Saturday, December 26, 2009

Delicious meals in austerity Britain

I have always been thin. It was a worry to my family. Especially my Auntie Maud.
"He needs building up", she told my mother.
My mother only smiled wistfully.
"Do you give him any dripping?" Auntie Maud went on.
"He loves it", said Mum. "He's always putting it on a slab of bread".

This was true. It was caviar to me. The small pudding basin of dripping kept in the larder was under constant attack. I used to make a hole in the off white surface and burrow with a knife down into the depths to reach the meaty bits at the bottom. The layer of brown jelly was the prize. With chunks of bread cut with the bread saw, I spread the brownish white concoction on thickly. I then liberally sprinkled it with both salt and pepper and returned to the old chicken shed at the top of the garden which was my hidey house. Only there with the floor still covered with fowl droppings and the sun beating on a tar felt roof, could my gourmet meal be truly savoured.

I was a dab hand in the kitchen. My brother was useless. To be sure, I didn't do much more than open a tin or two and light the gas, but I never starved. My brother didn't starve either, he had another tactic. He would visit his friends when the hunger pangs came on. He would just hang around until the family he had invaded would be obliged to feed him. He was a bit like a cuckoo in this respect, only he relied on the existing chick to stick around to lead him to the table.

Meanwhile back in our kitchen, I would be boiling an egg, prior to heating a tin of spaghetti and burning a slice of toast. Timing never came easily with me. This meal was 'Birds Nest'. The toast, liberally buttered, would be covered with spaghetti and the hard boiled egg placed on top. I needed to be alone when I cooked this, for if my brother was around he would scoff one or more of the component parts. He was a cuckoo at home too!

On Sunday mornings, with all the family at home, we had a late breakfast of fried bacon and egg, with tomato and the finest, thickest and greasiest fried bread ever. I can imagine and smell it now. The crisp outside was uniformly brown, and oozed hot bacon fat.

Delicious!

After the meal was served, the cuckoo and I would each have our beaks open waiting for Mum to toss us the rind as she cleaned up. This would be stripped of its fat first, gulped down and the hard rind nibbled at leisure later. I don't know where my brother ate his but I took mine to the chicken shed.

Three or four hours later, the Sunday roast was on the table. My Dad was very good about this. He only stayed at the pub for a couple of beers. My school friends fathers never used to return home until after Two o'clock, when the landlords threw them out. They took no part in the preparation of the meal, but ate it mechanically and then retired to bed to sleep off the effects of five or six pints of bitter. My Father on the other hand would have the most important job of carving the joint. To this day I still consider this, the essential part of the Sunday meal's preparation. The laying of the table was entrusted to us boys. That usually meant just me. The cuckoo was already eating at Tommy Radford's house two streets away. Mother did all the minor jobs of peeling vegetables, preparing the meat and turning it in the oven, boiling the vegetables soggy with ample sprinklings of salt, putting bi-carb in the cabbage to make it green, and making suet pudding and custard.

She would confidently say, "Your Father will be back soon, and then we can dish up."
And he was. He had that most important job to do. I dreamed of the day when I could do it too. He used to sharpen the knife on the doorstep, which developed a concave depression through continued use.

But I didn't get any fatter. Or did I? Well it didn't show then. Forty years later after eating sensible low fat meals, with plenty of fruit and vegetables has done me no good whatsoever. Those early days of a liberal fat intake has given me a high cholesterol reading regardless of the drugs prescribed to combat it.

22 comments:

  1. Now I'm hungry. ;) I laughed at your last paragraph. Isn't it the truth?

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  2. I never got food like that but this had my mouth watering--wonderful description!
    Kate

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  3. love the narrative voice here. and i love eggs! makes me want to fry some. hehe.

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  4. Just eaten and now hungry again.

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  5. I think high cholesterol is worth it if those breakfast's tasted as good as you describe them..Jae

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  6. my family is always worried at how skinny I am and marvel at how much I can polish off at one go at the same time :)

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  7. You paint the images so clearly I can taste them.

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  8. thank you for sharing this ... lovely & vibrant narrative! xx, JP/deb

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  9. Eaten in the chook shed? They probably gave you worms. It was the chooks fault! Hahaha.

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  10. You write so vividly! I too loved dripping but I'd forgotten the 'jelly' bit till you reminded me! By the way, how did a squirrel come to be called oldegg? It's all too much for me!

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  11. Wow! This was a great read, thank you!

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  12. I really enjoyed reading this---so interesting, the way you kept bringing the cuckoo back in. Very well written.

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  13. I was growing up in Britain at about the same time as you. You hooked me with your first paragraph when you reminded me about the pure joy that is dripping and jelly!Thanks for a great nostalgic journey.

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  14. I loved the business of taking choice tidbits to the chicken shed. And the cuckoo, like a stray cat, getting fed all over the neighborhood. What a cool childhood story!

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  15. What a lovely walk down memory lane. I especially loved the part about hiding in the chicken shed to eat this delicacy. I think every child has a special place they eat forbidden food. We had an old abandoned trailer at the back of our lot and I would steal my mother's homemade cookies and sneak away to the trailer to eat them.

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  16. worth the cholesterol I say. What good is it to live to a hundred if you can't have any fun - loved this. Bird's nest? Never thought of that but sounds like an interesting meal!

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  17. I love it when YOU carve the roast. Come over soon and I'll cook you one. No cuckoos invited.

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  18. No pun intended, this was an utterly delicious read! You skillfully brought me right into your kitchen and thoughts. What vivid memories cooking and family evoke! However, it is your pen that cooks them up with that gourmet touch. I smiled widely reading about you and eggs (your blog name...). I have some very similar memories of awaiting that Sunday carving.I was in such awe then, a ceremony-tradition to behold.

    gel
    http://SoulCrayons.typepad.com

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