I received a phone call from Miss Hap today during her lunch break at school to let me know that there is a Craft Fair on Friday at school and “you have got to make some gingerbread men biscuits”. Oh great! Well I have to give her credit for telling me a little in advance, normally it is at bedtime the night before she has to take something home-made into school. (I know some supermarkets do a lovely range of ‘home-made’ cakes etc but it does seem a bit naughty to do that; However needs must, and I have done it in the past)!
Anyway, as it is my day off today, and not only have I got the ingredients (and more importantly the recipe) for the gingers, but I actually enjoy making them (along with mince pies, that is about my festive repartee). I have already made the dough, and whilst that is ‘chilling’ in the fridge, I get a bit of time to myself to reflect on how different I am from my mum in the kitchen, I was thinking about Mum and what a fantastic cook she is, although nowadays she doesn’t bake so much. However, in her baking heyday some of her practices in the kitchen left a little to be desired…..
Two funny stories come to mind. the first one was when mum was making her famous ‘rock cakes’. Now, they were not ALWAYS as hard as rock as the name implies, and she put currants or something in them as well, so they were quite tasty for a Sunday afternoon tea. This particular day she made the cakes with her usual method, chucking a bit of this in, sprinkling in a pinch of that, then a dollop of something else for good measure. Once cooked they looked lovely and golden brown and she turned them out onto the wire rack to cool for a bit.
My younger sister and I were there when she decided to have a little ‘taster’ and she bit off a huge chunk from a cake.
“Mmmm these are lovely” (Self-recommendation is no praise, but Mum was proud of her cooking). As I looked up at Mum I was horrified; there were loads of ants crawling around her mouth, my sister had noticed as well. We were screeching and pointing but Mum had realised something was not right, and she rushed over to the sink to spit out the cake, and brush away the ants that she had not ingested! It transpired that Mum’s wire rack was kept in the little alcove under the kitchen sink, and she had not washed it (how the hell she didn’t notice the ants all over it is anybody’s guess)! Well needless to say we went cakeless, and had something else!
The other occasion, was a dinner Mum was cooking for the family. She had made a gorgeous stew, and was preparing the dumplings to go with it, which she cooked in the pot with the stew. She went to one of the cupboards and got out her little box where she kept, her margarine, butter and lard. Anyway, she made the dumplings, but as I watched her , I said that they didn’t look right (Mrs Expert Chef poking her nose in)! Needless to say she took no notice of me, and half an hour later we all sat down for our lovely dinner. I took one mouthful of dumpling, and the rank taste hit me; the dumpling was expelled straight away.as I retched and heaved. Some of the others followed suit but the slow starters sat there stunned; dinner was ruined. That fat she used had been sitting opened in the packet for God knows how long, and was well and truly off! Mum told us to eat the stew anyway just leave the dumplings, but everyone’s appetite had suddenly disappeared!
I remember those two occasions so well, as my Mum never understood why we all made such a fuss about everything being clean, or that food was not past it’s ‘sell-by date’! Myself, plus some of my brothers and sisters used to go through the fridge and cupboards and sure enough there were tins there from 5 years previously (“tins last forever”), bottles where the date had rubbed off, or perhaps even before they dated foods, unwrapped food in the fridge, cooked and raw meat stored in close proximity, and condiments from the ark! Anything that was in the fridge was edible according to mum regardless of how long it had been in there!
I suppose growing up when food was rationed, they were not so picky about what they ate, being grateful to have anything. Also I have seen her trying to sneak an errant spud in the roasting tin that had fallen on the floor when she strained them in the pan. Again, anything that went on the floor got either rinsed or brushed off and put on the plate! After all, “A little bit of dirt never killed anyone” and me, and my siblings have the cast iron stomachs to prove it!