My interest and subsequent vocation in the culinary world, started, like most, at an early age. My grandmothers played a subliminal part in my food education and on occasion, certain cooking procedures and dishes would have a long lasting impact on my young, impressionable mind.
I can remember an instance in the early seventies when, as a treat I was taken, quite willingly, to the Hotel Leofric in Coventry's concrete center and presented with a stuffed lambs heart, each ventricle plugged with green foliage (English parsley), sitting high up on the plate waiting to be operated on. There was not a chance in hell, that I would pick up the scalpel, but it was impressed upon me that I would enjoy the silken mash and gravy beneath, I did and have, ever since.
Gladys was a housewife, that was her role. Her banquets when the family got together were the talk of the crescent and her ‘cordon bleu’ cookery lessons embellished her love of giving and we were extremely happy recipients. This was pre decimalisation; when a sixpence was a sixpence and not two and a half ‘p’. The lessons of the war had taught her to be creative with very little and this frugal attitude only gave more to the delights of her table.
Irene, my Nan in Herne Bay, knew quality instinctively.
The mascot bread from the bakers near the seafront is still talked about today in family circles. We toasted this bread over a coal fire with the longest, expandable fork known to man, which gave the scorched dough an extra flavour, smoke! The philistines that we were, then doused this toast with butter and Heinz tomato ketchup, not that dissimilar to the Bruschetta.
Irene was born in Singapore and raised in Penang where the family owned an hotel. She was separated from her family when the Japanese invaded Malaya and was sent to Kent to board and study.
As a child I remember there was always a mystical air to nan, she would, for example, use the Malayan language when she needed to convey something to the other adults without raising suspicion from the little people.
Nan did quality. Locally produced sausages, home podded Kent blue peas, isle of Thanet new potatoes (with fresh mint from the garden) and the beach time favourite, egg sandwiches.
The egg, boiled to near perfection, cooled and then sliced with a then thoroughly modern device - the egg slicer. Mascot bread, thickly cut, always straight, butter, mayonnaise, salt and lots of black pepper. The ‘piece de resistance’; the greaseproof wrapping, done in such a way that, upon opening, the wrapper became the plate without grief, the introduction of sand or loosing the contents of the sandwich to the seagulls.
Both my grandmothers shared and handed down, to certainly my brother and I, an inherent culinary interest and if they were alive today I’m sure they would see the world of food coming full circle, back to a time when all there was was local, and organic was commonplace.