Saturday, February 04, 2012

Googly Eye Pie

I bought an enormous blue cookbook a few months ago. It looked alluringly serious and modern, promising astounding concoctions and constructions that would fit the Albert Adria / Heston Blumenthal molecular gastronomy trend. Marzipan telephones fitted with LEDs that light up when the doorbell goes, pigeon stew served inside clay pigeons that have to be shot out of the sky before eating, whole poached salmon fitted with magnets that can be manipulated to swim upstream in a fake tabletop river of the finest seafood bouillon, that kind of thing.

The book is not quite like that. It was published in 1960 and is full of illustrations as well as photos; the low quality photographs and high technical accuracy of the drawings make it difficult to tell them apart. I have spent quite a lot of time inspecting the images, trying to guess what I'm looking at - a studio snap of a real dish or a coloured-in sketch of something someone described? I don't always guess correctly: the fact the food looks like clown make-up spread on a plate in almost all the images doesn't help distinguish between photography and pencil drawing.

Then I saw this capon in pastry.

I thought it was a drawing. The bright red comb on the capon's head and the fussy detail of the doily suggested it was a drawing: a bit unrealistic, a bit too much effort to pass as a photograph. But the pastry looked, at second glance, very realistic - the texture looks appetising, flaky and golden and with enough variation in the colouring to suggest this is a photograph of something baked in an actual oven and not whipped up with a few strokes of a brown crayon.

Then it became clear that the puzzling thing about this image was not its unclear medium, but the actual dish itself.

It's so unnecessarily creepy.

Why? Why keep the feet sticking out of the crust? Why keep the head with its garish red comb and sharp beak in a half-squawk at the other end? Why? Why coat both in a glaze that makes the capon look like it's sweating out some sort of avian pox?


That eye can move. That eye will roll around, either in pain or disdain when attempts are made to carve its pastry body. That eye will remain on the plate when the rest of the capon has been eaten, looking up at you from a cluster of crumbs and bones. That eye will remain intact and unblinking even as it is dropped into the bin after the meal. That eye looking at you for the rest of your life. That eye is the price you have to pay if you ever want to put a capon in pastry. Whether it's a photo or a drawing, it's a warning: googly eye pie is watching you. Bake with caution.