Post-Brexit, the knives are out. Miriam Gonzalez Durantez has revealed in a new book her surprise at being served Hellmann’s mayonnaise by Samantha Cameron. At the ‘getting-to-know-you’ lunch, Mrs Clegg discovered that the Prime Minister’s wife considered shop-bought mayonnaise the perfect accompaniment to roast chicken. ‘Now that I’ve spent years observing how grand people live, I’ve learned that the ultimate grand person’s food, found on all the most upper-class tables, is not caviar, truffles, virgin olive oil or fancy cheese. No, it is… Hellmann’s mayonnaise,’ she writes.
No doubt Hellmann’s are grateful for all the publicity, but why all the fuss anyway? Homemade mayo is delicious, especially when pepped up into aioli with the addition of garlic, but there is much to be said for relying on ready-made staples when it comes to cooking. There’s a reason some of the most beloved items in our kitchen cupboards have survived so long. They taste good, and are often more economical than the homemade version. As the New Yorker pointed out back in 2004, Heinz Ketchup hasn’t been improved on because it triggers, ‘in equal measure, all five of the fundamental tastes’. Heinz’s real achievement was to ‘come up with a condiment that pushed all five of these primal buttons. The taste of Heinz’s ketchup began at the tip of the tongue, where our receptors for sweet and salty first appear, moved along the sides, where sour notes seem the strongest, then hit the back of the tongue, for umami and bitter, in one long crescendo. How many things in the supermarket run the sensory spectrum like this?’
We might not like to admit it, but some processed foods do tickle the taste buds better than anything we mere mortals could ever conjure up. Hellmann’s mayo, which was invented in 1905 by a German immigrant who opened up a delicatessen in New York City, has proven remarkably durable. Mrs Clegg may think it rather grand, but it is in fact a pretty democratic food item – cheap, tasty and convenient. Samantha Cameron enjoys it, as do many people at the bottom of the heap. The same can’t be said of caviar, truffles or even homemade mayonnaise, which requires fresh eggs and olive oil.
But perhaps Mrs Cameron thought she could get away with serving Hellmann’s, given that Mrs Clegg is no stranger herself to using the occasional ready-made item. As readers of her ‘Mumandsons‘ food blog will know, the wife of the former Lib Dem leader regularly includes ingredients that simplify the process of cooking. Pre-made puff pastry and pre-made filo pastry for instance. Cubes of jelly also make an appearance, as does ‘shop bought plum sauce‘. In one recipe for chicken wings, she suggests making a sauce from tomato ketchup and soy sauce. And in a recipe for cod with garlic mousseline, which has recently become ‘fashionable in Spanish restaurants’, she includes four ‘generous tablespoons of mayonnaise’ and notes that ‘shop bought is fine’. With shop-bought mayo, you do at least avoid ending up with egg on your face.