Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.
Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.
“Mum, what’s for dinner?”
“Stew. I know you don’t like it but it’s good for you. A nice plate of broth never did any harm.”
“I always make dumplings, but don’t only eat the dumplings. Eat the potatoes and carrots as well. They are good for you.”
Mum always cooked stuff that was good for me, the problem was that I did not like most of it, she cooked like her mum cooked and her mum was probably not a good cook. Dad loved everything that mum cooked. Plain and basic, lots of broth and in the evening you could spread the remaining fat on a slice of bread and make a meal of it. I quite liked the part with the bread and dripping (as the fat was called). It usually had some remainders of onion in the dripping.
Mum was not the best cook, but being a kid I did not really know better. I knew what I liked. I did not like the crusts on the bread, although as the bread was cut bread the crusts were not really crusts but some sort of brown edge, but mum removed them from the bread for me.
“Crusts are good for you” and it seemed that everything I did not like was good for me. It was a wonder that I actually survived with all that unhealthy stuff I was digesting. Mum’s favourite vegetable seemed to be greens. We called them greens because they were green, but probably the correct description would be collard greens, big green leaves cooked in salt water and do not forget the pinch of bicarbonate of soda to ensure they stayed green. As mum only knew salt and pepper seasoning we had no spicy chef food. The greens were pulled out of the boiling water, chopped and served. Of course dad loved them, he loved everything mum cooked. I hated them, but mum said they were good for me, made hairs grow on my head. My hairs were growing on my head despite the fact that I did not like greens. Had I been a male, the greens would definitely been an insurance that I would have a hairy chest when the time came.
Now and again mum would have a splash out, something different for tea. She would open a tin of salmon, red salmon of course, that was the more expensive variety, and we had salmon sandwiches. It was some time in the fifties, we were a working class family with only dad bringing the money home, and so meals were according to the budget. I quite liked a salmon sandwich and mum did not even say it was good for me. During the week evening meals were quite interesting. Sometimes we had sardine sandwiches, pure from the tin. Another speciality was banana sandwiches. Two slices of ready cut bread, with a blotting paper similar texture, spread with salted butter and a sliced banana between. Yummy, that was pure luxury and I believe it was good for me. I really thought that all butter contained salt. We knew nothing different. Even a slice of bread and jam had a salty texture to it. I almost forgot the boiled egg. The egg was boiled in water and placed in an egg cup You destroyed the shell at the top by hitting it with the spoon. Unfortunately the first taste was only eggwhite, but afterwards the soft yellow yoke appeared. If you were lucky the yoke was soft and runny, if you were unlucky the white part was also soft and runny, but it was probably good for me. Mum never timed the eggs, it was all a matter of experience and judgement according to mum.
There were naturally the Sundays which were the culinary highpoint of the week. The star of the lunch plate was a roast. It might be roast beef, roast pork or roast lamb according to the price and what mum found at the butchers. As a child meat was meat, so I did not bother about the type of animal it came from. Of course we had baked potatoes as an accompaniment. They would be cooked in the oven in fat (probably pig fat) slow and surely and when they arrived on the plate they were quite edible, with a crusty edge. It seemed that on Sunday greens were not in favour. Generally it was brussel sprouts, which I hated – but they were good for me. If I was lucky it would be roast beef when a Yorshire Pudding arrived on the plate. This is a mixture of flour, eggs and milk baked in the oven it was a must with roast beef. It was not good for me, it was not good for anyone, but we all enjoyed it.
On Sunday evening, the general meal was shellfish from the sea. England is surrounded by the sea and we had a Sunday morning market in our part of London – Bethnal Green, where there were stalls on the road selling all sorts of sea food. Of course we always had the same, although the choice was not so large. There were cockles, a sort of very small clam, but we bought them without the shells. Mum would prepare them by pouring vineagar over them. That was the only way I knew them, so I never complained about them being a little on the sour side. We had winkles and they arrived in the shells on the plate, something like snails, but smaller, a sea snail. Each of us were given a needle and the idea was to pierce the snail end with the needle, make a curling movement and the snail was naked, shellless, he was pulled out of the shell. I cannot remember, but I think they were also served with vineagar. The highlight were shrimps or on a good day it might be prawns. Shrimps were very small and there was an operation to remove the shells. Prawns were less bother as they were bigger and they surrended their shell willingly. They were not served in vineagar, they were pure, natural, and salty. If mum had known the state of the sea at that time, she might have warned that eating seafood was not healthy, but again we all survived. On my last visit to England when mum was alive she said you cannot buy them any more. They are not healthy.
Mum did her best, times were different, but I learned from her what was good for me.