The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The roast that went wrong


Photo: Sharpener and knife

Photo: Sharpener and knife

This happened over 30 years ago when I was living in Chelsea with Smart Wife and Kind Husband.


“Now Fiona I have an old friend coming up from the country for Sunday lunch. She’s a gourmet cook. So the meal has to be excellent.”
Oh fatal words.
Smart Wife opened the fridge door to reveal an enormous joint of beef.
“I went to the expensive butcher in Tite Street. It cost a bomb but I’m sure that it will taste delicious. There’s always a better flavour with a decent sized joint.”

The Sunday dawned. By this stage I’d got into a bit of a flap. I checked the timings and put the joint into the oven after breakfast. Downstairs in my flat I read the recipe again and realised that I’d put the joint in an hour to early. Maths was never my strong point. I shot upstairs and as I was opening the oven door to retrieve the joint Smart Wife drifted past.
“Everything under control?”
“Yes. I’m just sealing the joint.” I had read the term somewhere and it seemed to fit.

Later that morning the ‘sealed’ joint was returned to the oven. At the correct time and the right temperature. It was a galley kitchen with a window overlooking the garden. As I was preparing the vegetables I spotted Smart Wife drift into the garden wearing a floaty dress and marabou feather scarf. She was followed by a short plump lady in country tweeds and sensible shoes.

Kind Husband put his head round the kitchen door.
“Lunch is going to be late, I’m afraid.”
“But the joint is ready.” Back then I didn’t know that a join can happily rest for half and hour somewhere warm.
“Just turn the oven down and hope for the best.”

At that moment I had a sense of impending doom. Would I over cook the cabbage?

When the time came to take the joint out of the oven to rest it was difficult to spot it in the capacious roasting pan. The football sized joint had reduced to something the size of a large scone. It looked ridiculous on the vast serving platter that Smart Wife preferred.  Standing on a bar stool I searched through cupboards normally out of reach for me. Eventually I found a dinky little tea plate which balanced the size of the joint well. I notice that it had lost its roast meat softness and clattered when I popped it on the plate.  It was like something from Tutenkamen’s tomb.

What on earth had gone wrong?

Smart Wife was not the sort of person that one could whisper,
“I’ve ruined the beef. It might be best to send out for fish and chips.”
I wildly hoped that perhaps the smaller plate would disguise how minute the joint had become. Perhaps it might magically soften during the trip from kitchen to dining room.

She had set up a separate table for carving the joint and was standing with her back to the main table when I stepped in with the horror joint.

I walked with the joint down wind of the Friend from the Country and placed it gingerly on the carving table. Smart Wife was not an easy person at the best of times and was prone to tantrums. With a miniscule flicker she grabbed the knife sharpener and with long sweeping movements slid the sharpener along the knife.

Meanwhile I busied myself with bringing in the vegetables and gravy. When I finally sat down Smart Wife was still struggling like Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca with the dolls house food. The Friend from the Country leant back in her chair and announced,
“Would you like a hand with that. I’m a sey-oup-er carver.”
There was an abrupt pause followed by the doom laden words,
“Well it’s not the knife.”

Smart Wife eventually managed to hack the beef into quarters like a cake. I can’t remember what it tasted like but we sat in silence, politely chomping. I do remember that this was the first time that I enjoyed eating cabbage as it was so much easier to cut and swallow than the dusky little hunk of meat.

The joint was never mentioned but I don’t remember ever cooking beef again.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Lesley

    Oh that rings bells with me too!

    Luckily Danny cooks the roasts here each Sunday 🙂

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