Slater’s picnic in the family backyard is a metaphor for his homosexuality and his conflicted relationship with this father, who wants him to be masculine. “Tinned Ham” is humorous up to a point, but the picnic menu can make you gag.
Slater describes a particularly awful confrontation during a picnic on the lawn and an uncommittable episode in his memoir in Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger. Now a well-known food writer, Slater’s disgust for tinned ham in jelly is matched by his parents’ disdain as they watch him eat it. The situation ends in ruin when the father reaches for Slater’s plate and chucks it across the lawn. Meat-eating is a sign of masculinity, and Slater remembers his father looking at him, hoping that he might turn into “a Viking warrior.”
“It’s amazing,” he writes ruefully, “how long it can take to scrape every morsel of jelly from a slice of cold-boiled meat.”
A year later, and grown-up, Slater has a different take on picnics. In his food memoir Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen (2006), he writes that Saturday mornings in Summer “are sacrosanct” and given to enjoying what he calls “lazy kitchen picnics.”
See Nigel Slater. “Tinned Ham.” In Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger.New York: HarperPerennial, 2004; Nigel Slater, Nigel. Kitchen Diaries, a Year in the Kitchen. New York: Gotham Books, 2006.
*The 2010 film directed by S.J. Clarkson does not have the backyard picnic episode.