COOKING THE BOOKS – CHAPTER THREE

 

 

I am a complete sucker for notebooks of handwritten recipes, usually to be found at vintage fairs. There’s something very comforting, yet very poignant, about them. In one I have, there’s a page headed: Bottling fruit.  Underneath, on just one line, it reads: Gooseberries 4lbs, 6 jars.  Clearly, it proved to be too much for the poor soul. She must have wept into her pinny when she realised she had only the four jars.

Mock Banana has lines scored through the recipe.  I’m not surprised.  The mock banana turns out to be parsnips!  I’ll pass on that one, thanks all the same.

Cough Mixture even gets a look-in in this little notebook. Handy, for when you are choking on those pesky parsnips.

Chocolate Fingers has, in brackets after the title: To try. How brave of her.

Friends are acknowledged throughout.  We have Glennie to thank for the Christmas cake recipe and Cissie for her chutney. A slightly waspish note at the end from the writer reads: Be sure to stir often, especially towards the end, as it burns easily.  Oh, Cissie!  You didn’t tell her that bit, did you? I bet your ears were burning, too.

Cornish Pasties.  No, no, NO!!!! You’ve missed out the swede!!  No self-respecting pasty can call itself Cornish without swede!! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. That’s you well and truly drummed out of Cornwall, you great ignorant grockle, you. They’ll never allow you back in.

There are two recipes for Fish Pie, one with Television in brackets after. Well, if it’s on the telly it must be all right, right?

Here we have no less than four very similar recipes for Lemon Cheese, all supplied by different people.  Now that is brave!

Imagine the scenario:  Friend number one comes round for tea. Lemon Cheese is on the menu.

Friend eyes contents of jar suspiciously. ”Did you use MY recipe?”

Cook becomes flustered and drops the kettle.  “Er – I expect so, dear. It’s really very good…” she adds lamely.

The jar crashes down on the formica worktop.  The cat flees the room for the sanctuary of behind the sofa. ”This doesn’t look AT ALL the same colour as when I do MINE. HOW many eggs did you use?!”

A deathly silence falls and all that can be heard is quiet sobbing into a pinny.

To be continued…

After Ginger Biscuits, it says Very good. That’s a relief.  But what’s this?  A few pages on –Oatmeal Ginger Biscuits don’t get a Very good.  The addition of oatmeal was clearly a step too far.

Here’s Cissie again; she’s been given another chance with her Raspberry Jam and there’s a Very good after (no waspish notes this time). Take that, Oatmeal Ginger Biscuits!

Ivie’s All-Round Pudding, containing bread, flour, suet, sugar and spices ensures that you, too, will be round by the time you’ve had a slice or four. And what’s this I spy? Lemon Curd has crept in beneath the pudding recipe.  As if those four previous recipes for Lemon Cheese weren’t enough?!  She’s got some pluck, this one, I’ll say that for her. But for goodness’ sake, woman, step away from the lemons!!

Marie gets quite a few mentions, what with her Shortbread, Currant Buns, Strawberry Jam, Sandwich Cake and the rather grandly titled Marie’s Pudding. Popular girl.

Salmon Mould has ingredients listed but no method.  Merely: Steam for 1 1/2 hours and serve with parsley sauce.  Every unconfident cook’s nightmare!  Just what are we supposed to DO?!?!  And who said anything about parsley sauce?  How much parsley? How much sauce?!

Here’s a recipe for Fried Onions in Batter.  Ah, the good old days!  Cholesterol is such an ugly word.

A few empty pages signify a lull in proceedings. Did the writer go away? Did she have to replace her worn-out cooker at this point? Did she have a bit of a turn after The Great Lemon Cheese Incident? We’ll never know but look, here she is, back again with a new pinny and firing on all cylinders with Pat’s Ginger Cake and Peg’s Choc Cake. Phew. Thank goodness for true friends, eh?

Moving on now, here’s an altogether much better organised notebook, with special chapters already in place.  Omelets (sic) is, rather strangely, lumped together with the Puddings and Sweets section but we’ll forgive them that, as they are so clearly on the ball otherwise.  They’re getting a bit above themselves with Entrees, though.

This writer goes into a lot more detail. No upsetting anyone with the omission of methods, or falling out with friends over lemon cheese.  There are even a couple of biscuit recipes that have been costed out. If I could only read her handwriting here, I could tell you what they are but anyway, one makes three dozen and costs 50 pence, the other four dozen and a mere 30 pence.  Bargain!  It’s almost like an Eleven-Plus exam question:  If you take three dozen biscuits costing 50 pence and four dozen biscuits costing 30 pence, how many extra inches does that add to your waistline?

Friends’ recipes are creeping in: there’s good old Daphne, with her Apricot Tea Bread and Apple and Walnut Tea Bread.  Bit of a limited repertoire, has Daphne, but she’s a terribly good sport.  Always rustling up one or other of her tea breads for the church fete. Even if they’re always the last two left on the stall and the vicar ends up feeding them to the budgie.

What’s this?  Curried Rice Salad has edged into the cakes and biscuits section. Disaster!  It’s thrown the whole system out of kilter and, shortly after this glaring error, we note that all-too-familiar lull of a few blank pages where Cook takes a deep breath, has a lie-down for a couple of days then, refreshed, returns to the fray.

Further on, however, and it’s descending into chaos again, with Salmon Burgers and Raspberry Soufflé side by side. The thermostat has gone wonky.  Man the hobs!  Send out for reinforcements! This could turn ugly. Savoury Cheese fights with Orange and Lemon Chequer Cake (take that!) and Date Flapjacks battle it out with Salad Dressing to keep (why, what else are you going to do with it? Give it away? ”Oh, gawd, here she comes, pretend we’re not in, she’s brought her Godawful salad dressing with her again and we never finished the last bottle”).

Brown Pudding. Act One, Scene One:  Wife (for it is usually she) shuffles into the dining room and carefully, shakily, places the pudding dish on the table.

Grumpy husband (for they invariably are) peers at the contents suspiciously.  “I thought you said you were doing us a nice white pudding for afters? One of your lemon surprise specials?”

Wife pins bright, desperate smile to her flushed, worn features. “Well, I was, dear, and it has got lemon in it, and orange, too, but then there was this ever such good bit on the Archers and I stopped for a minute to listen properly -“ holds a hand up – “only a minute, mind, and when I looked again, it had turned -“ whispers -“ brown.” Stifling a sob, she shuffles over to the G-Plan sideboard to fetch the pudding bowls and spoons.

There’s a more than a hint of brown in grumpy husband’s face as he tuts, shakes his head, sighs heavily and manfully digs in.

To be continued…

The recipe for Mincemeat is from the J Y Prog – coincidentally, because that is the subject of my next and final chapter. I know, I can hardly wait, either!

Old English Flummery. (Surely it should be Olde Englishe?) Flummery.  What a delightful word that is.  So – Olde Englishe. “She be a right flummery, that one. No better than she should be.”  (I digress. Blame Poldark.)  The recipe sounds delicious but far too fiddly for me, so we’ll move swiftly on, leaving our O E F to her own devices (lock up your menfolk).

Uncle Mac’s Pudding. Good old Uncle Mac. What would we do without him and his trusty pudding? More of him later…

Raspberry Surprise. You’ve guessed it – no raspberries.

Iced Apricot Souffle, we are reliably informed, will serve 8 – or 12, with the addition of Orange and Grape Compote.  Well, that’s your five a day sorted, no sweat. Especially if you plough through the Melon Cocktail on the next page as well.

But what’s this? Pears with Chocolate Mousse? Sacrilege! Spoils the mousse.  Let’s not overdo it.  There’s more than enough fruit here as it is.

Hello – someone else’s handwriting has crept onto the page, with a recipe for Parkins (sic).  “Quick!  She’s gone out to get more eggs. Scribble it down – she’ll never notice… Here she comes – act casual (whistles nonchalantly).”

Chocolate Bake Stork sounds intriguing. ”I have some news for you, children. Mummy’s in one of her stork phases again. I’ve told her to go and have a nice lie-down.”

There are several recipes for Christmas Cake.  (It’s The Great Lemon Cheese Incident all over again, but who will win The Battle Of The Christmas Cakes?)

Here we are, we’ve arrived at the very end of the book, to a page headed: Xmas 1975.

This is one organised cook.  Mind you, with that amount of guests to cater for, she has to be. For Xmas (sic) Day, she has 16 + Sally coming and on Boxing Day there are two more (Sally is still hanging on in there, you’ll be pleased to note.  Even Uncle Mac’s Pudding hasn’t fazed her). The ingredients are mind-boggling: 30lb turkey with 7 hours! in brackets after, 6 cut loaves, 3 uncut, Milk – 12 pts and 6 pts, 1 pt double and 1 pint single cream – some over but useful.  First night. First night! Wow. I’m impressed.

Then we have three different types of stuffing: Double (double??) sausage, veal and chestnut.  Three trifles has plenty in brackets afterwards, bless her. I should think so too.  Greedy lot.

Cakes:  Chocolate Layer, Battenburg, Cherry and Walnut has the wonderful expression Hanging fire! in brackets after.  Is this another type of cake, or is it the chief cook and bottle washer letting rip on the page; something she wouldn’t dare do to her guests’ faces?

But look, what’s this? Xmas Day 1977 and there’s no Sally. Xmas Day 16, Boxing Day 14. Xmas 1976 is not mentioned, either. What happened?!  Was there a break in proceedings when they were packed off to a health farm to recover from all those trifles?  Did Sally, overcome by Uncle Mac’s manly suet pudding, run off with him to make lots more little puddings together?  Has Xmas 1976 become The Year That No-one Dare Mention? Were those words Hanging fire! of more significance than we were first led to believe? Will we ever know any of the answers to these questions? Stick the kettle on, love and give us some more of that lovely brown pudding. I’ll take this over the Archers any day…

 

 

Author: Hampton Caught

The rants and ramblings of an ex Deputy Fiction Editor of Woman's Weekly magazine.

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