The Anthony Burgess Cookbook: part two
Burgess’s comic novel Inside Mr. Enderby (1963) introduced the failed poet F.X.Enderby to an unforgiving and indifferent world. Living in squalor in Hove, Enderby is oppressed by poverty, writer’s block, indigestion and constipation (all for him, curiously related conditions), and Catholic guilt. How far Inside Mr. Enderby is an autobiographical text is a subject for a longer discussion, so for the moment here is Enderby’s attempt to cook something called Spaghetti Formaggio Surprise, the recipe for which he finds in a magazine called Fem that is to publish some of his poems.
‘Enderby went out with his shopping-net and returned with a pound of spaghetti, a quarter of cheese, and a large garlic for fourpence. Panting with excitement, he took the recipe into the kitchen and followed the instructions slavishly. ‘Enough for four’, he read. He was but one man alone, he himself, hungry Enderby. He must divide everything then by four. He took the pound of spaghetti and broke the brittle sticks into small pieces. He took his frying pan (pity that the recipe asked for a large deep one; still, never mind) and poured one tablespoonful of olive oil. (He had about a cupful of this in his cupboard, saved from sardine tins.) He threw in about a quarter of the spaghetti, lit the gas, and cooked it slowly, turning and stirring. He then added two cupfuls of water, remembering that he was to divide by four, so threw some of the water out again. He turned, breathing heavily, the Fem, which the pan gently simmered. Grated cheese. He grated some with Mrs Meldrum’s nutmeg grater and threw it into the mixture. Now this question of onion or garlic. ‘Two large onions chopped,’ said the recipe, or ‘garlic to taste’. Enderby looked at his garlic, stronger, he knew, than onions; perhaps this one would be equivalent to two of those. Should he skin it? No. The goodness was in the skin: potatoes, for instance. He sliced the garlic warpwise, then woofwise, then threw the bits into the simmering pan. And now. A greased dish. He found a cloudy Pyrex on the shelf, and he liberally coated its inside with margarine. He now had to transfer the stuff from the pan into the Pyrex. He had some difficulty turning it out: it had stuck for some reason, and he had to gouge vigorously to detach what was willing to be detached. He flopped the mixture into the dish. ‘Top with sour cream,’ said the recipe. There was no sour cream, but plenty of sour milk, greenish on top. He crowned the dish with generous curds, then lit the oven. It had to cook to a slow heat therein, about twenty minutes …
Damn. He had not, he realised, consistently divided by four. Never mind. And perhaps the spaghetti was meant to turn black. He had heard of smart restaurants where things were deliberately burned before one’s eyes, as one sat cool and well-dressed at table. He went back to the electric fire to continue his reading of Fem … He gawped on long past twenty minutes of cooking time, came to with a hiccoughing start, then drew his Spaghetti Formaggio Surprise out of the oven. Its name was not inept. He sat down to it, and savoured mingled hues of burnt farinacity and shouting brutal garlic, loud and hot as an acetylene blast; the tone of these hues was a tired tepidity. He had not quite expected this. He ate dutifully, with many draughts of cold water. He must learn the tastes of his prospective readers.’