A delicious but unusual dinner

This is another  story based on true events, melded together, and once again I have concealed the identities of those involved. The events happened in the 1960’s.

The Dance Institute had a history of inviting overseas visiting lecturers and exchange students to work in its prestigious laboratories and research facilities. The host scientific officers and researchers were hospitable and the visitors would often be invited home for meals, or included in drinks parties, or welcomed to other events such as picnics, theatre trips, concerts.

Frank had become very friendly with a French chemist and he had been a regular at the family’s dinner table. The first time François had shared a Sunday roast he had taken about three times as long to eat it. After that Frank and Clare made sure to always remind their children before ‘Uncle’ François arrived, to eat slowly, remember to eat slowly! A year later, when another visitor, an Italian professor, was due to arrive for lunch,  the children were told to ‘remember to eat slowly, Uncle Stefano is coming for lunch, so don’t gulp your lunch down, eat it slowly!’  The family sat down to lunch with their guest and the joint was carved, and the vegetables offered, the gravy poured. It seemed the meal had hardly begun when Stefano announced with great satisfaction, I’ve finished!’ – and his plate was spotless.

Stefano became a regular visitor to the family, and some time later when his wife, Giulia joined him, she was invited too. She spoke very little English, but she was charming and lovely and the children adored her. Once she had settled in the small flat where she and Stefano were staying, the couple invited Frank and Clare round for dinner. A beautiful Italian meal was promised and everyone was looking forward to the occasion, which Stefano had told Frank would be wonderful because Giulia was such a wonderful cook.

And she did indeed prove to be a good cook. Through Stefano interpreting, she explained that she couldn’t find everything she had needed in the English shops, but she was sure that what she had cooked was typical of the meals she made at home in Padua. It was a very pleasant evening, and Stefano had some marvellous wine from vineyards near where his family lived. Frank offered to wash up, as he did at home, but Giulia found it funny that a man should be in the kitchen and insisted he sat with her husband and enjoy a small glass of Prugna, a speciality liqueur from Padua. Clare however was able to help Giulia tidy up and wash up, and managed a sort of conversation through mime.

Giulia seemed to have used every single utensil in the tiny kitchen, and there was rather a lot of mess, vegetable peelings, tins, egg shells, but this enabled Clare to find out more about the meal they had enjoyed and how it had been cooked. At last it was time to go home, and after embraces and thanks, Frank and Clare mounted their bikes, and rode away through the quiet streets.

“Wonderful evening, Clare, did you enjoy it? Sorry you had to do the washing up!”

“Not all husbands are as modern as you are Frank! It was nice to be with Guilia and help clear up… there was a terrible mess in her kitchen!” Clare laughed.

“Nice meal, but different… you do a nice stew when we have spaghetti, and if I’m honest, I think yours is better. Hers did taste a bit odd, but no doubt it’s just the way her mama taught her!”

Clare smiled to herself and thanked her husband for his compliment to her meat stew. They arrived home and opened the shed to put their bikes safely away

“Did you ask Giulia for the recipe for dinner – I think with a few of your own special tweaks it would be marvellous!”

Clare was pleased but just replied that yes, she did know the recipe… It was only much later, when Stefano and Giulia had returned to Padua that Clare told Frank… In Giulia’s kitchen, on the side were two tins with a picture on the front of the meat, glistening chunks in bowls ready to serve… the only thing was , it was ready to serve to dogs! Giulia had innocently bought pet food.

Frank laughed – he wouldn’t expect Clare to follow the recipe exactly! Maybe a trip to see Mr Farrow the butcher and get a couple of pounds of his best beef stewing steak!

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