Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Camp Coffee

I am a coffee aficionado. Hemingway first popularised that word outside Spain; it originally meant one who was a passionate follower of the bullfight. For me the passion is coffee. I love buying beans, talking about blends, grinding to a perfect softness; I love my Bialetti stove-top moka with it's blackened base that speaks of many scalding, devilishly strong cups of espresso. I love the bitter black silk on my tongue and the kick of the caffeine. I affect an air of sophistication in cafes as I sip from a tiny cup.

So how do I explain my love for Camp?

Yesterday I made fudge in my friend's kitchen (see below) and couldn't find the vanilla extract. Instead I found a bottle of Camp and made coffee fudge. Looking at the bottle brought back so many memories that I couldn't resist putting some in a glass of milk. Oh my Lord! It was delicious. And, if I thought the sight of the bottle had evoked nostalgia, the taste sent me straight back to my Mammy's pantry. No wonder I grew up to love espresso with sugar; Camp is strong and sweet and bitter -heaven in a bottle.
With my espresso I stake a claim to European cafe culture but with Camp I am tapping into the British Empire and the request from the Gordon Highlanders to Scottish Food magnet Robert Peterson to provide them with a coffee drink they could brew quickly whilst on campaign. The design of the label has been, quite rightly, changed so that the Sikh and Scottish soldier are now equals but I am sad that consequently some of the subtle undertones have been lost.
The label is supposed to show Fighting Mac, Major General Hector MacDonald, a crofter's son who rose through the ranks to be a national hero but committed suicide in disgrace following accusations of homosexual activity with servants and native boys. Camp coffee indeed. Clearly homosexuality was "the love that dare not speak its name" and, even in contemporary Britain, gay rights came later to the army than the rest of society but there is little doubt that, had he been part of the establishment, the whole situation would have been hushed-up as it was in other cases.

Jake Arnott, author of The Long Firm trilogy and Johny Come Home (which contains an odious character he named after my brother), has written a book imagining a meeting between MacDonald and Aleister Crowley called The Devil's Paintbrush. As with all his books, but especially The Long Firm, it is highly recommended.

Thanks to for the image.


  1. Where can I buy Camp Coffee?. It is a cooking recipe staple for me. I am nearly through my old bottle! Maggie M.

  2. I get mine at Waitrose. It's in the baking ingredients section. I would imagine any good supermarket would stock it in that department. I hope that helps.


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