Ma’s Signature Dish

The maiden and the maid.

My mother has written her maiden name, ‘Parkes’, on the inside cover.   Now I’ve told you this fact, I will have to kill you because it is one of those security questions.   It does, however, indicate that it would predate 1951 – the year she was married – and coincide with the time she spent at cookery school.  Indeed the ink is more faded in the early section of the book.  Compare this rather stuffy signature to the more relaxed ‘Jenny’ on her Dunhill lighter – with the same underline however – and you have the person we all remember.

For my mother, cooking – but more importantly, the entertaining that went with it – was one of her passions in life and this first recipe for Cassoulet is one I like to think of as her signature dish as it conjures up memories of many joyous gatherings of friends and family.  The beauty of this dish – and why it fits so well with my mother’s philosophy of life – is that you can prepare it well in advance, leaving you free to enjoy every precious moment you have with your guests rather than slaving away, hidden in the kitchen.   It goes without saying, and I can hear my mother telling me with her infectious laugh, to conclude that it needs to be accompanied by a generous supply of delicious red wine.   So I offer it to you as she has written it, and make no apology for using pounds and ounces.  Here is my gift to you, courtesy of my mother:

Jennifer’s Cassoulet       (6)­

1 ½ lb haricot beans – soaked in water overnight – boil beans in 4 pts water for 1 ½ hrs – or more

2 lbs knuckle end leg of lamb – roast

¾ lb loin pork – roast

¼ lb streaky bacon

¼ lb garlic (boiling) sausage

2 onions

4 cloves garlic, parsley, thyme

Tin tom puree

¼ pt red wine

1 ½ pint stock

Layer beans, meat etc.   Dis(s)olve puree, pour over.  Slow oven 3-4, 3-4 hrs.