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.