It’s not always easy when grandchildren come for a meal. To start with it’s fine – Zerlina, at 15 months, tucks into whatever she’s given. But Pugsley has reached the cautious age when he’s reluctant to put anything in his mouth unless he already knows he’ll like it. Squiffany is willing to try anything, but still tends not to like it if it tastes slightly different from what her parents cook for her. This can be frustrating.
I don’t remember ever being fussy over food when I was a child. I ate very little, but that was a matter of appetite. My mother was tolerant about it, knowing that I couldn’t help it and would eat until I was full, then stop. When food was being served, I might be carved a single slice of chicken, for instance, a small roast potato was added to the plate by the carver (my father) and then my mother asked what vegetables I’d like. I distinctly remember asking for “five peas and half a sprout, please” and being given them without comment. When I was out and given more food than I could manage, my mother advised me to try to eat the meat “it’s protein and good for you, and it’s expensive so it’s a waste to leave it” and I dutifully did my best. I observe, at this distance, that she didn’t need to persuade me to eat vegetables, I liked them, including sprouts, spinach, turnips and other things thought of as difficult foods for children.
I liked almost everything in fact, and if I didn’t, I assumed it was my childishness – after all, if I saw grown-ups eating something with enjoyment, it must be good and I just couldn’t appreciate it yet. My parents were very interested in food and very good cooks, though my mother did nearly all the cooking. She preferred it that way as my father used dozens of different utensils and never washed anything up.
I think of myself as having a very small appetite, and yet I must have packed away a reasonable amount of food, because so much was provided. When I was a small child, we always had a cooked breakfast, then we’d have a meal, not a snack, for lunch, and a cooked dinner in the evening. No afternoon tea, usually, as I mentioned the other day. Tea was usually tea. There was always fruit, however, and a biscuit, cheese or whatever if it was wanted. Sweets were rarely seen and snacks such as crisps (potato chips) were even rarer. I remember when I was about 11 and very ill with flu – my mother brought me a tray with little dishes containing treats, including a few crisps. I looked at it, dismayed, unable to touch a mouthful. When I was getting better it didn’t occur to her to give me the treats again (some of you have read this snippet before, it’s hard not to repeat oneself occasionally after a few years when readers have come and gone, so my apologies). We never had puddings, as my parents didn’t eat them. We had ice cream sometimes, I suspect my mother reckoned that was reasonably nutritious, so okay. There was often cheese as well as a well-stocked fruit bowl instead of puddings.
Apart from ice cream and bread, and the occasional tinned soup, everything possible was made from scratch. I was 16 when I first had fish and chips from a chippie. The rare occasion when it occurred on the Z family menu, it started with whole fish, which were filleted, battered and fried, and with whole potatoes to be washed, peeled, cut up, washed and dried, fried until pale and cooked and then fried again until browned. We might have had frozen peas with it though. And I seem to remember ketchup. That was a meal my father would have cooked, my mother would have thought it a waste of time, chips being fattening anyway. She’d have been landed with a devastated kitchen to clear up though.
Today, Pugsley had been invited to a lunchtime party, so I picked up Squiffany from school. I’d been out at meetings all morning so hadn’t bought anything for lunch, and she’s very hungry when she comes out at noon (she will go to school all day after Christmas, but she’s still nowhere near 5 years old). Knowing what little I had, I asked her what she would like for lunch. I was very relieved when she asked for boiled eggs and toast soldiers. No problem in it tasting different from Mummy’s cooking. I checked how she’d like them done (firm white, runny yolk) and she managed to pack away most of three good-sized bantam eggs (that is, good size for a bantam egg is still small, so they equalled two large eggs) and three slices of toast from a small loaf.
We were playing when Dilly and Pugsley arrived back, so we had a cup of tea and then Dilly went home, leaving the children here. I took them back at half past four. It’s very quiet here now and the Sage and I are a bit lonely.