Lover or otherwise, the most romantic thing anyone can do for you is bake a potato. At the end of a long day, when your stomach is growling (neglected since that 3.30pm Hobnob), the Thameslink is once again delayed and the cold wind stings your face between the station and home, is there any greater act of love than a golden-fleshed, crispy-skinned Jacky P awaiting you?
I raise this now because we all know that when 14th February approaches, which, depending on your point of view, is either a cynical opportunity for the Champagne industry to see some much-needed uplift after a restrained January, or a chance for couples to revel in heart-shaped fripperies because no one actually admits to taking Valentine’s Day seriously.
Every year I feel torn between these two positions. Earnestly, I believe that every day should involve showing your partner that you love them. Why is a dedicated day necessary? And, surely, no sane person, especially one that is in a relationship would make an advance on Valentine’s Day?
On the other hand, I work in food – on a cookery magazine, no less – and in mid-February we are still at least six weeks away from Spring greenery arriving on shop shelves. There’s only so many bean soups and meat stews you can look at before getting jaded by a palette that runs the gamut from beige to brown. Between now and the end of March’s hungry gap (more on that in next month’s column), we need an excuse for colour, not to mention something a bit special, excessive, even, possibly a bit silly … and Valentine’s Day offers that in spades (and hearts).
I realize a baked potato answers none of the brief above. It falls into the beige-brown palette and feels about as special as a T-shirt bra. In their defence, though, they are at once wholesome and impossibly sexy, the edible equivalent, I like to think, of Ryan Gosling, recalling those “hey girl” Tumblr accounts from earlier in the aughts, featuring pictures of golden Ryan, his face knowingly naughty, Hollywood’s answer to a baked potato with butter and melted cheese...
But, for me, the romance of baked potatoes lies less in the fact that I love them than in the forethought that goes into one being ready by the time I walk through the door. The knowledge that someone has set the oven to 200C some 90 minutes before my return, placed two spuds in the oven, grated some mature cheddar, made a salad and lined up the chutney and the Dijon and maybe even the ketchup, if it’s a regressive day – that makes me feel truly loved.
What I’m getting at is that – whoever you’re with or wherever you are – this Thursday shouldn’t involve special culinary efforts. Say it with home cooking. Make the meal you eat together most often and revel in the mundanity of it all – no bells, no whistles. ‘I love us at our most ordinary,’ it says, ‘and that’s enough.’ Just make sure there’s Branston pickle.
Mina Holland is a journalist, editor and author specialising in food, drink and lifestyle. She is deputy editor of the Guardian's Saturday 'Feast' supplement, regularly contributes to various sections of the Guardian, and has written for, among others, The Evening Standard, Men's Health, Noble Rot, Saveur, Soho House's 'House Notes', Stylist and SUITCASE magazines. She is the author of two books, The Edible Atlas (Canongate 2014) and Mamma (Orion 2017) and lives in London. Find her on @minaholland