Thursday, October 13, 2011

Food For Thought.

Last night I was reading the early chapters of Chris Evans' autobiography (the first part - It's Not What You Think), thanks to Daphne who loaned it to me.

He was talking about his school days and many of the incidents he mentioned from his time at grammar school reminded me of my years at boarding school. I was going to blog about them today but having slept on it, I don't think digging them up would serve any purpose and anyway, I've 'skimmed' over a few of them in previous blog posts so it's probably best to let it go at that......and certainly not mention any names. I mean what would be the point ?

Fr. McConville you sadistic bastard !


But Chris also mentioned the wonderfully satisfying food his mum used to cook as he was growing up.....simple, healthy meals that few mums have the time or inclination to cook these days. It got me to thinking about memorable food I've had throughout my life, not necessarily because the actual food was any good but mostly because of where I was at that time in my life.

Despite my current youthful looks and personality, you may find it hard to believe that food rationing was still in force when I was born. I've no idea what this meant to me as I've very few memories of the 50's but looking at photos, I don't seem to have missed out on my calories ! We certainly didn't bypass rationing by eating out (a little remembered fact is that restaurants were exempt from rationing but they had very strict guidelines - no meal could cost more than 5 shillings; no meal could consist of more than 3 courses; meat and fish could not be served at the same sitting) but being country folk, I'm sure supplies of milk and eggs and other staples were more readily available to my parents than was strictly legal at the time.

So my first food memory would be the awesome hot soups/stews that would be waiting for me when I'd come home from primary school on winter days. These were made with fresh ingredients all washed down with a glass of creamola foam, a made-from-powder drink that is making a comeback these days. In a scene straight out of a Dickens novel, I'd sit on the floor by the open fire, bowl in hand and, while watching the hot embers floating up towards the chimney from the burning peat 'logs', I'd gently thaw out by enjoying mum's wonderful soup.

Now despite what I've said in the past about my 7 years at boarding school, there were times I actually enjoyed myself there. Very few times I have to say and one of them was when we were in the school dining room. Ok let me set the scene as I remember it ; the large dining room was full of long tables, each with seating for about 10 boys, 4 at the sides and one at each end. It might have been 5 per side but it doesn't matter now. A senior boy would be at the head of the table and his job was to dish out the portions to the boys at his table, making sure he got the largest portion of anything he liked. Oddly enough, my memories of the food started when I became a senior and had my own table ! Hmmmm Anyway, most of this food was standard school fayre but two items stick out for me - porridge and fadge.

Porridge ? Hell yes. At least the variant we got at Garron Tower. It was very gloopy and very, very sweet, due to the fact we had a seemingly unending supply of sugar to sprinkle over it. Bad teeth ? Us ? Never !

And as for the fadge, or potato cakes....oh my God I can still remember it so vividly now. The hot soft square slices came heaped on a large platter smothered in butter and the boys at my table were lucky if they got one each when I was serving ! I've never had any to match them since those days and the dry grilled ones you get in cafes now are a pale imitation. Literally.

When I moved to Leeds in 1973, I got a bedsit in Harehills, a well dodgy area of the city. I was, and still am, a Leeds United fan and so I'd go to all the home games at Elland Road. Back then I had a motor bike although, as it was a Honda 50, it was more like a push bike with a lawn mower engine. Anyway my route took me past a chippy called Cantors, on the corner of Chapeltown Road and Harehills Avenue. I'd always have a (fleur de lys) steak and onion pie and chips or if they didn't have any of those pies, I'd have a steak and kidney one and pick out the bits of kidney ! Then I'd ride to the ground, park up and eat my meal before walking the short distance to the stadium.

In those happy pre heart attack days, I was always impressed by the portions they served up at Cantors - they didn't mess about with little bags for the chips and just tossed a load onto the white paper sheets, added the pie and double wrapped the lot up to go. This is a classic case where the food itself wasn't memorable. Far from it. I used to have to play 'hunt the meat' and often I'd get a pastry pie with little or no meat in it. It was just the 'occasion' that sticks in my mind and, as Leeds were the best team in the country at the time, the whole process of going to watch them with a belly full of Cantors pie and chips will always remain with me as a happy food related experience.

( I researched Cantors for this post as I was impressed it is still in business after at least 38 years. What I found astonished me. It was known as a popular Jewish fish and chip shop back in 1940, 71 years ago ! Can I pick 'em or what ?! )

That takes me up to my mid 20's but I think this post has been long enough so expect a Part 2 sometime. If anyone reading this has food/location/event related stories to tell, feel free to add them as comments. I just love the idea that a food memory doesn't have to be down to the actual food being special or outstanding.

It's why it has remained as a memory at all that makes it special AND outstanding.


Katie said...

My grandma used to make her own bread and then we would have tinned corned beef and ketchup sandwiches with that bread when we went to hers. My veggie sister says its the only meat thing she remembers enjoying. It just reminds me of being a kid and sitting on her lounge floor eating the sandwich of an old chipped tea plate.

Richard Battye said...

My Grandma used to make her own bread too, big flat loaves (think a 2 inch thick pizza base!). She called them New Cakes but I've also heard them called oven bottom cakes. Anyway, she'd butter them (never marge!) and fill with thick slices of boiled ham fresh from the Co-op and we'd eat them for lunch with Heinz Tomato Soup. That was the first thing which sprang to mind when you mentioned old food memories. The whole experience was a memory as you say; the anticipation and the marvellous smells while the bread was cooking. It's all in the build up!!!

Daphne said...

Sunday tea at my grandparents' house - Jewish fish balls and fried fish with salad and then tinned pears. It doesn't sound very appetising but I loved it and we had it every other Sunday for what I thought would be forever. Cantors was a favourite haunt of my father's too - it was always a treat to get fish and chips from there.

Helsie said...

When I stayed over night with my grandmother we would wake up at "the crack of dawn" and rush to the kitchen for a cup of tea, thick slices of fresh bread, lashings of real butter and sugar! I think it was the only time we ever ate bread and butter and sugar.
Have you noticed a common thread in many of our stories? Grandmothers !!

rhymeswithplague said...

I never had a grandma, because both of the ladies who would have borne those titles shuffled off this mortal coil before I was born, and even if they had been still living, I was in Texas and they were in Pennsylvania and Iowa, respectively.

My father's father died when I was seven or eight without my ever having met him, but I remember weeping profusely. I met my other grandfather when I was 14, saw him again when I was 17, and again when I was 27. Two years later he died at the ripe old age of 95.

I think I might have turned out to be an entirely different person if I had known my grandparents. We'll never know.

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

Ah ... my mother's stews!! Wonderful, wonderful things. All done in a pressure cooker, the hiss of which I remember fondly. Mine doesn't sound anywhere near the same because they've got a lot more efficient over the years, but my stews and casseroles taste quite a lot like hers did. Yep, simple, home-cooked fare, and like you, I didn't miss out on the calories, thanks to the steamed puddings which also came from that cooker!

Helsie has reminded me of bread, butter and sugar! In my childhood it was always soft brown sugar, and boy, did it taste good!

Milo said...

Book recommendation: 'Toast' by Nigel Slater (his autobiography, much of it about the food as he grew up in the 60s); is a great read.

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