The elderly don’t tend to eat as much as younger people. That’s just something I’ve noticed – it’s not from a proper survey commissioned by Saga Holidays or a stairlift manufacturer so you can’t rely on it. But it seems to me that, in general, they eat sparingly and with care, their days of inhaling gallons of carbs and cream and booze now behind them. The older they are, the more this is the case, and so the plump pinkness of late middle age morphs into a watchful and wiry grey.
Which leads me to ask: is a great big brand new pudding really what Her Majesty the Queen wants as she celebrates 70 years on the throne? She’ll be 96. Is that what she’ll be in the mood for while she marshals her resources for an intense period of engagements? A great big creamy platter. That’s the plan: a national contest to come up with a platinum jubilee pudding to counterbalance the invention of coronation chicken with which the reign began and that, for many, is still repeating. The mere thought of it is making me feel bloated and I’m greedy, overweight and half her age.
The Fortnum & Mason Platinum Pudding Competition is already drowning in submissions like a crumble in custard and it only launched a few days ago. I hope, for her sake, that the Queen isn’t looking at them. Food writer Alex Hollywood’s pitch, salted banoffee crunchie Eton pie, seems calculated to induce type 2 diabetes with its name alone.
Other ideas contributed by famous cooks via the Daily Mail include jubilee crown meringue, jubilee jammy roll cake, jelly cherry jubilee – I’m just getting a bit of acid at the back of my throat – and pineapple and rum sticky toffee pudding, this last a contribution from the Hairy Bikers, of whom Prince Philip was reportedly a fan. So that adds a nice touch of appropriateness and poignancy to go with the lovely rum and sugar and dates and pineapple and rum and butter and treacle and sugar.
Guardian readers have been joining in as well and are reassuringly on-brand, with ideas including banana loaf, tofu Reine Elizabeth (a vegan version of coronation chicken so not a pudding at all) and, from one septuagenarian reader, the suggestion “I think it’s better to get rid of the whole self-serving structure, including all these lords and ladies”. Who knows, Her Majesty may find this last notion the most palatable. The ushering in of a republic might be a blessed relief compared with a Mall-length trestle table covered in pimped-up trifles and flagons of butterscotch.
But it’s not about what the Queen wants or likes. “Her Majesty’s pleasure” just means prison or horse racing. It is not her role to be seen to have anything nice. In fact, it’s key to the survival of the monarchy that she doesn’t. How else could a society that vociferously aspires to be egalitarian, where even sociopathic crooks and power-mongers talk of “levelling up”, stomach so much wealth, influence and celebrity being lavished on a random person? And a woman, no less! Perhaps the most disdained of all the sexes.
The British monarch is treated, albeit cartoonishly, like a minor deity, an icon, an intercessor with the almighty. This is not a position the Queen earned, nor one that anyone could deserve. So, instead of deserving it, it is vital that she be seen not to enjoy it. Suffering is a far more powerful appeaser of envy than merit can ever be.
And so it must be with the pudding. I don’t know what substance will win the competition. Let us hope it’s edible. But I doubt it’ll be delicious even to people with more voracious appetites for glucose than the average 96-year-old anointed sovereign. The reason for my concern is that this foodstuff has to tick so many boxes. It’s supposed to taste nice, yes, but it must also, according to the people running the competition, have “a memorable story”, be easy for lots of home bakers to recreate, look “fit for the Queen” and be original. In my view, the last four requirements militate powerfully against the first. Easy, spectacular, never-previously-made foods with cracking associated anecdotes are far less likely to taste good than a tried-and-tested chocolate mousse that isn’t topped with a sparkly rendering of “E II R” sculpted out of quick-drying mouldable marzipan.
It’s all in the shape of Balmoral and so detailed that footage of the cake is subsequently deemed a security risk
So whatever wins will be a fudge – metaphorically at least. And then it will be presented to the Queen. I’m eager for this scene, having enjoyed footage of her failing to cut an enormous cake with which she was presented at the centenary of the WI in the Albert Hall. Princess Anne had to help out. But this occasion should be even more special because, presumably, the Queen will be expected to eat some of whatever it is.
I can picture it now. Millions are gathered on the wind- and rain-swept Mall. It’s the coldest June since records began and has led prime minister Rishi Sunak to backtrack on most of his government’s climate agenda. The BBC and ITN microphones pick up the thunderous downpour as it connects with the thousands of square metres of marquee with which much of central London has been covered. Then the Queen appears all dressed in bright yellow, wearing sparkly earrings that Penny Junor says mean she’s thinking of Prince Andrew.
And here comes the winning pudding – the nation’s been talking about it for weeks. Jubilee glazed mint and fennel salted caramel flapjack cheesecake bake! It’s all in the shape of Balmoral and so detailed that footage of the cake is subsequently deemed a security risk and taken down from the news websites.
This time the slicing isn’t left to chance. It’s taken care of by a charity worker who looks like a plump Theresa May and is wearing a huge blue hat that emits little spritzes of rainwater every time she turns her head. The Queen squints as she gets a faceful and then is handed a plate of pudding and a wooden spork. All eyes are on the royal mouth as a morsel goes in. An eternity of chewing, a laboured swallow, an attempted smile, a dry cough.
“Delicious,” says the Queen.