While we are still in the full throes of the Jubilee celebrations, this seems to be the perfect time to talk about finger food. Though, strictly speaking, I should be saying something like ‘while the celebrations are still in progress’. Because the word ‘throes’ refers to a painful struggle and as far as I’m concerned the Jubilee is not painful at all. Except for the BBC coverage of the river pageant. Which was painful in the extreme.
Be that as it may! In the past we called them canapés, and they were bread based but that word, and the description, seem 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.
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, dropping something and embarrassing yourself.