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.