Le pied d’éléphant

by Susan Finlay

http://www.susanfinlay.co.uk

We were regulars at Birds, a chain of bakeries that also hail from the Midlands area. This meant that the waitress would look briefly up at us as we entered, and then begin to prepare ‘our usual’ as we sat down. For my father it was coffee (in those days there was just one type) and for me a ball of something close to Yorkshire pudding, but with cream inside, and chocolate sauce on top. 

The other customers pronounced mille-feuille as ‘milly-phew-illy’, or else asked for custard slices. My father, seemingly as oblivious to them as he was to me, would read the newspaper in silence, and occasionally sip his coffee. Whereas I would eat without stopping, and then wipe my hands across my thighs. In retrospect, this strikes me as an aristocratic gesture. 

Now more familiar with the French language, and other topological equivalents to the aforementioned pastries, many a rainy day éclair, Sunday morning religieuse, and Friday night Saint-Honorés, plural, has been consumed under what I like to think of as their auspices. Likewise, my local supermarket now includes crème brûlée in their essentials range, and a post-Bake Off ‘crème pât’ will no doubt soon follow.

Yet the feeling of intense, European sophistication that the, what has since been rebranded as an English choux-bun, once provoked, was the direct result of its having seemed far from usual – and to my then somewhat jejune sensibilities, mature – despite the frequency with which it, within the context of my childhood, occurred. Accordingly, I do not long for Waitrose, or even Paris, but what used to be called an elephant’s foot.

Redcurrant jelly

by Hattie

In the summer we would pick redcurrants from the the garden. Mum would wash them in the big sink & then put a big mixing bowl full of glassy round red jewels on stalks on the table and another bowl to catch the redcurrants as we stripped them from their stalks through the tines of a fork. 

They’d be boiled with sugar & when cooked & cool enough she’d set an upturned stool on the table, firmly tie the corners of a large muslin cloth to each leg & set a pan carefully under it. The kitchen would smell tart & tangy, a smell I can still recall even though I’ve not smelled it for over 50 years. The mixture would be carefully & gently ladled onto the muslin and slowly the liquid dripped through into the pan overnight.  
The next morning, before breakfast, she’d reheat the liquid & pour it into jars that had been sterilised in the oven.  It was clear & the colour of garnets.  

The skins & seed left behind in the muslin would be mixed with sliced apple, sprinkled with sugar & put into a pie for later. A once a year treat.

Steak tartare

Mike via Twitter

@mikedb5

“Steak tartare for me age 10. Waiter: how would you like it done? Me: it’s raw isn’t it? Waiter: correct, this one’s on us. It was delicious.”

A Family Collection

by Ros Ayres

www.rosayres.com 

 

These words are ingredients at my fingertips,

collections of memories that map every dish. 

Stimulating my senses, transporting me back, 

I can almost taste it.

 

The kitchen table laid for dinner, 

today’s dessert, an upside down pineapple cake.

The sponge glistens with glacé cherries, like

jewels they nestle inside pineapple rings.

 

A slice of Wall’s Viennetta, a Friday treat,

that fizz of excitement as I sliced my spoon into

the vanilla ice cream, slivers of chocolate

cracked and splintered.

 

Breathing in warm, sweet aromas of fresh

baking. a treacle tart, that golden lattice lid.

The satisfying sound of shortcrust pastry 

as you cut each slice.

 

My spoon poised over a bowl of steaming

apple crumble, looking buoyant in Bird’s custard.

By now I’d learnt that speed secured seconds,

it was swiftly devoured.

 

Sneakily breaking off edges of crisp batter

from the tray of toad in the hole. Taking the time 

to pour onion gravy until it reached

a precarious point on my plate.

 

Feeling the anticipation of the break, that first tap,

tap of a teaspoon against my Sunday boiled egg.

Cracked, open and bright-eyed. I was ready,

armed with a line of buttered soldiers.

 

Crisp Sandwiches

Wendy Errington via Twitter @Erriwend 

“Has to be Crisp Sandwiches. Went to uni & people went eh? In a stotty cake I replied. That was me labelled Weird Geordie”

Grandma Beryl’s Chicken Soup

by Aaron (@1dish4theroad)

https://1-dish-4-the-road.blogspot.co.uk/ 

In so many ways, Grandma Beryl was the matriarch of our family and a wise dignified figurehead. She was almost always immaculately turned out, her hair a halo of wispy-white cotton-candy with not a strand out of place. Her elocution was invariably poised and precise, graced with a slight Mancunian lilt, and as mellifluous as any a Radio 4 presenter.

Through the best part of ninety years, us children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would congregate at Grandma’s each week, her home bursting alive with the sighs and squeals of newborn babies, the pitter-patter of toddler feet, children trampolining on the sofa, kids taking penalty kicks in the lounge, and grown-ups sporadically crying out “Mind the ornaments!”, all accompanied by the constant clang and clatter of cutlery and plates as they materialised on and off the dining-room table.

Of course she loved all this, the hubbub of family coming together. And ultimately she yearned for nothing more than her family to be happy and well. To that end, she connected deeply with each and every one of us, like the gravitational pull of a warm radiating sun round which all our lives orbited.

And when it came to my Grandpa Reuben, well she was beyond devoted. He’d been her rock, and she his; a husband she’d lovingly served in an old-fashioned way, a couple and a home steeped in Jewish tradition. (“Call me old-fashioned” was in fact her favourite refrain.) But even after he died, the family would continue to come, week after week, and she remained the constant, the glue, the fabric, by which our family were reassuringly held.

On second thoughts, ‘matriarch’ isn’t quite right. The word conjures up images of haughtiness and detachment which couldn’t be further from the truth when it came to Grandma Beryl. She was a warm, loving, generous soul, totally unassuming, always smiling, gentle in her humility, yet strong in her own way.

A real ‘people person’, she loved snatching a conversation here and there, with everyone and anyone, from taxi-drivers to Big Issue sellers. And she was naturally gifted with a wonderful sense of humour, somehow both knowingly cheeky and yet brilliantly bone-dry, radiant even until her very last days.

For 10th October 2016 was her very last day, when her life was no more and she was finally at peace.

It’s ok really.. deeply sad of course, and I miss her just so much, and I keep thinking she’s still around and that I need to give her a call. But she lived a good life, and she was just ready to go. Occurring just a few months after my Grandma Marilyn (as commemorated in the ‘Cinnamon Buns’ post), this year has felt like a real end of an era.

Throughout my life Grandma has gifted me with so many joyful memories. Many of which are food related. Even when I was a toddler, her traditional fluffy chremsel pancakes were so good that I’d have total meltdowns in hungry anticipation of them: I’d literally pound my fists on the floor, wail up to the heavens in exasperation, and demand at the top of my voice: “PANCAKES AND JAM!!”

But if there’s one dish to remember Grandma by, it’s chicken soup. Because – and apologies to my own mum here, for pinning chicken-soup allegiances risks opening the Jewish version of Pandora’s Box (‘Pinchas’s Tefillin-Bag’, perhaps) – she made the world’s finest.

Now, when it comes to judging chicken soup, pay heed to this apocryphal Yiddishe parable. Once, a traditional Jewish wife finally had enough of her husband’s unappreciative whingeing over her cooking, and set about perfecting her once-stodgy kneidlach soup-dumplings. Experimenting with various recipes, she made them successively lighter and more refined, but her husband continued to complain miserably. Eventually she couldn’t bear it any longer: “That’s it Hershel, why do I even bother!” And so, unbeknownst to him, she reverted back to making the same old stodgy kneidlach. “Ahh!” he cries out at last, after his first bite, “Now you’ve got it!”

So, it may well be that my fond memories have been souped up by dint of familiarity; nostalgia is such fine seasoning after all. Still, the flavour of Grandma’s soup was undoubtedly deep and true, its soul steeped in the essence of chicken. Slices of carrot studded the crystal-clear golden broth like a bejewelled crown. And in between bobbed immaculate white baubles of kneidlach – large, regal and stately – and metaphorically and literally brimming with schmaltz, there being no coincidence that this term refers both to a sentimental kind of love and to chicken fat.

Every Friday she’d make it. And every Saturday she’d serve it, just after the kiddush prayers over bread and wine, and just before a traditional roast chicken dinner. Grandpa Reuben, who was otherwise the gentlest man who’d ever lived and the epitome of politeness, would slurp it down louder than a torrent of water gushing over Niagara Falls, enjoying every spoonful with such gratitude and gusto. Uncle Harry meanwhile would first dissect all the kneidlach into equal-sized chunks before even tackling the soup; ever the artist, his bowl resembled a cross between a Mondrian and a Japanese zen garden.

In this regime was embodied the routine of family life and the rituals of Jewish tradition. For Grandma was very much a creature of habit – as perhaps we all were – and such predictable trajectories gave her, and us, much comfort and happiness.

I don’t think I believe in life after death. And yet, whenever I glance into a glimmering pool of chicken soup, once the components have settled and the broth becomes crystal-clear, I see my grandparents reunited again, side by side, warm smiles on their faces, and love shining all around.

ricotta

by Sabine 

A very hot July in Rome. We had arrived a week earlier, the entire tenth year chaperoned by our trendy young art teacher (who brought along his flamboyant wife) and the much older but immensely shy physics instructor. We messed up from day one, making fun of the sweating tour guide, playing hide and seek behind the ancient columns of the forum, sharing a smoke with the Swiss guard before dashing his hopes of a date, sneaking out of the hotel after midnight and getting into barroom fights. The year was 1975, we were 17 years young. 

I had persuaded my parents to let me stay for a few days longer with a tall tale about being with friends, meeting someone’s parents, while instead, I chatted up the most exciting looking hippies on Piazza Navona and together we walked the narrow streets of Trastevere, hitchhiked to Fregene, slept behind the bushes of the Villa Massimo.

On the morning of my departure, I strolled onto a small market square. I was down to my very last Lira, just enough to buy a small muslin bag of this strange white curd-like stuff, soft and dripping, and a handful of odd shaped tomatoes. The seller took pity on me scraping together my last coins and gave me a large chunk of warm bread and a bag of garlicky olives for free. 

I remember eating this slowly, a treasure, licking my fingers all the way on the night train crossing the Alps into Munich

Croatian supermarket treats

by Lydia

I had come to Croatia alone and, due to a bus mix up, had been on the move for almost 48 hours. I’d found my hostel in Split and almost teasingly kept myself away from the beach, returning to the hostel at least three times to pick up things I had forgotten, a hairbrush, more coins, another book. I went to a chain supermarket marvelling at the cheap deli prices. I purchased a tub of sardines, some cherry tomatoes, fresh bread and after deliberating – a couple of cans of beer. I had just turned twenty five and for some reason drinking by myself still felt like the utmost of luxuries. I sat down on the beach and piled the oily whitebait onto the bread and tipped it into my mouth, then bit into the tomato, the ripe flesh bursting on my face. The saltiness of the fish, the wheat of the bread and the sharp tang of the tomato set against the hot sand and crash of the sea. I’ll never forget it.