All cut up about lost carving skill

Celebrating Christmas here in SA is a joyous occasion when many families tuck into a full-on roast meal with all the trimmings.

A roast though at any time of the year is a bit of a luxury for many people and especially for retired people like us. Partly for health reasons, partly because when there is just the two of us, we can do without the cooking hassle, but mainly be- cause it’s just too darn expensive nowadays!

Now here’s a question for you young dads – is carving the joint a dying art?

In our grandparents’ day, the husband carved and it was part of an age-old ritual which recognised him as head of the household. He would never cook, that was women’s work unless perhaps he turned his hand to a good hot curry because that was something not many faint-hearted females could get right.

But he could carve because he had learnt from his father and it was improper for anyone else to do so.

Razor-sharp knives were reserved for the job, preferably a bone-handled carving set.
There were rules – meat was cut across the grain, thin slices that were still hot when the job was quickly and efficiently done.

He would also sharpen his knives and ritually did so before carving. Not with some electric device attached to a can opener, but with a steel, or better still, with two knives flashing about like a dramatic circus act.

If it terrified the kids, so much the better. It got their minds right to eat their veggies before they were allowed any pudding.

For the British and their colonial offspring, roast beef especially was a cultural ritual and the carver bore the authority of centuries.

I remember as a youngster seeing enormous chickens being placed on the Sunday dining table and father duly making a meal of the carving process. But the commercial chickens of today are so far removed from the large and tough birds our fathers and grandfathers carved that there is no comparison – they just fall apart.

To tackle a modern chicken with a massive blade honed in Sheffield would be ridiculous.

A great leg of mutton from the Karoo would fit the bill, but who can afford it? Turkey and gammon perhaps, as they are once-a-year festive offerings. As few men these days can get practice on expensive joints, it is no wonder that the art of carving is dying.

Carving sets lie unused for months and even years and are often found on church bazaars. And worse, sacred knives are in general use in the kitchen.

Can the average new-age man carve at all? Too often I’m afraid, he uses one of those electric jobs or a “guaranteed sharp for a lifetime” commercial blade or a serrated one which tears the meat to shreds.

They battle on in a manner which would have their grandfathers disown them. The sad truth is that like the gentle art of conversation, the ancient ritual of carving the traditional joint is a dying skill.

And for pudding, did you hear about the wedding where the bridesmaids wept, the mother wept, the bride wept and even the cake was in tiers!


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