The doghouse – in the kitchen

My mother worked incredibly hard, even when we had a daily help or, for a while, a live-in maid.  We had a cooked breakfast, a proper lunch and a cooked dinner.  Most of the vegetables were home-grown – brought in by the gardener every day, but a lot of preparation was needed.  She didn’t make cakes or puddings and usually there was only one course.  We did have a dishwasher – for years, ours was the only family I knew of with a dishwasher and she had a very well-equipped kitchen.  My father was also an excellent cook, but my mother rather dreaded him taking over.  He used a new utensil for everything and never cleared up as he went along.

One job he always took over was cooking fish and chips.  This wasn’t a matter of popping down to the chippy.  I never ate from a fish and chip shop until after my father died – in fact, I remember when I first did, it was during a school visit to Wales with the Lower VI and the games teacher, Miss Hewitt, to celebrate the end of the school year.  I got on quite well with her because she didn’t bother me, knowing my complete lack of team or competitive spirit I was left to my own devices as long as I did something reasonably active.

So, fish was bought, potatoes were dug up, peas were picked if it was the season, otherwise Birdseye were permitted (they were grown locally and frozen at the factory in Lowestoft).  The fish was filleted and battered, the potatoes peeled and chipped and fried until pale but cooked through.  Then the fish was fried and the chips received their second frying.  Tartare sauce would have been homemade from scratch and lemon quarters provided, along with Malden sea salt.  After the meal, my mother would disappear for an hour to clear up.

The other job my father took on was making marmalade.  He made lovely marmalade and added extra ingredients at the end, such as glacé cherries or a few whole almonds so that it looked pretty in the jar.  He also, if my mother had been away for a day, cooked a celebratory meal for her return, spending hours looking for new recipes and planning carefully.  I remember one once, a whole pear, carefully peeled and cored and wrapped in puff pastry which was cut into a strip and wound round the pear, leaving the stalk sticking out.  Underneath the pear was a spoonful of raspberry jam.  As it baked, the pear juice became a sauce that spilled out when you cut into the pastry.  It was delicious.

My parents had frequent dinner parties, they were very sociable.  Wink and I helped get ready – we were very involved in everything.  It always surprises me a bit when someone explains an inability to cook well by saying that their mother was a good cook so they never needed to learn.  I learned by watching and helping.  We all talked a lot about food too, I learned classic cooking terms early and the proper techniques – though there are a lot I don’t use nowadays.  For example, one made pâté from scratch then, it was normal.  And it was before the days of food processors, so the liver was minced twice to make sure it was smooth.

14 comments on “The doghouse – in the kitchen

  1. Liz

    That all sounds very yummy. It’s not making me hungry though because I have just eaten a portion of home-made sweet and sour chicken (I even made the sauce; all hail The Hairy Bikers and there splendid cookery books).

    I too come from a foodie family where my mum, both grandmas and aunties were all keen cooks. Me and my brother definitely learned the rudiments of cooking from hanging around the kitchen watching/helping mum. The people I know who are not cooks were brought up by mums who didn’t/couldn’t cook.

  2. georgie

    My Grandmother apparently took great pride in her cooking skills. The children were allowed in the kitchen only to wash dishes. Mom was self-taught and became an excellent cook. Paternal Aunty and Grandma were the bakers. Mom, Grandma and Aunty loved teaching me their skills. No wonder I was a chubby child!

  3. Rog

    The only way I can make pâté is by cutting and pasting because I can never remember how to do the little symbols. I suppose you grew up with one.

  4. wendz

    If you can remember them, you could do a blog post about your Mum’s dinner party menus. That would be fab.

    I learned to cook exactly as you did – by watching and helping..both my parents cooked well. My Mum was better at baking though…boy, did we eat cakes and puds and biscuits!! We were all very thin though, oddly enough.

    I remember making my first Sunday roast when I was 10…mostly on my own with a little parental guidance. 🙂

  5. Z

    Even as a small child, I was given cooking jobs to do. It helped that there was loads of room in the kitchen.

    I was thinking of writing about some of her specialities, Wendz, though what seemed sophisticated in the 60s isn’t now.

    All my children cook very well, Ro does most of the cooking for him and Dora and Al has taken over his family cooking sometimes and enjoys it. Ro started cooking family meals for us when he was about 5.

    I did, Rog, but don’t you know how to do them on the iPad/iPhone? It’s brilliant, even easier than on a Mac computer. The pc way, a different 3 digit number for everything, is rubbish. The only one I can remember is for an ë, I think it’s 035. Well, I think I remember it.

  6. Tim

    You don’t have to remember those numbers in Word. Just go to ‘insert, symbol’ and take it from there. It remembers the last dozen or so, and you can set up favourites, shortcuts and autocorrect for words you use frequently e.g. ‘pâté’ for ‘pate’. (Though, to be honest, I often can’t be bothered.)

  7. Z

    So you only have to look them up once? Well, thank you, Word. I might not bother myself if it was inconvenient, were it not for having had to use a diaeresis almost daily since my earliest days of writing.

  8. Macy

    My mother was such a terrible cook I became a vegetarian just to avoid meals….
    Didn’t make me a better cook mind you. Just one that’s unable to do roasts…

  9. Z

    I spent six and a half years daily blogging, now it turns out I could have talked about my childhood all along!

    I love cooking vegetarian food, Macy, just ask Blue Witch. Come to the next party!

  10. wendz

    But it’s not about sophistication – it’s the trip down memory lane. And all the little anecdotes you put in which make it interesting reading.


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