Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kissin’ Don’t Last, Cookin’ Do

I have lots of memories of my Nan’s kitchen from when I was a child. Despite the utility furniture it always seems a luxurious kind of place. Mostly because my Nan would allow my sister and I to help ourselves to the sugar bowl, to lick the icing spoon and, if we had been particularly good, she would allow us to stir the hot milk into the Bird’s custard. This was an especial duty indeed and always led to low level rivalry between my sister and I as to who’s turn it was that week.

The kitchen, of course, is a dangerous place for a small child but my Nan always managed to keep us out of danger without raising a sweat. The only real fear she ever expressed was on wash days when the old mangle would be in use to squeeze the water out of the clothes. She would always extol us not to put our fingers into the mangle and there would be something in her eyes other than a mere warning to use our good sense.

I have no idea if she’d ever witnessed a real mangle based accident; she never said. And now whenever I hear talk of mangles all that really comes to mind for me is Dudley Moore singing snidely of “not laughing so hard since Aunty Mabel got her left tit caught in the mangle”. Thankfully such incidents were a world away from my Nan’s kitchen.

What  sticks in my mind most about my Nan’s kitchen is the little mounted egg timer she always kept hung on the wall above the work surface. Engraved into the top of it were the words: Kissin’ Don’t Last, Cookin’ Do. I’m sure she said it used to belong to her own mother but I can’t swear to the veracity of that now. She never used it to time anything that I know of – her cooking was like that; instinctive, nothing written down, no reference to cook books. Ingredients and timings were all in her head.

She was a great cook. I know this because I was an incredibly fussy eater as a child but there was no food cooked by my Nan that I would not eat. Her stew was to die for and her Yorkshire Puddings were incredible. It is to my eternal chagrin that I never asked her for the recipes and instructions of how to make them. Lord knows I have tried and Karen has tried. But we can never manage to get them quite right. Never the way my Nan used to do it. I fear that all those childhood smells and tastes are lost to me forever.

Not that my Nan was always an expert in the kitchen. She was fond of telling us that in the first week of being married to my granddad every meal she attempted to cook on their new Rangemaster stove came out wrong. By the seventh day she told him that if today’s meal didn’t turn out right she’d be off for good.

She’d pause as the sense of shock sank into my sister and I and washed over our faces.

And then she’d smile and say, “But I’m still here so it must have turned out alright.”

I have the egg timer now. It was one of the things I rescued from my grandparents house before it was sold a few years ago after the death of them both.

I keep it safe in an archive box with other stuff from the house. It is much too fragile to hang back on a wall. Too old and delicate and far too precious to measure out petty three minute intervals of time.

The sands have stopped and are forever still, exactly as they were after the last grain ran through. Despite their immobility they measure years of time that are far more significant now.

Even cookin’ don’t last forever.

25 comments:

Trish @ Mums Gone To... said...

Beautiful. Funny how memories can be jogged by the smallest of things. The senses of smell and taste can be very powerful.

Clippy Mat said...

All Nanas were great cooks!

Ahh the owld mangle, many a low swinging breast was caught and flattened by those tight rollers, pulled in between the wet sheets and pillowcases. Or that's what I assumed had happened to my Nana and women of her ilk, their heaving bosoms drooping under their crossover pinnies back in the day.
Thank God for automatic washers I say.
:D

Steve said...

Trish: it grieves me that I will never smell my Nan's beef stew again... it was a real mouth-waterer.

Clippy Matt: damn right. Mangles would be a nightmare to risk assess in this modern age of H&S.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Ah those old egg timers! These days housewives use digital ones, or ask their husbands to shag them on the kitchen table.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: only if they want their yolks very runny.

Kelloggs Ville said...

I relate to every word and miss my Grandma now more than I did years ago.

libby said...

Steve...I feel as if I know your nans kitchen because I know those houses obviously and had friends in that road....and her cooking lives on in your memory....I am glad you have the memento.

Steve said...

Kelloggs Ville: same here. The absence gets sharper not duller.

Libby: me too... and the thought that her hands touched it as did mine when they were no bigger than my youngest boy's now.

Tenon_Saw said...

My Mum's stew, dumplings, Bakewell Tart are all recipes I possess but they never turn out quite how she makes them.

Steve said...

Tenon_Saw: I suspect it's because, in my Nan's case, she'd personalized the recipe over years and years and all the amounts were weighed out by eye rather than a pair of scales.

John Gray said...

we ate what our grandparents made for us because of the modelling of their behaviour. they were used to austerity and rationing
food was made to eat... left overs were eaten and enjoyed....
nothing was wasted
eating disorders in the 1950s.... naw!!!!
never happened

Steve said...

John: my grandparents certainly didn't believe is TV dinners or throwing food out. As you say, all was eaten or re-used; nothing wasted.

Very Bored in Catalunya said...

Aww what a lovely story, sadly we never had a matriarcal Gran who cooked lovely things, just a mean, thin step-grandmother who hated us almost as much as she hated food.

As for Yorkshire puds, the trick is to have the tin really, really hot - and not to open the oven door too early. I use Delia's recipe to quite good effect (if I say so myself).

Steve said...

Very Bored in Catalunya: my Nan's Yorkshire Pudding was made in a huge rectangular oven dish into which she'd place a metal griddle and then sit the joint of meat onto it so all the juices ran down into the batter. The result was a pudding that only rose around the edges but remained intensely thick, soft and rich in the middle. It was to die for...

Rol said...

Nice post.

We had a mangle when I was a kid. I remember getting my fingers trapped in it, but I imagine that's an apochryphal memory. My fingers are fine now.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

What lovely memories. I'm just old enough to have used a mangle - but it was my hair that I learned to keep out of the rollers (too young to have to think about the other). I remember being fascinated by my grandmother's mechanical - ticking-brring - timer when we stayed with her in Birmingham. I'd never seen such a thing before in my six-year old colonial existence. But what a special little metaphorical memento for you to have from your Nan's kitchen. I'm sure there's a story in its very last timing task...

the fly in the web said...

While someone is remembered, they are alive.
One grandmother was a fabulous cook...the other one a workaday one...you ate well, but it wasn't memorable...but your post brought the two of them back to me instantly.
thank you.

About Last Weekend said...

Like your new background. My Kiwi Nana (on Mum's side) was a total grumpy bum but man alive she could cook a good roast. Her family realised later she was diabetic and had refused to do anything about it. My Manchester granny was a sweetie pie and would cook the hell out of any spud that came close to her kitchen.

Steve said...

Rol: think yourself lucky Dudley Moore didn't write a song about them.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden: it's quite possible my sister and I were the last people to use the timer... but I like to think it was my Nan.

The fly in the web: pleasure. :-)

About Last Weekend: my Nan cooked an amazing roast - Sunday dinner was always my favourite.

Keith said...

Great post. Your words conjure a whole world of steam filled kitchens.

Steve said...

Keith: very often it was chocolate steamed pudding filled kitchens...

Nota Bene said...

Grandmas....always very special people indeed. Lovely piece

Steve said...

Nota Bene: thank you.

Suzanne said...

Beautiful post. My grandmother died when I was two, and my other before I was born, so I can't really imagine how lovely it must be to have that older, wiser figure to look up to.
My children have my mum though, and there is most definitely mutual adoration. They have always enjoyed cooking with her. Something to treasure... just like your memories and your egg timer.

Steve said...

Suzanne: creating good memories is a worthwhile life endeavour.