Lanchester wonders if, just as Turner invented twilights, TS Eliot would have invented that seasonal outbreak in how often people try to get out of the way, and if, prior to the publication of The Wasteland, April was actually, like the rest of the months, totally benign. But in the same way that the station welcomes the manic-depressed and those tormented by memory with a call of bugles that heralds the swan’s song, it also awakens in others a spirit that leads to congratulations for the simple fact of having survived to winter. All this, of course, is much more palpable in northern latitudes than in southern latitudes where light is not such a rare commodity. At the same time, eternal sleep and happy awakening coincide in spring. It is not the only contradiction; It also exists in the lamb, which in monotheistic religions embodies the violence of sacrifice and at the same time, in the kitchen, the sweetness of slow roasting and without sophisticated preparations.
It is now summer, but Easter is in the spring. And at Easter there is no choice but to refer to the lamb. The character of Lanchester’s wonderful novel, the unforgettable Tarquin Winot, in one of her moments reflects on the agneau pré-salé, the one that more than one of us have seen freely grazing on the marshes that surround Mont-Saint-Michel, in Normandy, he is supposed to be injecting himself with the scents of the beneficent nature and nibbling on herbs impregnated by the brackish air of the sea breezes. Like the one raised in Pauillac (Gironde), he is even more famous, largely because he is a tenant in a municipality, such as Bordeaux, which is home to two of the great crus of France: Latour and Mouton-Rothschild. These illustrious specimens of the sheep breed are, together with those from the Ardennes and those from Sisteron, in the Alps of Haute Provence, the French lambs that are most highly regarded for their tender and juicy, almost white meat. The legend about what they eat helps to do the rest; like the pré-salé, brackish, that the Provençal ones that feed on the wild herbs of the garrigue dried by the sun. In Spain, the discussion about churras and merino has culinary opted for the former.
The leg for the French is the gigue and the gigot the back thigh of the lamb. I’ll tell you about the gigot. From the Spanish barbecue that requires little more than water or the one that Lanchester, or Tarquin Winot, chooses in his prodigious novel about pleasure: a gigot à la Breton, spread with butter and oil, studded with garlic and sprigs of rosemary after make incisions in the meat. Rosemary is an essential part of any carnivorous garni bouquet in France. In Italy they also use it for fish and tomato sauces. Rosemary, like mastic, thyme and myrtle, give spring. There is no society more indissoluble in France than that of lamb and rosemary, both in roast and in casserole stews (le gigot au romarin). In the same way that there is no association on the plate, for the French, a greater association than that of gigot and beans. The flageolets that accompany the Lanchester Breton roast or the coconuts simmered and blended with snail butter that Alain Ducasse likes so much, a loyal supporter, in turn, of how suckling lambs are sweetly roasted in Castile. With less paraphernalia.
Both the French chef and Lanchester, who for years and before devoting himself to other things practiced gastronomic criticism at the London Observer, show his fascination for the alchemy of the Arabs with lamb and apricots. That syrupy juice that acts like confit, according to Ducasse, or those boneless shoulders stuffed with fruit “that provoke revolutions comparable to those of Copernicus or Einstein”, in the way that the British writer born in Hamburg and raised in Calcutta, Rangoon, Brunei and Hong Kong. I am with them, the times that I ate good lamb tajines in Morocco I felt, at the same time, the silky meat soaked in syrup slipping like one of the best mixtures of salty and sweet, not being, furthermore, an unconditional follower of them.
We are still waiting for that wild animal. In the spring it has to be from the first moment. As Chesterton wrote, it never is if it doesn’t come too early.