This year we managed to save our small crop of gooseberries before they succumbed to caterpillars and thieving whippets, and enjoyed these plump little berries all by ourselves for a change. The whippets have now turned their attention to the ripening apples that can be easily plucked from low hanging branches, redistributed and abandoned half-chewed, around the garden.
As the redcurrants ripened at the same time as their mildly hairy neighbours, I stewed the two together to make an unctuous pink breakfast compote as topping for my muesli and yoghurt. But my instinct tells me that the tartness of a hand-full of gooseberries, if finely-tuned, would make a good marriage with an oily fish, such as mackerel. My Ma’ s recipe (see pic above) for 2 tablespoons of Pernot added to 1lb of gently stewed gooseberries, sugar to taste, and either fennel seeds or dill seeds, would fulfill that role perfectly.
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
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.
The Royal Nepalese Crest
Other timely gems from the cuttings are several recipes extracted from the pages of the Evening Standard in the 197o’s written by a very fresh-faced Delia Smith as well as more colourful extracts from Sunday supplements, now brown and mottled with age, but at a time when tobacco companies were still taking full-paged, coloured advertisements. The ads for jobs are great. Columns of office vacancies for secretaries and clerks with salaries from £2,000 per annum with ‘accounts’ positions being offered for a slightly better £3,000 plus. That’s a whopping £57 per week! A friend of my Ma has sent her a recipe for Ginger Beer, hand-written on the back of a red-crested invitation to attend the birthday celebration of His Majesty King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shar Deva, the Nepalese Ambassador at a Reception at the Royal Nepalese Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens in 1969.
An 'Elizabethan' recipe for Beef Royal
This precious book is dog-eared and obviously well used. Some pages are mottled with the residue of faint splashes and oil stains. The contents are contained between 2 – now battered – black cardboard covers, and bound together by a red canvas spine which hangs on by a precariously thin thread, yet it bulges with an assortment of other pieces of paper carefully placed between the pages for safe keeping: Recipes written on the back of old shopping lists with the word ‘cigs’ at the bottom; meal plans, or newspaper articles in the days when the daily papers were put together on a printing press because the typesetting looks decidedly uneven compared to today’s slick presentations. Particularly torn sections of The Daily Telegraph – she enjoyed doing the crossword every day. I can see her now. It’s about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the colour is fading into darkness in the big windows behind her. She’s sitting with her legs curled up beside her on her favourite chaise longue, glass of brandy on the small table beside her, the newspaper folded neatly on her lap, pen poised, as a thin pall of cigarette smoke curls up into the standard lamp above.
I caught myself thinking about my Ma’s old recipe book the other day. I have it tucked away in our bookshelves, and was prompted to take it off the shelf to have a closer look at it. A wondrous ‘time capsule’ of a tome and it occurred to me that it is my mother’s equivalent of my ‘sketckbook pages’. A veritable feast of hand-written recipes from cover to cover, meticulously indexed in the back, written mostly in various-coloured inks – including green – and in her own distinctive script which is as close to a signature as you can get. I wondered who her mentor and inspiration might have been? Elizabeth David comes to mind as a lot of the recipes, especially the early ones, have eclectic titles with a French or Italian flavour such as ‘Omelette aux Crevettes’ or ‘Red Mullet Nicoise’ even a recipe for Steak and Kidney Pudding (Chez Quaglino). The trend for Mediterranean flavours must have seemed a wonderfully exotic antidote to post-war austerity and blandness. But there are also recipes from Spain, Poland, Austria, and India to name but a few and it becomes a bit of a global gastronomic trot around the world.