Bring pop stars into your parlour and divas into your dining room in the delicious meals laid out in this hilarious volume. Singing for their Suppers are: Sinatra; Aretha Franklin; Dolly Parton; Satchmo; Elvis; Michael Jackson; Bob Dylan; the Beatles; Mick Jagger; and Woody Guthrie.
Before the poppy seed haze of the Maharishi’s ashram, funky vegetarianism or even so much as a mung bean of John and Yoko’s macrobiotic meditations, way back, before all that, the Beatles were a pack of very hungry boys, the same size and shape as a pack of scouts.
College students, John Lennon and his girlfriend, Cynthia Powell, must have seemed groovy and mature to those schoolboys, the 14-year-old Paul and his diminutive sidekick George Harrison, when they turned up at lunchtime, escapees from school, bundling up their blazers and tucking away their schoolboy caps, to jam with John on the tiny stage behind the canteen at Liverpool Art College. John and Cynthia would grab fish and chips from a nearby shop and the four would sit around a steaming pile of salt-crunchy and vinegar-sharp chips and potato scallops on crumpled newspaper.
Later on but still just fresh out of their childhoods, when they put on a gig at Liverpool’s Jacaranda Coffee Bar, the Beatles’ humble boyish fee was no more than coca-colas and beans on toast. Cheese roll lunches were called for at The Cavern, with mums and dads popping to visit. It was all so beguilingly sweet.
In 1960 Hamburg, the band turned up so broke (pocket money doesn’t stretch far) at the Indra nightclub that the cleaner, out of the kindness of her heart, lent them enough money to go across the street to Harold’s Café for potato fritters, chicken soup and cornflakes (eventually she got into the habit of giving each of them a chocolate bar for the day). Surprise, surprise, there was nothing to cook on in their digs so they would pop into the British Sailors’ Society for cornflakes and milk or Paul’s girlfriend, Liane, a Hamburg barmaid, would cook them Deutsch beefsteak (hamburgers) and coffee. There was often (though Liane-from-Hamburg might not agree) something very parental in people’s responses to the Beatles. When they turned up in Miami in 1964, touring America for the first time, their bodyguard took one look at them and decided they needed some American home cooking. He took the boys back to his house for a lunch of baked potatoes and beef, followed by a vast American strawberry ice cake. The boys were finally full: they couldn’t eat till the next day.
When John married Cynthia (wife Number 1), Brian Epstein shelled out to take them to Reece’s Café in Clayton Square, Liverpool, for a set lunch. 15 shillings a head got them roast chicken (plus trimmings!) followed by a good old straight-laced fruit salad. And although the Beatles’ passion for plain, big snacks could be put down to being short of a penny or two, it was also the order of the day for the lads from Liverpool. When the Master of Brasenose College in Oxford invited them to dinner in the 1960s, rather than polish their forks at the prospect of what culinary delights the splendid and arcane kitchens of Brasenose might hold, the Beatles put in a request for jam butties. Buns with butter and jam.
There is a lovely naïveté about the Beatles and food: Lennon grew up on egg and chips and he and Cynthia romanced over pints of Black Velvet, a befuddling, sooty concoction of half pint of Guinness and a half pint of cider. Paul decided that virginal Jane Asher was a good girl and the one for him after an evening spent exchanging notes on the best consistency for gravy and their favourite foods. For at least one of them, the realities of working class attitudes to food set him on the long road to vegetarianism – George Harrison never forgot the sight of a slaughtered chicken hanging on the family clothesline to bleed dry (an interesting shared memory with American artist Jackson Pollock). Indeed, George seemed unable to escape meat as a child; he even got a job as a butcher’s boy, delivering meat parcels which he had to stow warm in the saddle bags of his bicycle.
During the early 60s the Beatles became more aware of their culinary gaucherie, Jane Asher showed McCartney the ropes food-wise – with Jane, he even tried out the pastoral living that was to be he and Linda McCartney’s trademark later on. McCartney bought a farm and Jane, a gifted cook, would rustle up delicious meals on the ancient electric cooker in the primitive farmhouse kitchen.
By 1965, when the Lennons moved to London, Brian Epstein had decided to take John and Cynthia in hand to teach them how the smart set lived. He would sweep them along on sort of London ‘taster’ evenings. He took them to French bistro La Poule au Pot on Ebury Street, which was also a decadent, brocaded gay haven, with dribbling white wax candle sticks and festooned with baroque wine red, gold and green drapes.Not one word of the menu, though, did the Lennons understand. Epstein made the dining decisions: French onion soup with its sombre, autumnal beef stock and honey-sweet tendrils of onion, coq au vin in a buttery sheen, followed by pale globes of pear and rivulets of chocolate - Poire Belle Hélenè. Bottles of tart, grassy Pouilly Fuissé were consumed and Cynthia spent the evening trying to say Pouilly Fuissé, with increasing difficulty. In truth, the Lennons preferred milk with their meals. No matter how many fine dinners they ate, the lads from Liverpool would still get their chauffeur to pull up at a roadside café on the way home in the early hours of the morning for a bacon butty or a scotch pie.
It was after a dinner in 1965 with the Beatles’ London dentist in his Bayswater Road flat that George and John first tried LSD, Cynthia thought it a bit odd when the dentist lined up four sugar cubes on the mantelpiece for his guests and then – carefully and elaborately – dropped a cube into each cup of after-dinner coffee.After they’d knocked back the coffee the dentist told them what he’d just done. George’s girlfriend Pattie (soon-to-be-wife and who had been the Smith’s Crisps potato chip girl) hissed nervously, “What if it turns out to be an aphrodisiac?” and the four escaped in their car, hotly pursued by the dentist in his.
There were many other dinners: with Joan Baez; with Mike Nesmith of the Monkees (his devoted wife would hover like a mosquito at Cynthia’s elbow while she cooked – “I always do it this way for Mike … “ she’d buzz, or, “Mike doesn’t like it like that”); and then Bob Dylan. Being Bob, he’d rolled the Beatles their first joint of cannabis on that first 1964 strawberry ice cake visit to America (after smoking a joint McCartney realised the meaning of life and grabbed a pencil and paper. The next day, he scrambled through his notes to find one line: “There are seven levels.” But nothing else.)Then there was the 1965 Hampstead lunch with Dudley Moore at Peter Cook’s house, when John was appearing on Not Only … But Also and the Lennons had their very first, electrifying taste of garlic. After drinking tank-loads of rich, warming red wine the afternoon dissolved into hilarity. A week later, and the Lennons had boozily asked the Cooks for dinner. Cynthia floundered: what was a three-course meal and how did you cook it? Pretending to be an adult wasn’t much fun but she managed to shake up a prawn cocktail with frozen prawns and bottled sauce, some kind of a roast, and a packeted apple crumble with tinned custard – but John didn’t show up, or didn’t for at least not for two hours, by which time Cynthia and the Cooks were sloshed and the food in the oven had hardened and darkened. Once John had turned up, rolled a joint and they all got stoned, the Cooks fell wildly upon their dinner, ignorant of its carbonized condition or of the fact that their food was processed.
George Harrison was the force behind the famed Beatles expedition to India: he’d been desperately looking for enlightenment, spending several hours alone standing on top of a Cornish mountain, hoping to make cosmic communication with whatever lay beyond the world of Cornish rambling. Finally, George’s cosmic longings led him to India, Ravi Shankar, and sitar playing at Shankar’s school in Bombay, in September 1966. Forget Newquay: this was more like it. It was his first real taste of Indian food too, with its predominantly vegetarian dishes. Harrison learned to eat with one hand, Indian-style, and his taste buds were lit up in ways he never expected. And it was George, then, who persuaded the rest of the Beatles to meet the diminutive Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in London.
During his speaking tour of the U.K., the founder of transcendental meditation, the Maharishi, had been pulling in the crowds. George managed to coax the boys into going along to listen to the Yogi at the Hilton Hotel in London (a less likely spot for enlightenment than Cornwall, one would have thought). They loved the Maharishi so much that, the very next day, a small cabal of Beatles travelled, with Mick Jagger and Cilla Black, to the somewhat incongruous venue of Bangor, Wales, to learn more about transcendental meditation. They were all enthused by the experience and, by February 1968, following the death of Brian Epstein, the Beatles were ready to join their spiritual guru in India. They were ready to become students of the Academy of Transcendental Meditation.
The Beatles, wreathed with marigolds, turned up to stay with the Maharishi at the 15-acre ashram in Rishikesh, India. Mike Love from The Beach Boys, Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence and Donovan, the folk singer (David Lynch was to become a follower later on) were fellow students.Cups of almond drupe tea were served to new arrivals.The Ganges lay, ancient and greening, over a hundred feet below and Himalayan peaks, massed with jungle, towered around the ashram. The ashram itself consisted of long dining halls, dedicated to vegetarianism and small twin-bedded cottages, in six of which the Beatles lived, composing such hits as ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Revolution’ – in fact many of the songs for the White Album. While our lyricists continued to smoke marijuana there, all alcohol and LSD were banned. Halcyon days? Not quite …
As you’d imagine, getting up early wasn’t expected of rock stars and hippies, so the open air breakfast stretched out for a languorous four hours between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. for whoever or whatever might emerge from behind the bedroom doors – which were tagged – MEDITATING, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB … Breakfast consisted of disappointingly unIndian-sounding cornflakes and puffed wheat, Quaker Oats’ porridge, toast (made from Indian bread and soggy), canned juice and jam. The Maharishi had never made too much of a fuss about a vegetarian diet (he didn’t want to scare off meat-loving Western clients), but was quite happy to go with the idea that meat excited the metabolism (as you’ll see later, he tried to get more than a cuddle off of a nurse by means of a chicken leg). Where the Maharishi bumbled, though, was in not employing one of the many wonderful Indian vegetarian cooks about, instead he opted for two heavy-looking white English youths (a pair of terrible, hormonally-challenged dinner ladies), who liked to dish up green-grey splodge by the ladleful (ashram regulars called it ‘glop’). The glop was boiled in huge grey kettles and the Maharishi banned the use of spices. Even Cynthia Lennon found it ‘surprisingly ordinary’. (Maharishi was later to go on tour with the Beach Boys in America and drive everybody mad with his dietary stipulations about fruit). Dinner would follow lunch, faithfully, unrelentingly, and taking the same form: a witheringly bad vegetarian dish, with carrots, turnips and potatoes, and salads of tomato and lettuce – although no raw food was allowed unless washed by the ashram students themselves, as clean water could not be guaranteed. Not that this would have made much of a difference, as washing up in the kitchens was generally haphazard, with dogs on hand to helpfully lick the plates clean.
Ringo hated the food with a passion; his heart sank at the thought of funny odd spices. This was a man who knew where he stood in life with steak and chips and Matteus Rose. Arriving with his wife, Maureen, he dragged with him a suitcase of baked beans. Homesick Ringo survived on these and eggs done in four different ways: boiled, scrambled, fried or poached, usually cooked by Beatles’ sidekick, Mal Evans. But Ringo couldn’t hold out – after 10 days he jumped ship, announcing: “That Maharishi’s a nice man, but he’s not for me.”
Onions and garlic pursued Ringo throughout his early years: Cynthia Lennon, experimenting with Vesta beef curries served with banana slice garnishes, was hurt by Ringo’s rejection of the curry she made for his supper when he called round on her and John: did he think she was trying to be too posh? And if it wasn’t spicy stuff that was after Ringo, it was many-legged fishy stuff. In 1968, when Ringo was in the throes of leaving the band, he took off on Peter Sellers’ yacht Amelfis. As if life were not complicated enough, the captain offered him octopus for lunch. In dread and horror, Ringo shrank from such perversions. The captain laughed merrily and told him about octopi decorating their front-of-house cave with shiny objects found on the sea bed. Guess what? Ringo went off to his cabin and wrote ‘Octopus’s Garden.’
After Ringo left the ashram, the other students evaporated over a period of six weeks, leaving behind a hard-core of John, George and Mia Farrow. The Maharishi’s ashram began to dissolve in a froth of rumour that he had been too free with his female disciples, and, despite the vegetarian ethos, it was rumoured that he had offered chicken (clearly the ultimate in sexual enticement) to a female disciple (a blonde Californian nurse) and much to the alarm of Mia Farrow had tried to hug her (along with making her wear a little silver paper crown, accept fifty gifts, eat a dedicatory carrot cake and then allow him to stoke her hair).
Stuff this, thought Lennon, and they got ready to leave.
“Why?” asked the Maharishi.
“Well, if you’re so bloody cosmic, then you’ll know, won’t you?” Lennon retorted.
The late ashram breakfast must have suited John Lennon, who, back in England, always operated according to his whimsy when it came to eating and drinking, except for an unshakeable devotion to large bowls of Frosties flakes. He was an unfaithful vegetarian, varying at different points between comic militancy – when he saw his friend Pete Shotton eating a hamburger, he’d bark: “You do know that’s someone’s mother you’re eating, don’t you?” John was keen to push meatless vegetarian substitutes of vegeburgers and soy sausages, wishing to justify his vegetarianism by poring through the Bible, hoping to prove that Christ was a vegetarian. And yet May Pang, his girlfriend during his brief escape from the clutches of Yoko Ono, always cooked for him on Sundays what she described as a “total English breakfast”, the implication being that there was a rasher of bacon in there somewhere (but not, by that time, the tab of acid he liked to place as an aperitif on breakfast trays).
John did manage to hang on to his beloved Hershey bars in his marriage to Yoko and life was not without pizzas and cappuccinos, but the emphasis was on rice – brown – and raw fish. From even before the ashram, Pattie and George had moved away from the cosy lunches of cold chicken and spiced wine of early marriage towards vegetarianism – proselytising vegetarianism – as when Pete Bennett, a New York business executive called in on them to broker some business and Pattie offered everyone trays of raw broccoli, carrots and celery sticks. Bennett chewed on these and then headed off to have a steak afterwards. And everyone knows the story about the McCartney’s commitment to ethical vegetarianism and the Road to Damascus moment when, settling down to roast leg of lamb for Sunday lunch, the McCartneys looked out of their window and ooed and aaahed at some lambs gambolling nearby. They looked down at their plates and then at each other and said: ‘“Wait a minute, we love these sheep – they’re such gentle creatures – so why are we eating them?” It was the last time they did, with Linda inventing all sorts of vegetarian replacements including a dish Paul described as “macaroni turkey”, which you could carve into slices, just like turkey ...