Friday, February 05, 2016

Food Favourites (And some not quite so)

I have written extensively about my school days and in particular at Rushmoor School in Bedford. Of the many not quite so pleasant memories of that establishment must surely be the totally disgusting dinner that was served up. More like slopped up. I have absolutely no idea how much my father had to fork out to send me there, but I would have hoped if I had a son and I was paying for their education, I would hope the food that was dished up was a good deal better. I think they could have made more effort to make it, at least, half edible. I think most people when they look back on their school days (which, you keep being reminded are supposed to be 'the happiest of your life.') it's generally the dinners that get mentioned the most frequently if it's for how bad they are, or even, how good. I can remember gristly, chewy meat. What sort it was, I can hardly imagine. I should think beef or pork, but possibly a horse, mule or donkey. More likely road-kill from some country road in and around Bedfordshire. Sorry, I know we've had food scares in the past. But expecting your progeny to eat such disgusting food should come under some form of an act of parliament for child cruelty in this day and age.  I don't know about the time I was at school. You just put up with it and didn't make any sort of fuss. Liver, I seem to recall, looking like and having the consistency of rubber erasers and tasting bitter, and swimming in gravy. No, struggling to survive. Usually watered-down, like the custard. I think they could make a reasonably fine sponge pudding, but then they ruined it with lumpy custard. But tell me, how difficult is it to make the custard, minus the lumps? Shove it through a sieve to remove the lumps and then boil it to death. Similarly, cabbage, which has been boiled to within an inch of its life. And stinking the place out to high heaven. Enough to put anyone off for life, and it probably has. Rice pudding was another staple. Actually, to tell the truth, I do actually like rice pudding. They served it up with watered-down treacle I seem to remember. I've heard of stretching things until it breaks, like a piece of elastic (yes, another metaphor. The liver and meat had the texture of elastic. Chew it until your jaw ached!) Which reminds me that once, at Rushmoor, one dinner time they served up plain boiled rice. I think it might, on reflection, have started out being a good old fashioned rice pud, but someone forgot that it's made with milk. So we were expected to eat it, along with very watered-down treacle. Not nice. Can you imagine being made to sit and eat it until it was all gone? That Mrs Richardson, who presided over the piano-playing for assembly (see my earlier post.) was in control of the ladle and spoon, doling out the dinners, slapping the custard, gravy and other comestibles onto our plates as we queued up, in a similar fashion to the inmates of the workhouse in 'Oliver Twist.' We had liver, as I've said. Pretty disgusting. I expect it put a lot of people off liver- for life. No 'asking for more' as you can imagine. I think even poor old Oliver would have passed on the rubber-consistency of this. I actually rather like liver, as an adult. I don't have a problem with it and know how to cook it, slowly, in a nice rich gravy. It's quite nice, for a change. It's a cheap meal and is good for you. It contains iron, amongst other things. But the thought of eating boiled rice, on it's own, with thin, watered-down treacle, that was just disgusting. 

My mother was a very good cook. She made plain, simple food. As there were seven of us living at home, five of us brothers and my mother and father, what you had put in front of you, you were expected to eat up and not leave anything. No room for finicky eaters. I don't think my mother would have put up with such behaviour, and certainly not my father. We had porridge for breakfast. Actually, even as an adult, I quite like porridge, so long as I'm making it and it's not lumpy. Better for you, and a good deal cheaper, than sugar-filled cereals from a packet.  I don't think we ever had any other cereal such as Rice Krispies, Sugar Puffs or even Corn Flakes until I was perhaps around 12 years old. Also, bacon and eggs. A good old fry-up, because, being a farm, my father and two eldest brothers needed a substantial breakfast each morning as they would have got up early, around 5.30- 6.00, to feed the cattle and other animals and do other early-morning jobs, and then come into the house to have their breakfast at 7-8 o'clock. That was after they left school.

Sunday lunch we'd usually have a roast, such as chicken, beef, pork or lamb. Naturally, if it was beef or pork it might possibly be home-produced. And with the roast, roast potatoes and other vegetables from the garden. My father grew Brussel sprouts on the farm, which were sent off to Smithfield Market, and we had with our meal. A much larger variety than the tiny variety that you'll find in your average supermarket. For pudding, something like sponge pudding and custard (although I don't remember having custard. Probably cream, straight from the cow which was reserved for the house. Something I don't expect would be allowed today, what with the E.U. and all the regulations that go with it. The cattle were tested for T.B. or whatever it was once a year, can't remember what else for, to fit the current regulations. I just know that you wouldn't be able to drink 'raw' untreated milk. I have to say that it tasted a good deal better than pasteurised milk, and the cream was thicker and richer. We also had a lot of fruit from the garden, such as strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb, when in season, and ate it stewed with more cream, or in a sponge pudding of some sort. Also, celery and asparagus, which, looking back, we were very fortunate to have growing in the garden. When you see these things in a supermarket, and the price they charge, I realise more than ever how lucky we were to be able to eat these fruit and vegetables. There was a quite substantial orchard at Malting Farm, with plenty of plum, apple and pear trees in it. Sadly, the last time I went to the farm I saw that it had all been removed and the land used  as animal pens. I suppose the cost of maintaining it all was too much and was better being used for the sheep and other farm animals.

My mother was a good baker and we had ample cakes and other delights for tea. I don't think she ever bought a cake, although I seemed to remember her buying the odd treat from a cake shop in Harrowden Road, on the road going into Bedford. Doughnuts, filled with jam, as well as little cakes in fancy paper trays, I think called Viennese Whirls, made, I think of choux pastry and with a dob of bright red jam on top. Not jam probably, more like a thick gooey substance with a sweet over-flavoured taste. She was a dab-hand at making shortbread, I believe being given the recipe from one of my father's Scottish relatives. There is a certain knack to making this Scottish delicacy, made of real butter and it has to be kneaded carefully. Just delicious, cut into triangles and sprinkled with sugar. Also, scones with cream and jam, Victoria sponges, also filled with jam (I'm quite good at making them.) as well as fruit cakes and her piece-de-resistance, cream slices, which had not jam and cream in them, but confectioner's custard, which is quite difficult to make. Tea was at around 4.00 p.m. and you can see why we had so many visitors to the farm, usually 'reps' from the various companies who did business with the farm. They would not only get an order out of my father, but a decent cup of tea, a piece of cake and a chat, before they got back in their cars and drove back to wherever their company was based, such as Biggleswade or Sandy, which are further up the road going towards the A1.

My grandmother, who lived at Mill Farm, made rock cakes, and she covered them with little seeds I think they were caraway seeds. I didn't particularly like them as a child. If you went to tea you weren't expected to pick and choose. You couldn't be finicky. You ate what was put in front of you. So, if you found yourself eating something you didn't like (such as the aforementioned seeded rock cakes) you put up and shut up. I do remember though, one family (who shall remain nameless) coming to tea with their two children who would have been quite young at the time, and my mother had made her usually delicious teas with plenty of cake (although the rule was generally 'bread before cake' in our household.) and there was a plate full of delicious-looking little cakes (probably filled with jam and cream.) One of these children had an eye for the plate of cakes and was determined to get on. So, in order that one, in particular, was taken for him to consume, he licked a finger and then stuck it in one of the cakes and said 'that one's for me!' meaning that, because he'd shoved his finger into it with a licked finger, no one else would possibly want to eat it! Not a particularly pleasant little boy, I must say, and I'm not entirely sure what my mother made of this strategy to get one of her delicious cakes!

As for some  other of my favourite foods: I like pancakes, and I'm fairly good at making them myself. As it's Shrove Tuesday this week ('Pancake Day') I shall no doubt be making some myself. The knack is being able to make a good batter and leaving it to stand for well over an hour. Whisking the batter is the secret. Also, making batter for Yorkshire pudding, making sure the oven is hot and the pan you cook it in has hot oil in it before you put in the batter. I like mine crisp and crunch with a most or soggy centre.My grandfather liked his Yorkshire pudding soggy and I remember going to lunch with my grandparents and my grandfather deliberately slammed the oven door when we had Yorkshire pudding with our roast beef to make sure they sunk and wouldn't go crunchy! I also like bread and butter pudding, so simple to make, but easy to make. I'm good at making that also.
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