My mother and I didn’t agree about much but, the one thing that was never a source of contention was her cooking – she was a genius. I have never tasted better and she remains the culinary benchmark. There was nothing flash about her repertoire, it was plain English cuisine – roasts, Yorkshire puds, Cornish pasties, liver and bacon, bread and butter pudding, treacle tart and lemon meringue pie to die for – to name but a few. She dismissed all “foreign food” which loosely translates as anything containing garlic.
Her pièce de résistance was chocolate cream biscuits. Time consuming and fiddly to make, they were a rare treat, consumed with dog-like enthusiasm by my sister and me as soon as they emerged from the oven. Garrison Keillor’s aunt Myrna and her Chocolate Angel Food Cake was surely nothing by comparison. For years we tried to extract a recipe but my mum, like all good cooks, worked intuitively in the kitchen. Nothing was ever written down because, pressed to define precise quantities and ingredients, she would probably struggle.
And then last week, I was hovering around the reduced cakes and pastries counter in Waitrose and there I spotted an individual, over-sized,store-baked, broken bourbon biscuit. I sneaked it into the trolley, away from the prying eyes of my trainer/dietitian. When I eventually bit into this large confection, I could not believe it. In more than fifty years, it is the closest approximation to the original chocolate cream biscuit I have ever found. My immediate thought was ‘I must ring my sister and tell her – go buy some immediately!’
My big sister: 1944-2019.
In an overwhelming moment, I remembered. The good news had come too late.
… and what a time it was …
… a time of innocence
It has been a tough week, saying a last goodbye to my big sister. The service was held in the small church at The Lee, near Great Missenden. A lovely place but, it came as some relief to return to the peace and quiet of deepest Northumberland. There is always hope to be found in the wild places.
And so, the night falls …
… leads to another. This is my (much 😉 ) older sister. She spent many years at icy altitudes, first with long-gone British Eagle, then BOAC and ultimately British Airways. My Dad, a twenty-a-day man and keen photographer, spent hours in the darkroom processing snaps of Pat in far-away places. This in turn inspired him to book a series of package holidays in Spain and Italy, holidays I detested – there was simply nothing for a sullen teenager to do.
My sister’s flying exploits meant something different to me. Firstly she brought back an endless supply of cigarettes for my Dad – such plenty meant he was relaxed about Benson & Hedges’ unreliable packing system. Sometimes there were only 19, even 18 in a twenty pack (the ‘how to’ instructions for invisible extraction of cigarettes from cellophane wrapped packets is contained in this book 🙂 ).
Secondly, it provided access to cheap LPs from the States. Unfortunately, much like my Dad’s cigarette cartons, some of these albums did not contain the full shilling. The most significant example of short-changing was Revolver – the US release did not include Doctor Robert, nor one of their very best – And Your Bird Can Sing. Every element of their genius is contained in this one track – two minutes of sheer delight that I was denied.
Those early foreign escapades cured me of any desire for package holidays in later life while easy access to cigarettes started a habit I only managed to kick in my late thirties.
This post was inspired by an electronic conversation with RestlessJo. Like I said, one thing leads to another.