Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday's Mouthwatering Memories

I often get to thinking about some of the dishes my grandmother used to prepare, especially the desserts - or as we called 'em "puddings". Her mother, my great grandmother, had taught her to cook. Great grandmother had been a cook for the owners and workers at a large Yorkshire farm, her talent, among the family anyway, was legendary. She would have had easy access to the best of everything, all fresh and grown, reared or preserved "on the spot". Not that good ingredients are all that's needed - a little "magic" helps too.

My grandmother must have been a good student. She also had access to good quality ingredients, living as she did in a tiny rural village, farms all around, with her own and neighbours' large gardens providing vegetables and fruits; berries were abundant in the hedgerows at certain times of the year, wild blackberries/brambles, wild raspberries. Strawberry fields were just down the road, where villagers could "pick their own" . Some village people kept chickens, some kept, or shared the upkeep of a couple of pigs.

 Something like this

For most of her life, Grandma had no fridge, no gas or electric stove. She cooked using the small oven at one side of the huge black fireplace, heated by the coal fire in the hearth. At the other side was a container for water, also heated by the fire. The big fireplace had to be "black-leaded" regularly to keep it shining. During the few weeks, or days, of the year when it was too hot for a fire, a minimum of cooking was done, using an oil stove, sometimes two, in the "wash-house" in the yard. She knew her coal-fired oven so intimately that she could gauge the required heat just by "feel", even for such delicacies as Yorkshire Pudding which can stand or fall (literally) by cooking in the wrong heat.

I've digressed. I'd meant to write about some favourite remembered desserts.

Grandma often made what she called "Egg Pudding". I've never seen it on any menu or in any cookbook. It has, I suppose, to be a near relation of Yorkshire Pudding. It was an egg, milk and flour thick batter wrapped in a cloth, to form a big round ball, then boiled (I think - or steamed?) in the cloth, in a pan of water. When ready it was unwrapped, cut open and a huge piece of fresh farm butter and lots of sugar inserted before sharing among mouthwatering diners.

Her classic Yorkshire puddings were superb. On Sunday the big "Yorkshire", baked in a special rectangular tin, was served first, before the main course, with lovely gravy made from juices of the joint of beef. Sometimes there'd be thinly sliced cucumber in vinegar as an accompaniment. Grandma would certainly never entertain those, now popular, silly little individual Yorkshire puds! If there was ever any pud left over it would be eaten eagerly with butter and sugar later.

Apple suet dumpling was another favourite dessert when visiting Grandma: sliced apples from local trees sweetened and wrapped in a cloak of suet pastry (something I've not tasted for many decades) then, not baked, but again, boiled in a cloth. Scrumptious with copious amounts of custard. I've always loved a good vanilla custard!

At blackberry time, her "bramble cake" was always a family favourite. We'd go picking the berries, bring them back to her and within an hour or so the "cake" would be ready. It was a kind of pie, but instead of being baked in a tin, a circle of pastry was simply wrapped around the brambles and sealed with egg and milk, placed on a flat tray on the oven shelf. When ready, a piece was cut from the top of the "cake" and a lump of fresh butter inserted.

Around this time of year Grandma always made some special ginger bread, known in some circles as Yorkshire Parkin; hers was lovely and moist, rich, and baked in a big square tin, then cut into small squares. It went down a treat while watching the bonfires and fireworks of Guy Fawkes night: November 5th.

Christmas cakes and Christmas puddings were always made weeks, maybe months before the event. Very rich, moist fruit cake, lovingly wrapped in cloths, stored in the front room sideboard, fed regularly with rum, brandy or whisky, whichever was to hand, injecting same with a sterilised knitting needle.
Almond paste covering and sugar icing came much later.

A favourite for all seasons, for me, was her chocolate cake...yummm...what can I say? Hers was of a texture colour and flavour I haven't found anywhere else since, and I've always been searching!

These thoughts are likely to put an inch on my waistline! Does any passing reader have good memories to share of deliciousnesses from their youth or childhood?


mike said...

I think we had the same grandma, Twilight! Mine used a wood-burning stove top with a box above the cook top and attached to the flue for the oven. She cooked every day, but baked bread and pies once a week, regardless of outdoor temperatures, and Kansas has very hot & humid summers. They had a 50 acre farm and raised almost everything they needed, except for flour, sugar, coffee, and salt. Grampa was exceptionally proud of his soil, to which he grew several acres of vegetables, plus a 10 acre orchard. Grandma canned their surplus, which also occurred during the unbearable heat of summer.

I have an old photo of them looking to be in the late 20s or early 30s, both with rifles and each proudly holding several strings of squirrels they had shot, which grandma would can...back then, pressure canners were not available, so she would do the hot water bath method of canning...many long hours of boiling the canned meats.

My mother followed in her mother's prowess and was an exceptional cook and baker. Grandma had endured the depression and could make something from nothing it seemed and my mother could, too. I remember many days when I returned home from school and Mom had fresh bread or cookies coming out of the oven for us to eat as an after-school snack. Many of my schoolmate friends loved to come to my house after school for treats they never had at home.

Of course, food was always the centerpiece of any holiday, with Christmas being the highlight. Mom would make an endless array of cakes, breads, pies, cookies, and candies. She particularly enjoyed making divinity and fudge. I didn't much enjoy her fruitcake as a child, but very much so once I became an adult.

We were unusually poor for that time period and my mother was very resourceful. She had the foresight to plant about half and acre of potatoes one year and we had potato-everything that following winter and spring, yet she managed to make potato dishes that were not too repetitive or boring, often in casseroles to stretch the sparse meat.

My mother always entered her baked goods in our state fair every year and always won ribbons and a small cash prize for each ribbon. It was an exciting time for her.

I recall too many favorites from my grandma and mother. If I had to select one, it would be their rich, dense, chocolate cakes, with various icings. Fresh, homemade bread right out of the oven slathered with real butter is close behind.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Nice account of your good memories, thank you!

My own mother, though a capable enough cook when she had to be, and made superb vanilla custard and sherry trifles, wasn't the cook of our immediate household - my Dad, a master baker by trade (and sole baker for our small bread and pastry store) was our "foodie". His bread was wonderful - everything he baked was excellent, but his bread was his real pride and joy - had to be "just right"...and was. There was always a queue outside the store of a morning, waiting for Dad's fresh bread.

Mmmm - warm bread and farm butter...

Sonny G said...

Both of my grandmothers were excellent cooks, though the food choices couldnt have been more different- 1 southern country style and 1 calcutta India style. Not many kids eat cornbread at lunch and curry at supper. I learned well from both of them and prepared the dinner meal starting at years old. My mother wasnt very domestic..
The very cook and teacher for me was my Aunt Peggy. She could make anything and always to perfection.
At 26 years old she and her husband ran a Church House:: a 5 story/ 6 units per floor, rental for only visiting member of the UN in NY.
She learned every ethnic quisine from those folks and I would know what dinner was going to be 2 blocks from Home:)I could smell it.
Uncle Rocco did his part by always bringing dessert in the evening. His Brother owned an Italian bakery:-)

oh wow Annie, this was a great post and I enjoyed strolling down my own memory lane as well as yours and Mike's.
ps-- there was a Polish lady 2 buildings away from ours and she would often invite me in for fresh rye bread with real butter. Never tasted any as good since.

Sonny G said...

thats 9 years old ...

LB said...

This post is making me hungry, tempting me with treats I don't do well with - except on rare occasions! I always enjoy reading stories about your family, Twilight.

Both of my grandmothers were wonderful bakers, my mom too and several of her siblings - but not me. When I found my sister (the one my mom gave up for adoption), I wasn't all that surprised to discover she'd inherited the gene.

My maternal grandmother (and grandfather) had been professional bakers at one time, and some of my fondest childhood memories are of arriving at their home and being greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread, served warm with a slab of butter. They made donuts and other pastries too, but bread was my favorite.

My grandmother had a wood-burning stove too, though in later years -and as they moved around quite a bit- they had electric. Kind of amazing how in spite of all we've gained, we've lost something too in our dependence upon technology.

My father's mother made sweeter treats, cakes, breads, cookies, all kinds of amazing, delicious deserts. And again, she'd always have something special prepared for our visits. They also owned an ice cream parlor, hand-decorated with my grandfather's art. Not that long ago, I ran into an older farmer at the farmer's market who remembered the place and what a gifted artist my grandfather was.

Too bad back then I wasn't much of an ice cream fan. Still, I do have fond memories of that lovely, cool, clean smell and all the whimsical characters my grandfather painted.

mike ~ My mom used to make divinity and fudge too! When I was a kid it was a big deal in our neighborhood, since none of my friends had even heard of divinity much less tasted it. Her Norwegian grandmother raised her and taught her how, though she always complained about the weather affecting the outcome.

Today's my birthday and all these happier childhood memories seem very fitting.:) Thanks.

LB said...

Meant to type "delicious *desserts*", not deserts, which would mean something completely different. Maybe someplace in Death Valley. . .

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ Ohhh - more lovely memories - multi-cultural too - I love the idea of cornbread one meal, curry the next!
And Italian desserts too...oh wowee!!
Thanks so much for sharing your yummee memories with us! :-)

Twilight said...

LB ~~ First, and before I forget - Many, many happy returns of the day!
Do have a good one with a treat or two mixed in.

Thank you for those great memories of yours too. I've just had to look up divinity - had never heard of it before mike mentioned it. :-)

I don't remember much in the way of home made candies, other than home made toffee - it was more like butterscotch than the chewy kind of toffee. I remember enjoying powdered cocoa and sugar in a dish, licking finger to pick up the mix. lol! I guess that kept me quiet for a while.

Delicious deserts? - Only if including Peter O'Toole as Lawrence. ;-)

Sonny G said...

Happiest of Birthdays LB~!

wishing you many many more in happiness and good health.

LB said...

Thanks, Twilight and Sonny.:) So far it's been good - my "treat" was a trip to our local Dim Sum restaurant where I got some yummy stuff I don't ordinarily eat to go.

I tried to look up the origins of divinity (the candy) but it seems kind of mysterious. My mom made the sticky and the fudge-type. It doesn't work as well in humid climates, which is probably why she complained.

My favorite was the crumbly kind, made with nuts - it melted in your mouth, more than living up to its name! Apparently my mom wasn't the only one who learned how to make it from her Norwegian grandmother:

I'm loving everyone's stories, btw.

mike (again) said...

Sonny - I'm envious of your early exposure to ethnic foods! My mother and grandmother cooked-baked the typical Midwestern, all-American kinda stuff, with a divergent spaghetti, chop suey, or sauerkraut & sausage thrown-in on occasion. My favorite Italian dessert is cannoli...I LUV them...Mike's Bakery in Boston's south side had the best ever.

LB - Yes, a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you!!! You have a very nice solar return: Mercury sextile Jupiter; Venus-Sun conjunct both sextile Mars; Moon's position relative to Mars is the only caveat (possible square)...fingers crossed that you avoided that...LOL. Your Sun sextiles my Saturn...trines my Jupiter with my Mars at the midpoint (sextile). I had forgotten about my mother fussing about the humidity messing-up her divinity! Mom's divinity was very good, but too sweet for me...she used chopped walnuts and maraschino cherries.

Twilight - I thought Peter O'Toole was an appetizer...LOL.

mike (again) said...

Sonny - I lied. It's Mike's Pastry on the north end. Here are photos of the cannolis:

Notice the lobster tails...they are a dream, too...real cream filling and huge.

mike (again) said...

LB - should have said that your Sun semi-sextiles my Saturn.

LB said...

mike ~ Thanks! Actually, yesterday was my Solar Return. My SR Moon is *exactly* conjunct my natal Ascendant this year and trine transiting Pluto. Thankfully, it *doesn't* square Mars.

I'm too lazy to put my Scorpio investigative skills to work - what sign is your Saturn in?

mike (again) said...

LB - My Saturn is 28*38' Virgo. I don't compare my solar return to my natal chart, but many do. My Sun is exactly conjunct my solar return rising this year...should be interesting, I hope in a good way. Plus a couple of other positive aspects. Last several years have been weird solar return charts and they have pretty much matched the reality of those years, too. So, I'm pumped for this year's SR. And I think you said you're having a Nodal return right now, too, LB?

LB said...

mike ~ My husband just came back from Boston. Said they tried to get into Mike's but it was too crowded, so they ended up at Bova's.

His dad used bring home cannolis from Mike's all the time - my hubby said they were delicious. The bread too.

LB said...

mike ~ Hope your SR Ascendant conjunct natal Sun is illuminating in a good way. In Scorpio, right? Could be intense and revealing, I'd think.

My progressed Ascendant was just conjunct my natal Sun - both were hit by this year's Eclipses. It was all very interesting, much more than I could've ever imagined.

And yes, this year was my Nodal Return. In yesterday's Solar Return chart, Mercury retrograde is conjunct the North Node, which is *very* close to my own.

Sonny G said...


If I am ever in Boston, Mike's wille where I go..
I too love cannoli's and those look amazing.