Like any true food obsessive, I often let my stomach pick my holiday destinations. Aldeburgh? Fresh seafood straight off the beach. The Cotswolds in Spring? Bunches of pencil-thin asparagus. Wales? Salt marsh lamb.
But my epicurean adventures are often thwarted. I spend weeks combing the internet for the perfect COD (Cottage of Dreams), ticking off the list of log fires, oak beams, large table for lazy breakfasts and five-hour lunches, pub within stumbling distance. I get there to find I may be in the middle of Britain’s overflowing larder, but the kitchen has been stocked by some Spartan soul who seems to think that a desire for anything other than a knife too blunt to open a paint tin is a sign of moral weakness. It’s enough to make you want to commit assault and baterie de cuisine.
Too often, rented holiday houses are where old kitchen equipment goes to die. Ovens struggle to generate enough heat to warm butter. Chopping boards the size of beer mats languish in cupboards alongside charcoal-encrusted roasting tins which last saw meat when it was on ration. You could spend the best part of your holiday trying to match up the festival of aluminium pans with a host of wobbly-handled lids. When you do, the largest one will hold just enough potatoes to feed a Hobbit on Atkins.
So here’s a plea to Britain’s COD owners. Log on to ebay. There’s a category called Kitchenalia (Kitschenalia?) where people seem to be prepared to buy all manner of geriatric rubbish in the name of ‘shabby chic’. Flog all that stuff and invest in: a decent knife, three good, heavy pans, a chopping board and a roasting tin.
Mercifully, it’s not always so. Tomorrow we’re off to France. (Dear God, where’s my passport? In the spot where I was sure it was lies only my Arsenal season ticket which, while it may open the doors of heaven, will not open the doors to France.) We rent from a woman who knows the importance of oyster shuckers, lobster crackers, champagne flutes. This is wonderful, as it means my baggage allowance won’t be taken up with half of John Lewis’s basement – I have been known to take my food processor on holiday; it needed a change of scene. But still, I’ll be taking my own knives. And a couple of cookbooks. Just the essentials.