Saturday, 7 August 2010

In praise of small things- part three - egg and chips

I've written about my Dad a few times on this blog, but it's been a bit more difficult to write about my Mum - I know she sometimes reads this, and she can't quite see why I would want to tell a whole load of strangers about our family and our life.
There are however, some things that I've enjoyed all my life - largely down to Mum and  it would be wrong to leave them out of this series - even if it makes her a bit uncomfortable. So, I'm sorry Mum, but here goes.
Most of my childhood memories of my mother relate to her cooking. In my mind's eye she is almost always standing in the kitchen - I'm sitting at one side of the kitchen table, I've got my big sister Rosalind sitting on my left, and Caroline, my younger sister, sitting at the end of the table to my right. Mum is standing at the other side of the table, with her back to us, either  stirring something at the cooker, or peeling vegetables onto a sheet of newspaper laid out on the draining board (the newspaper that is, not my mother).
I have a vague memory of Ros once writing in her school book, 'my Mum wears sack dresses and she is a good cooker'.  I think I remember my parents' reaction - a mixture of amusement and bemusement. I never knew what a sack dress was, but I do know she was a great cook.
Mum's coffee cakes are legendary - her grandchildren appreciate them as much as we did, although they don't often get the treat of licking the mixing bowl clean, which was an integral part of the pleasure for us. She still makes cakes and puddings for us at Christmas and she made my daughter's wedding cake last year.
But it's not for the special-occasion foods that I'm including Mum's cooking in my series in praise of small things. It's for the dinners she cooked us, day in, day out, throughout the years of my childhood when we all lived together in the house in Croxted Road.
Mum had been a child during the war, so I suppose that rationing and food shortages must have had an impact on her. For us, there was no appearance of shortage - every day we'd have a proper cooked dinner and a pudding. Roast chicken, shepherd's pie, liver and bacon. I could go on. Of course I had no idea then that she was performing culinary miracles with the most ordinary of ingredients. I remember her sitting with a chopping board and a sharp knife as she cut every tiny scrap of fat and gristle off the stewing beef that would go into a steak and kidney pudding. To this day, my favourite joints of meat are belly of pork and breast of lamb - they might be the cheapest cuts, but you'd never have known it.
Puddings were great too - from apple crumble to apricot batter, treacle sponge to mandarine cream.
We ate well, and we ate healthily - with plenty of fruit and veg. Summer meant sitting on the step outside the back door, with a colander full of fresh peas to pod. I learnt early the technique of slightly pressing at one end of a pod until it popped open and I could run my nail down the side to open it up and push out the peas (keeping an eye out for the occasional maggot, which would set us squealing with delighted horror).
The generally healthy approach meant there were some meals that could only be had every now and then. Among these 'rationed' dinners, my favourite was always egg and chips with tomato ketchup. I loved it then, I love it now. Caroline, who was renowned for playing with her food, would chop it all up, mixing the food around until it was a uniform pale pink, before piling it all up in the middle of her plate. Even that couldn't put me off. There is something so right about dipping the end of a chip into the runny yolk of an egg, then dipping the eggy chip into a pool of bright red sauce. A small pleasure, but a perfect one.



Eryl Shields said...

Egg and chips is a miraculous combination, you've made me hungry!

the eternal worrier: said...

Egg and chips... I could murder that right now!

Charlie said...

Your praise of your Mom's cooking sounds more like a large thing than a small and, if she's reading this, I'll be round later for eggs and chips.