Food, grub, nosh, tucker, cuisine – so many names, so many variations!
Eat it running for a train, on your lap in front of the TV, or seated round a table, holding a conversation.
When I was a kid meals weren’t a creation, they were a routine. Price, not flavour was what counted. Sunday’s leftover beef was turned into Monday’s shepherd’s (not cottage) pie, then Tuesday’s meat pie.
Sunday tea was sandwiches and a slice of cake while trying to listen to The Ovaltinies on the wireless in between the crackling and whistling.
We always sat round the table, which had a tablecloth on it. The cutlery was laid properly, not thrown in the middle. Salt and pepper was there and any jams would be spooned into individual dishes with a teaspoon beside it.
Mum didn’t go out to work (nor did any of my friends’ mums, except one, who was a hairdresser.) Her job was to run the house and do the shopping.
We didn’t have a car so she walked to the shops. Carrier bags weren’t given away so she carried a basket. She always put her lipstick on before she went out.
The plus side was that everything was freshly bought and home-made, not ready-made. It was basic and repetitive, but mostly local with no chemicals and no food allergies, and it all had natural flavours!
We didn’t have a fridge until I was 13. That was an exciting event. Home-made ice-lollies!
Food was stored in the pantry, unwrapped or under a net cover.
I remember one terrible summer Monday when my Dad (the world’s slowest eater) was chewing his leftover chicken and spotted something on his arm. It was a maggot. Then he saw that his chicken was alive!
Mum and I had finished eating. We looked down at our bones on the plate. They were crawling. Everyone stared at each other, then we all dashed for the Andrews Liver Salts.
We held our noses and swigged the fizzing liquid down in one go.
People thought that a glass of Andrews cured almost everything.
Sometimes I wonder what we didn’t notice. Well it did me no harm!
When I was 15 Dad got a posting to Malta. I was dragged there kicking and screaming. (I’d just discovered my power over boys.)
It was a new world of food. Until then I thought spaghetti was little tinned slimy things swimming in tomato sauce. I liked them though!
Although I never learnt to cook anything except a fried egg sandwich, I learnt to enjoy eating; my first thick steak, deep-fried cheesecakes, timpani pies ( they’re like Spag Bol in a pie made with macaroni) for 1/6d, delicious cakes made with ground almonds- lovely!
We returned to England. I couldn’t afford to eat out any more. I had to prepare my own food.
Mum’s cooking had become more adventurous now that I’d left home! She’d learnt new recipes in Malta.
For my 21st birthday my parents gave me Marguerite Patten’s Every Day Cook Book. I don’t know why. I had no interest in cooking and I was thrown out of Domestic Science before I even started. (I was innocent, honest!)
One day I picked up the book and started browsing through it. It was full of pretty photos of strange things that I’d never heard of, like Fish Whirls, Hungarian Goulash, Melting Moments. (Even the names are delicious!) And when I read the ingredients I realised that I could produce them easily. I did, and they (usually) looked as good as, or even better than, the photos.
My friends made approving noises and paid me compliments- a Sagittarian show-off’s delight! The more compliments I got, the more I experimented.
Eventually I realised that everyone willingly visited me, but I rarely got any return invitations.
Tackling some friends, I asked when I was going to be invited to their house. They looked sheepish and said, “We can’t cook as well as you.”
I explained that the food didn’t matter. I suggested they cooked their favourite meal or got a take-away. I’d enjoy the company and being waited on. And it was their turn to feed me for a change!
We went to live in Spain. We lived in a large block of flats with Spanish from all over Spain. They all got to know that I collected recipes and they would summons me when they were preparing something that they thought would interest me, like espencado (a Valencian aubergine and pepper dish) pickled squid, Galician lemon bread pudding, and paella.
They never used cookery books. They cooked exactly the same recipes that their mothers and grandmothers had cooked.
I soon knew more about Spanish cookery than any of them. They cooked regional recipes and I had recipes from all over the country!
The empty house next door to us had been left to a Spanish family who couldn’t sell it as it belonged to so many of them, so some of them used it at weekends. We were always invited to lunch.
They arrived on Sundays, swept the patio and prepared the paella.
One day I insisted that they came to us for lunch the following Sunday. It was all ready when they arrived; tiny open sandwiches, Coronation Chicken, jacket potatoes, salad, and a large watermelon scooped out and filled with fruit salad.
They were completely lost. They kept asking me what they could do to help!
The next week they copied my open sandwiches, jacket potatoes and the fruit salad, which was flattering.
We were expecting friends one evening. I was cooking paella outside on the barbecue.
When they were leaving home their Spanish neighbours turned up. My friend apologised and said they were going out for a paella. Her neighbours were horrified. “You can’t have paella in the evening!” they said.
“Why not?” asked my friends.
“Because you eat paella in the daytime!” was the firm reply.
I never did find out why, and the Spanish couldn’t tell me. It was just a fact.
We returned to England. I worked as a waitress a lot and often ended up in the kitchen due to shortage of staff or time. I realised that my cooking was a lot better than the average chef, mainly because I put more love into it, and like the Spanish, they cooked meals exactly as they’d been taught to cook them, often with no variation.
I still collected recipes that interested me. I’ve got a collection of cookery books too.
Then I started entering competitions, creating original recipes, and I’ve won quite a lot.
My neighbours are willing guinea-pigs and give me honest opinions.
Here’s one of my recipes. It won me a nationwide competition. It had to be a fruit recipe.
CURRIED PEAR AND BRIE SOUP
2 oz butter
1 small onion, chopped.
4 pears, peeled and chopped
1 level tblsp curry powder
1 200g wedge of Brie
1 pt water.
1 tblsp lemon juice
Place everything except crème fraiche in pan.
Cook for approx 20 minutes
Stir in crème fraiche.
Serve topped with parsley.
It’s a lovely colour and tastes great!
We’re lucky in this country because we have a huge range of food and ingredients from all over the world, available seven days a week. And we also have a huge range of ethnic shops.
We’re unlucky because it’s mucked about with so much. Mother Nature is creative. Tomatoes and cauliflowers don’t naturally grow all the same size and shape. How come they’re identical in our supermarkets? Why are chickens all the same weight?
Like a lot of people in this country I’ve developed food allergies so I have to be careful what I eat now, and it angers me, knowing that fruit and vegetables are being sprayed with preservatives not listed on the wrapper because they’re not ingredients.
I love Farmers’ Markets. They sell natural food, produced by people who work hard and care about what they’re doing. What a shame that some Councils charge such high rents that the farmers have to put up their prices to pay for the stalls!
I look forward to our holidays and I enjoy shopping and cooking. A French deli isn’t just a shop, it’s an art gallery!
I love the way that Mediterranean market stallholders lovingly set out their wares; giant crunchy Cos lettuces, tiny sweet cucumbers, dozens of different olives. What a joy to see large misshapen tomatoes with a touch of green on them! And, oh, the
How wonderful to eat and smell gorgeous fresh bread made with unprocessed flour! It goes stale quickly, but who cares? It’s cheap enough to buy some more! If you run the remains of the loaf quickly under the tap and dry it in the oven, you can get another day’s use out of it.
What fun to visit a fish market and buy something that I’ve never seen before!
Why oh why do we have a need to hoard everything in this country? Is it a built-in fear of war or famine from our past?
Why don’t we buy fresh food every day, and just enough for the day without any waste?
I’m guilty as well, though I keep trying to change. I’ve got a large chest freezer full to bursting and a collection of tinned food that I never get round to eating. I think it saves me money.
Maybe if we all started shopping the French and continental way the producers wouldn’t have to add preservatives to our food and we’d be a healthier nation with slimmer bodies, more energy, and a lower crime rate too!
But that’s another subject.