to a dainty duck terrine or a delicate salmon rose. So when did this practical style of eating begin? And why? This is where the fun really starts - half the known world lays claim to it. Some say it was dim sum, invented by a canny vendor to refresh the merchants travelling along the Silk Road as long ago as 206 BC. Others point to the cold appetizers, known as bawarid, served in eighth century Baghdad. Then there's sushi and tapas and the list goes on. Indeed the name canapé itself dates back to ancient Greece, where it began life as a mosquito net, or curtain. It mutated through the ages to the Middle English 'canope'. For some unknown reason we adopted the French word 'canapé' which actually means a sofa. Because they think a canapé looks like a sofa? Time for a trip to Specsavers.
A sandwich can be finger food too. We're not talking doorsteps here but a rather more delicate, two bite form often referred to as a tea sandwich. According to popular belief the sandwich was invented by our very own John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Unfortunately, and as is often the case, popular belief is wrong. One of the first references to something akin to a sandwich was in the 1st century BC. when the famous sage, Hillel the Elder, began the custom of putting chopped nuts, fruit and bitter herbs between two pieces of matzo to commemorate the Exodus. Down the ages food approximating to sandwiches appeared in various forms. So while the 4th Earl didn't invent the sandwich, it was certainly named after him. Reluctant to leave the gaming table, or as some now claim his work, he ordered his chefs to bring him salt beef between two slices of toasted bread. His companions cried out - in true 'When Harry met Sally' style - 'I'll have the same as Sandwich'.
Personally I like finger food. Maybe I've been blessed by invitations to receptions that are the 'works of art' variety rather than the 'two day old scotch egg' sort. Nevertheless, as far as I'm concerned, finger food is perfect for anything where you have to stand up and hold a glass. We've all been there, trying to juggle a bendy paper plate, with soggy salad sliding off the side and a tilting glass that threatens to drip claret (or plonk more likely) onto our shoes or someone's Sunday best. No, as far as I'm concerned it's fingers every time. And the more 'art form' the better, as long as it tastes good. But spare me the recent fad for 'bowl food'. Delicious it may be and flavour of the month, so to speak, but virtually impossible to eat without getting sticky or embarrassing yourself.
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