Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

A huge pat on the back…

February 4, 2017

… to local firm Stoate & Sons! I enjoy baking, and particularly like to make long-fermented breads and traditional fruit cakes. And as far as I’m concerned, the most vital factor in how my baking turns out isn’t the temperature of my oven, how long I’ve kneaded it (or not, as my current favourite is a no-knead sourdough) or how fresh my eggs are, but the quality of the flour. And Stoates flour is always absolutely excellent.

I can buy small 1.5Kg bags at our very-excellent local health food shop, but sadly they will only last us a week or so. But we’re lucky enough to live less than 20 miles from the mill at Cann, and often have reasons to go up that way, so when I’m passing and the mill is open, I’ll pop in and stock up on the 8Kg bags, which will last us for about 3 months. However, when my mother was very ill, I ran out of time to go up there, so placed my first order online, which most impressively arrived the next day. Since then, I’ve worked out that if there is no other reason to go up there and combine errands, it is actually marginally cheaper to buy it online, as my van, though wonderful in many ways, is not the most fuel-efficient beastie on the roads. And it also saves me some time, which always seems to be in short supply just now.

Anyway, I placed another order one evening earlier this week, and received an email the next day saying that it had been dispatched and should arrive the next day. I was at home all day, but the doorbell never rang. And though I was in and out the next day, one or other of the girls was in all day, and again, the doorbell just didn’t ring. However, this morning, we found a very soggy cardboard box on the doorstep… the box disintegrated when I picked it up, and sadly the flour sacks inside were damp too.

So I rang the mill and left a message saying what had happened; not blaming them at all, but despairing at the lack of common sense shown by their carrier. The weather forecast was terrible, and there wasn’t a moment when the house was left unattended, and both doorbells work perfectly well. For a while, I thought I might have to rely on supermarket flour until I could get up to Cann again. But as I was unpicking a fabulous metal trim from a lovely but damaged vintage sari this afternoon (more about that soon) the doorbell rang…

There on my doorstep stood the miller himself! His wife had an errand to run down our way, so when he heard my message, checked the order and realised where we were, he popped some sacks into the back of the car & dropped them off directly to us. It’s not often you get service like that these days; well and truly above and beyond the call of duty. So I’d just like to say a huge thank-you to Michael Stoate; that’s what I call good customer service!

sourdough1

No-knead slow-risen sourdough made with 2 cups Stoates Organic Strong White and 2 cups Organic Maltstar, a tablespoon of salt and half a jar of sourdough starter. 

Why my Mum doesn’t cook…

January 22, 2017

It has always been a puzzle to me, how much my lovely, intelligent, adaptable & creative mother hates cooking… but I’m beginning to understand now. The other day, she casually mentioned that until she married my father, back in the immediate post-war years and aged just 21, she had never cooked or prepared a meal in her life. On the first morning of their married life, she woke up in a blind panic because she had no idea what to do about breakfast – not a clue. She had never even fried an egg.

I was somewhat amazed at this revelation; she grew up in a multi-generational household, as her mother died soon after she was born and her father was away on the North-West frontier most of the time, and re-married before too long. So she was raised mostly by her grandmother, who had grand ambitions for her; her grandfather was Chief Engineer at the local paper mill, and her aunt and uncle both had good clerical jobs, so by the standards of the time, they were solid middle-class citizens. Old photographs show a lovely dimpled child who was clearly everyone’s pet, and she went on to grammar school, where she excelled at music in particular. But sadly she failed the Matriculation, by just one point (in art, of all things) so dreams of university had to be shelved. She spent some time pursuing her musical talents, but by that time she had met my father, curate at a local church, and was sternly told that she could either sing OR marry. Luckily for us, she chose to marry…

But no-one ever taught her how to cook. It may well have been that my great-grandmother was living a little in the past, and thought that cooking should be something that cooks did. It’s certainly true that for most of my mother’s teenage years, rationing made ingredients hard to come by, and even harder to stretch, and as they lived in a town, they didn’t have access to the large & productive rural garden that my other set of grandparents had, or the time to work it; running a paper mill in wartime was a dawn-to-dusk, and sometimes beyond, commitment. My great-grandmother pooled the family’s rations to keep them all fed, but discouraged any “help” that might lead to wastage. Thus she failed to pass on the basic skills that would have kept my mother afloat when she suddenly had to feed two people, and sometimes entertain, too, on strict rations and a pretty low income.

However, she persevered; she tells tales of surreptitiously buying recipe magazines, despite not even knowing what half the ingredients were. And plunging into despair when the recipes started with sentences like, “First bone and roll the joint” or “Rub in the lard” – rub it into what, exactly? Your hands? The chopping board? How do you “bone” a joint? The bone doesn’t just pop out… To someone raised to be a blue-stocking, 1940s cookery books might as well have been written in a foreign language; they assumed a level of basic knowledge that she just didn’t have.

But then, rationing dwindled away; my parents spent some years abroad, and along came the “new” cooks – Elizabeth David, Prue Leith, Josceline Dimbleby and the like, who explained things much more clearly, with pictures, and cookery started to become more than just trying to get the most out of very basic ingredients. But just as everyone else was discovering that food could be fun, and “exotic” ingredients and recipes were becoming easily available, my father died, leaving her with just £11 in the bank, living in “tied” accommodation which she had to vacate very swiftly, and with two young children still at home. She found a job, and kept a roof over our heads, but buying & cooking food were just chores she could have done without at the end of every tiring day…

She has always done her best, in every way, and we are all immensely proud of her and grateful to her. But our childhood wouldn’t have been the same without the cries of, “But it doesn’t look like that in Delia!” or “No-one said you had to turn the oven on!” I’m glad that now she’s 90, she has the option of buying good, nutritious meals ready-made, to just heat up. But I’m also sad for her, that something should be a fundamental and creative skill became such a panic-inducing chore. And I think there’s a lesson to be learned; never assume that your kids just won’t need basic skills. Things like knowing how & what to buy and cook can turn a boring necessity into an interesting challenge; knowing to knit, crochet, sew or do basic maintenance on your car can save you lots of money as well as being very satisfying and even creative, and knowing how to swim, or tie an appropriate knot, or what or what NOT to pick in the wild, can save your life.

Life may not turn out the way you’ve planned in every detail, for you or for your loved ones…

fritters

Wild-gathered comfrey fritters… surprisingly delicious and more-ish!

An apology…

May 7, 2012

Sometimes I have to admit I was wrong about something. Naturally, that hardly ever happens. But when it does, I’m quite prepared to apologise & set the record straight. So here goes: I was wrong about food mixer/processors.

For quite some time now I have maintained that they are a giant waste of space & money. The last one I had, a big Magimix, I freecycled a few years ago and haven’t missed at all. As we no longer have a dishwasher (and in fact the components couldn’t be put in a dishwasher anyway) I felt it just transferred the work from one side of the meal to the other; instead of spending half an hour chopping, slicing & mixing before the meal, we spent half an hour trying to wash dried-on food scraps out of the more inaccessible corners of the thing after the meal. Also I couldn’t “feel” the food; my hands give me the best indication of when a dough, pastry or a crumble is ready. You can actually feel the texture change as the ingredients meld into something new. The Magimix speeded all the boring stuff up, but made it impossible to catch that magic moment when it’s ready but not overprocessed.

But last weekend a friend who brought up a big family then went on to run a Bed & Breakfast establishment asked whether I’d like her old Kenwood Chef. “It’s not even in a fit state to Freecycle, but it’d be such a shame just to take it to the Tip,” she warned me. Remembering other good cooks I’ve known who have sworn by these sturdy old workhorses, and that my older daughter & her friend make cupcakes to die for & that would undoubtedly sell like – well, hot cakes – if they ever made enough of them, I said we’d be delighted to try it out. So her husband brought it round at the start of the week. It cleaned up very nicely, but I was too busy to play with it until yesterday. And now, all I can say is a huge thank you to Ruth & Richard; truly a magnificent gift!

Two large loaves of bread, a batch of meringues, a raspberry clafoutis and some scrumptious peanut butter cookies later, I can vouch for the fact that this thing does actually save a lot of time & effort, and does the job really well. It’s a whole lot slower than the Magimix, and that’s an attribute I appreciate now; I have time to judge when things are ready. I think it’s also more thorough, and much easier to wash up. There’s enough capacity to cook-and-freeze, even in a large household situation. If I ever wanted to, there are all sorts of attachments & accoutrements I could buy to add on to it, but I’ll stick to the basic functions for now & see what time & trial & error bring up.

The main drawback that I can see is that it’s really heavy, being mostly metal; luckily I have some workspace free in my new-look utility room that it can live & be used on, because if it had to go back in a cupboard after use, it wouldn’t come out again in a hurry! But although by & large I am getting rid of kitchenware & gadgets that don’t earn the space they take up, I think this one will well & truly justify sacrificing a bit of clear space for.

So there you go! I was absolutely wrong to insist that gadgets hardly ever make life any easier. The right gadget, in the right situation, can indeed make a difference. So for anyone who has a large & hungry  household to cater for, and enough space to house one, I can heartily recommend the Kenwood Chef, even if I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend actually going out & buying one!