Introducing a guest blog by my lovely Valentine, Rocket….He writes:
The bonfire of all things food that burns within me was undoubtedly sparked by my Dad. For as long as I can remember Dad spent time in the kitchen – and to be fair, more time than was spent by the average bloke in those days. Dad was no average bloke! A hard upbringing as a child, tales of pulling a milk cart around Ipswich to deliver in the early hours. Buying a Mars bars with his wages then handing the rest of his hard earned salary to his Mum. Merchant Navy then Royal Navy, diving under vessels to check for limpet mines – wished I’d paid more attention when we did manage to eek those stories out of him!
Later in life though, he had my undivided attention when he held court in the kitchen. He retained all of his ‘country boy’ skills; skinning rabbits, boiling pigs heads for a delicious brawn and drawing (as in pulling out the guts) and plucking birds , he was a big ol’ unit but he had a deft touch with pastry. His puff pastry… the cheese straws!!! He made a mean hot water pastry for hand raised pies. It wasn’t all savoury either – I remember how pleased he was with his brandy snaps too!
I was a willing taster – can’t say as a youngster I loved it all but as I’ve grown I find there aren’t many things I won’t eat now. I’m a great believer in ‘just try it – if you don’t like it, don’t eat it, but don’t tell me you don’t like it if you haven’t even tried it’. I used to say it to my girls and it warms the cockles of my heart (if you’ll forgive the culinary pun) it’s an adage they have adopted with my grandsons – and to be fair to Sausage and Skinnies, they’ll give it a go.
Mum cooked too but that tended to be the midweek after school meals. If ever you were in doubt what day of the week it was, just wait to see what was on your dinner plate. Budget staples like Liver and bacon casserole (sorry Mum, liver does NOT need 2 hours to cook!) Sausage stew (ugh! The sausage skins!!) Curried Eggs, hard boiled eggs in a curry sauce that had sultanas and apple in it. These dishes marked our midweek calendar and Saturday night was sprats – floured and seasoned then deep fried. Not too many of these dishes feature in my repertoire these days but they undoubtedly they have formed a part of my own personal Larousse Gastromonique.
I remember going out with Dad to pick field mushrooms and dig up eye watering, sinus clearing horseradish along nearby lanes. Sunday morning prepping the lunch to the Archers followed by Two Way Family Favourites on the radio. Dad was the one who taught me to dress a crab – my Sunday afternoons spend picking through crab claws and body, meticulously separating white meat from brown for Dad to come down from his afternoon nap to dress the crab. Not for our tea though – oh no! They were destined for the evening pub session as a darts prize – I won’t deny they were a little lighter than they coulda shoulda been, always have loved that beautiful crab meat!!
Sadly Dad passed away before we were lucky enough to buy the shack in France and I just know he would have loved everything about the place. I often think of him when we shop and prep our very regional dishes down there. He’s left me with great food memories, broadened my culinary palette and inspired me to create dis
hes that certainly seem to meet the approval of those I feed.
These thoughts were brought into sharp focus last week after Poppy had cooked a delicious leg of lamb for the Traveling Wilburys. There was lamb left over and as a child if we’d had lamb on Sunday it would be Shepherd’s Pie on the Monday. I remember Dad mincing the cold cooked lamb. He also put raw onion through the mincer too and mixed well.
It was always a dry dish with very little liquid in
the Shepherd’s pie but oh, the freshness it was given by the just cooked onion once the Shepherd’s pie had gone through the oven – fluffy, buttery potato atop the lamb and onion mix was a strong memory of childhood food.
Inevitably I wanted to put my twist on it, I finely diced carrot and sweated them down in a little butter. I chopped some chestnut button mushrooms too and cooked them down then mixed them with the carrot. I wanted a touch more bite to my onions so rather than mince them I finely chopped them and put them
raw in with the carrot and mushroom. I minced the leftover lamb combined them all and placed in a pie dish. I top
ped the dish with buttered mashed potato and placed it in the oven until the dish was warmed through and the potato golden brown.
Call me a Philistine but the ONLY accompaniment for this dish is baked beans – straight from the tin a definitely NOT heated – I still think Dad would’ve approved…..