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Monday, May 10, 2010

Back to the 60s

I like vintage and classic and retro and all that jazz, and yet when it comes to the latest craze to sweep France I cannot but get a little self-righteous and appalled.  I write, as some may have already guessed, of Tupperware.  Hands up who thought the plastic range of the sixties and seventies had been long consigned to the past and the deepest depths of the cupboard? I can report that, amazingly, it features very much in the present and is doing well, at least in the north of France, where it appears to be re-inventing itself as a must-have life style product if the Boden-like catalogue is anything to go by.  Indeed you might even say that "il fait un carton", which means it's doing really well but,confusingly translates as "it's making a cardboard box".

The Tupperware "rep" is now called a Culinary Advisor and as our expert lives next door but one to Max's parents (the Bopes) they became the first ones to organise a Culinary Know-How Workshop, which I managed to avoid as I was away in London. It just didn't seem to be the kind of activity to be indulging in in 2010. Not yet post ironic, too kitch for iconic, there just didn't seem to be any acceptable excuses to be linked in anyway with old plastic.  For heaven's sake we've invented Lakeland for all that!  The second we felt obliged to attend as it was being held at "les oncles" and we wanted to be there for them and to up their points count so that they could avail themselves of something even more expensive from the formidably priced catalogue.

I can only blame Max for the third as he actually volunteered. Yes, he signed up for his very own Tupperware party.  Admittedly our party organiser was laying on the heavy psychology to those who demurred with "so didn't you enjoy yourself this afternoon?" I secretly hurrahed the woman who didn't give in.  After much soul searching I offered my support to Max's event, but only as a behind the scenes factotum and as long as I didn't have to sit through a second réunion

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Tupperware.  It is about as attractive as plastic can be and comes in a range of different colours, indeed it isn't even all plastic.  It does what it is supposed to do and looks OK.  So where's the rub? In one word: the price.  It is extortionately expensive.  One example: the mini muffins silicon baking mould cost 29,99€ from Tupperware.  Auchan had one on sale for 8€ reduced to 5€ recently and even the top of the range designer branded one in Printemps would have set us back a mere 20€. The latest gadget is designed to steam in your microwave and is priced at 150€.

It isn't as if we cannot buy plastic containers and implements effortlessly on our stroll around our local supermarket these days and at very competitive prices too.  Why encourage the production of even more plastic that will be around for much longer than any of us currently populating this planet will be?

The plastic takes a back seat during the "party" as the cooking workshop takes top billing. For this is how plastic boxes and kitchen implements are marketed these days: cookery demonstrations using Tupperware products. That's really what I don't get viz the recipes are easy enough to follow, the ingredients easy enough to source, the results tasty enough BUT what has that got to do with Tupperware?

So, to avoid finding myself quivering with indignation I relegated myself to the kitchen and prepared to skivvy behind the scenes. Whilst I recreated the role of Edith Piaf in "Les Amants D'Un Jour"  ie Moi j'essuie le verres, au fond du café, j'ai bien trop à faire pour pouvoir rêver... washer upper or plongeur and oven temperature and time checker, the action started. The Bopes and the Uncles, there to make up numbers at the "safe"" end of the sitting room, and, at the sharp end,  two neighbours and four people from Max's workplace completely unaware they were about to be Tupper-mugged.
First recette of the workshop are "croissants". The filling of choice: bits of saucisse de Strasbourg or hot dogs to you and me.   This is, to date, my least favourite product of all: the "Croissants Party". This useless device is seemingly unavailable in the UK perhaps because it's use is predicated on the availability of pastry ready rolled into a circle as is most such pastry in France.

This is what you do. Thanks Raymondo (if you are old enough to get that reference...). You place the round of pastry on Croissants Party choosing either the 16 or the 8 croissants side - goodness you can turn it over! Press down preferably using the Tupperware pastry roller. Choose a filling either savoury or sweet and place on the individual triangles thus created. Ease the pastry away from the template rolling from the outside in. Voilà, croissants! Nice try. Firstly they are not croissants but croissant shaped bits of shop bought pastry, secondly 16 mini pretend croissants doesn't by any stretch of the imagination constitute a party, thirdly why not just use a knife and cut the pastry yourself since it is usefully backed by non stick paper, finally why pay 30€ for a useless piece of plastic?  Here's Suzanne "having du fun"  with the Croissants Party.   
Sausage "croissant" isn't really my thing so I passed on those but the plate did come back empty and everyone oohed and aahed over the possiblilty of making your very own croissants chez soi. The fact that they were mini made them even more attractive mini being de rigueur. Hello?

I have to admit that the almond financiers were great though at 29,99€ a pop for the silicon mould one would have to use it with alarming frequency to ever have a chance of getting one's money back.

Then a cream dessert Tupper-whipped in a hand driven little whippersnapper thing that costs an arm and a jambe and is, I know this, difficult to wash and dry. Thus whisked cream was chilled then sprinkled with speculoos biscuit crumbs, achieved by means of another Tupper gadget that was equally difficult to clean and dry.  I didn't fancy all that cream.

I think the tomatoes and cheese were Tupper-chopped for the tarte aux tomates et au fromage though a non Tupperware implement such as a "knife" would surely have done equally as well.  I shouldn't carp too much though as this later became our supper starter to which I invited les Oncles.  It was tasty enough.  Then the pièce de résistance the plat principal, a version of the potato dish that normally contains lardons. Tartiflette Irlandaise replaced the bacon with smoked salmon. I should have taken the copyright out on this five years ago or more as, not being a meat eater, I "invented" this dish. Yes, it was me. So the potatoes were similarly chopped I believe but since I was still Piaffing au fond du café I cannot vouch for that.  I do know that the 3 litre plastic casserole (and lid) retails for over 100€. Ouch!  No I didn't burn myself too badly as I extricated it from the over.

Somehow, a bit like going to see the recording of a TV comedy programme, Tupperware party folk find themselves enthusing rather too much about the products as if they were ground breaking scientific achievements. Dazzled by the array of different colours, the gimickry and le fun they find themselves wondering not only how they can possibly carry on without claiming something from the extensive catalogue for their own but also wondering how on earth they managed without for so long.  Soon order forms are being feverishly completed, and dates are being finalised for their very own glee club experience.

For my part I felt ridden with guilt that people we know had been hoodwinked into buying stuff they could have bought for a fraction of the price. Max promised his host gift, a salad spinner (47,99€) to our widowed neighbour whose much diminished pension had been signed away, and looks forward to the "crystal" Tupperware salad bowl and servers he earned from the party. Still, we enjoyed the results that evening and, having been persuaded to fill in an order form, though not order anything, I am looking forward to my reward for "attending" ie a small but perfectly formed Tupperware container.  Plastic, fantastic?