My mother was a 'plain cook' - her own expression. She lived with rationing in the Second World War, and never really lost the habit of 'making do with what you've got.' She stuck to a strict grocery budget, and a limited repertoire of meals. We cycled through them predictably - Monday was cold slices of topside from the weekend roast, with mashed potato and frozen peas; Tuesday was sausages, with the same. And so on. But she made dessert every day - rice pudding, jam tart, bread and butter pudding, stewed apple. And she always made a chocolate cake if we were having a picnic.
I got interested in cooking as a teenager, but I had no interest in making the same things as my mother. There was a food revolution going on in the sixties, alongside the other revolutions, and the idea that dinner had to mean meat and two vegetables was being challenged. People discovered that other countries had different and delicious cuisines. (The Women's Weekly Cookbook for 1970, which I still have an extremely battered copy of, had an 'International Cookery' section, with recipes for Beef Vindaloo and 'Swedish Smorgasbord.') It was exciting to experiment. A meal could be a mixture of a whole lot of different ingredients and spices, rather than clearly distinct items on a plate. And you didn't have to have potato with every meal!
I started putting recipes in a pretty little book I brought back from SE Asia. The first recipe I wrote in it was Christmas Cake. This was my best friend's mother's recipe - my mother never made Christmas Cake, there were just too many expensive ingredients in it. When I made my first one, at about the age of sixteen, I bought the dried apricots, and ground almonds and the rest out of pocket money. My mother was impressed, and immediately had me cast as an adventurous, if rather extravagant cook. I quickly followed with other delicious cakes that we had never had the likes of at home before - Butterscotch Cake is on the next page, followed by Apple Teacake. I used butter. It gave an infinitely tastier result than margarine, but to my mother it was an extravagance. She'd got into the habit of 'substituting' margarine in the UK in the war, and never stopped, even though butter was subsidized by the New Zealand government and cheap as chips. The only cake recipe of hers that I copied into my book was for her Chocolate Cake. Though it calls for '4 oz of margarine', it also uses real milk chocolate in the icing, which I like to think is an indication of how highly my mother rated our picnics.
There are only four recipes in my book that I had from my mother - the Chocolate Cake, 'pastry', Steamed Pudding, and Batter Pudding. The Batter Pudding recipe is unique; I've never seen it anywhere else, or known anyone else who made it. Simple though it is, there is a knack to making it. It too uses a naughty quantity of butter - the batter actually swims in melted butter as you put it into the oven, already starting to cook a little bit. And, you have to know the precise moment to open the oven door and take it out - too soon and it sinks, too late and it toughens. My mother had the knack, no doubt.
There are many recipes in the early part of my recipe book that reflect the new seventies interest in meals that combine ingredients in new and daring ways. A recipe for Lamb Curry (still an all time favourite), uses red wine and sour cream! (The left over roast lamb on Monday was never the same again.) Dutch Rice Curry Casserole combined chuck steak, rice and pineapple juice in the same pot, slow cooked in the oven. I'm still not sure what was Dutch about it. Beef Macaroni combined beef mince, bacon, onion, and tomato soup. You simmered them all together in that ubiquitous seventies invention, the electric frying pan. D and I loved it, and all through the eighties I made it for my kids and they loved it too. Then one day, it had become a thing of the past, like the electric frying pan it was made in, a completely old fashioned and slightly weird and boring thing your mother did. Taking the world by storm were salads that had meat in them, and pasta dishes in which everything had come out of your own amazing vegetable garden, and you'd even spent the afternoon making the pasta yourself.
But I'd stopped writing recipes in my book by then, although there are a lot of loose ones tucked inside it, that have been ripped from magazines or given to me by friends. Most of them, I have to confess, I've never tried, for all they sound totally brilliant - Broad Bean Dip, Sour Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust, Beetroot and Carrot Salad. The book is falling apart, its covers long since lost, and the pages stained with cocoa and splattered with oil and stock and tomato juice and wine and God knows what else. It's all held together with a thick elastic band.
The other day, I had a text message out of the blue from 13 year old grand daughter, J - 'Grandma, can you send me some recipes?' J is an enthusiastic cook, and has often helped me in the kitchen, but I knew at once that this was something different. I checked with her - yes, she wanted recipes for meals, things that she had eaten at my house and loved. The Lamb Curry was one. She could have used her phone to get any recipe she wanted off the internet, of course, but she wanted Grandma's recipes.
I found a pretty, hard backed book, with a farm-themed decoration on the cover - cows and ducks and produce, and I set about copying into it some of my best, tried and true, simple meals. Grandad has also been asked for his amazing Naaan Bread recipe, and he can write that one in himself. Then there will be the rest of the book, dozens of clean fresh pages, for her to write her own favourites, and splatter with their juices.
(A great way to use left over roast lamb.)
2 cups diced cooked lamb
1 diced apple
2 onions, diced
1 green capsicum, diced
2 teaspoons garlic
2 whole cloves
2 tablespoons flour
handful of seedless raisins or sultanas
quarter cup of shredded coconut
2 tablespoons sour cream
half cup red wine
1 cup of vegetable stock
juice and rind of a lemon
1 dessertspoon of curry powder
pinch each of thyme and marjoram
half teaspoon salt
Saute apple, onion, capsicum, and garlic in olive oil, in large saucepan. Sprinkle in flour, curry powder, salt and herbs. Mix well, and cook 5 minutes. Add stock, wine, raisins, cloves, and lemon rind and juice, and simmer 20 minutes. Add lamb and coconut, heat 15 minutes. Stir in sour cream just before serving. Serve with rice and Grandad's Naan Bread.