Monday, 24 June 2013

Family cooking

My sister and I can't remember a time when we didn't cook.  My mother did most of the cooking, though my father was a brilliant cook too.  He liked to do complicated dishes and would spend hours reading cookery books and choosing what to make.  Nothing was too much trouble when he was in the mood for it. I don't remember, I was too young, but we used to have a few small silk napkins with Chinese lettering embroidered in red in one corner.  When my parents ran a hotel in Weymouth, there was one occasion when they decided to put on a Chinese meal (this was back in the 1950s, quite an unusual thing to do).  I suppose the cooks did much of the work under the watchful eye of my parents, but my mother had recently bought an electric sewing machine with all the gizmos - it was his choice, she'd have preferred something simpler - and he looked up the Chinese equivalent of 'bon appetit' (I don't know where, but he knew everything), worked out how to use the machine and made 100 napkins.

On one occasion, we'd been to London for the day, leaving him at home and he spent the day cooking. I don't remember the first two courses, to be honest, but the pudding has lingered in my memory for well over forty years.  He peeled and cored pears, made puff pastry, encased the pears in the pastry and baked them.  The cavity of the pears was stuffed with jam - redcurrant jelly, I think - and the pastry was cut in strips and carefully wrapped around, like a bandage.  It must have been incredibly fiddly on slippery, peeled pears but it was absolutely delicious.

He was the marmalade maker in the family.  My mother avoided bread, on the whole - way before the Atkins diet, her method of keeping her weight in check was to avoid starch (as carbohydrates were known in those days) and sugar. And since she didn't eat marmalade, she didn't see much point in making it.  But it was the sort of occasional great deal of effort that he thoroughly enjoyed.  He made loads and, once he'd run out of jam jars, used glasses and attractive dishes.  To add to the visual appeal, he'd thinly slice some of the oranges and put a slice or two in each jar, and add glacé cherries and whole blanched and peeled almonds for the last few minutes of cooking.

He was also the one who made fish and chips, once in a while.  Again, it wasn't something my mother would have bothered with, she wasn't big on potatoes (starchy, again, too fattening).  I never set foot in a chippy until I was 16 years old, after my father died.  If we wanted chips, we started by digging up the potatoes.  They were peeled, washed to remove the excess starch, cooked twice.

You can see, perhaps, why I believe I'm lazy.  Possibly I'm not, but it's all comparative.

You'd think that my mother would have welcomed his cooking, but she had her reservations.  He left the clearing up to her and was a messy cook.  She used to say that he wasn't happy if there was a single utensil or pan left unused.  And he wouldn't have enjoyed the obligation of everyday cooking, a meal that he prepared was always an event.

I think this post is going to be at least a three-parter.  But I may be distracted for the rest of the week and have to come back to it.

8 comments:

Zig said...

I've never seen my father cook, but he would make a wine waiter I've seen him pouring often enough!

My mother is a superb cook but never allowed anyone in her kitchen except at the end when we had to do the clearing up. She then resented us eating what she had spent so long preparing! No wonder I'm mad.

Liz said...

Using too many dishes and utensils is something that my husband has accused me of, particularly in the days before we got the dishwasher.

I don't ever remember my Dad doing any cooking.

Blue Witch said...

Social history at its best.

Z said...

Erm ... indeed, Zig, no wonder!

I do the clearing up, Liz, so no criticism from my husband.

BW, will I be one of the old ladies that schoolchildren come round and interview about the old days?

mig said...

None of the fathers in our families cooked - I remember when my Mum was ill and Dad and I struggled to get a meal together. We must have managed it somehow!
Barney on the other hand is an enthusiastic and expansive cook! And he leaves the clearing up for me : )

John Greenwood said...

I wish you'd cook for us, my Dad hates cooking, and washing up! :-(

Pearl said...

Both of my parents were/are excellent cooks.

Loved this post.

Pearl

Z said...

My father could do everything except tidy up.

Thank you Pearl