Wednesday, 27 September 2017
There are five nectarines sat on my windowsill. They've been there since Monday, but I fear the weather has turned away from the ripening warmth that streams through my kitchen window during summer. It is officially Autumn after all. I shall most likely roast them or turn them into a crumble. Another indication of the turning of the seasons; it's time for hot puddings. We rarely eat pudding during Spring and Summer (unless you count the numerous ice creams from Moomaid), but come September I'm whipping up several a week.
Olly and I have been harvesting blackberries, elderberries, sloes and hips for a couple of months. It's been a good year for hedgerow bounty. I've made jams and jellies, sloe gin and elder brandy. My friend has let me pick as many apples as I can carry home. Her two small trees are laden, and she just feeds them to her ponies. So my larder is full of good things to eat, and to give away (or indulge in) at Christmas.
I've been flicking through recipe books. It's the season of the one pot meal, and that means stews, soups and legs of lamb or sides of pork slow roasted for hours at a time. Meals that can be left to their own devices, yet fill the house with their welcoming, hearty aroma. The sort of food that invites people to sit together around the table for long weekend suppers. Our summer months are snatched meal times, hastily thrown together picnics and tea on the beach. The older boys are working, and of course this summer I have been here, there and everywhere too.
Town is not so busy, but there's still a steady stream of visitors to clean for. I'm stripping and making beds, scrubbing bathrooms and plumping scatter cushions down Back Road West and along The Digey. The houses are seaside themed, full of reclaimed furniture and great princess and the pea beds. There are sea views that take your breath away, and quirky holiday lets that can make the hardest of hearts want to sell up and move down.
I enjoy what I do. I'm absolutely loving the independence and the growing in confidence. But I so look forward to returning to my little white house on the hill at the top of town. I still have a view, and a lot of my possessions are probably more shabby than chic. I come in and pop the kettle on, bring the laundry in and slump on the sofa with a brew. Kicking my flip flops off, I sit and reflect on the day. And my mind wanders to what to have for tea.
And there I go. Into the kitchen to chop, peel, dice and pour. Meditating at the counter. Listening to Olly as he plays nearby. I think it's my favourite room in the house. It's certainly the most used. Over the years my growing boys have sat at the breakfast bar to play, eat or do their homework. Sometimes to moan or pour their hearts out. And quite often to laugh and joke and share snippets of their lives away from home. All three have baked with me; scattering flour about with gay abandon and rolling out grubby lengths of pastry. Blobbing jam into a tart or licking the spoon of cake mixture. With each boy, I've got better at not letting the mess and mayhem get to me. I guess it's Olly that really seen the benefit of this. He is a dab hand at measuring out a sponge cake, or making crumble topping. He loves to prep and chop, and is trusted with the vegetable knife. We have lovely chats as we cook side by side; on Tuesday it was all about the hummingbird moth that I had snapped by the Drs surgery and who would win in a fight; Megatron or Optimus Prime? Olly came down on the side of the baddie; well, we all secretly love a good villain.
When I was growing up, the kitchen is where my Mum would most often be; cooking, ironing, drinking coffee and chatting to friends and family. And as me and my sister grew older we would join her. I'd sit on the step that led down from the dining room into the kitchen. My sister would sit on the side, her legs swinging back and forth and often leaving marks on the cupboard door. We'd share confidences, and I'd quite often be moaning about my Dad. Poor man, surrounded by three shrews congregating in the heart of the home. His ears must have burned constantly from 1992 until 1998.
I didn't learn to cook from my Mum. I showed absolutely no inclination for it, and when I left home - with one saucepan and a wooden spoon from Woolworths - I could cook scrambled egg of toast. And heat up soup. It was only when I became a mother myself, and had charge of my own kitchen that I learnt. Trial and error and Delia's How To Cook was how I remember it. And the desire to wean baby Sam on freshly cooked food. I still have the stick blender that I used to whizz his first foods up with. It was my very first kitchen gadget, and is still in use for blending soups.
I asked my Mum for her fruit cake recipe, and learnt to make lasagne from my friend Helena. I cooked my very first Christmas lunch for Marc and I, in our freezing cold one bedroom flat in Muswell Hill. It was a triumph as I recall. I'd even cris-crossed bacon over the chicken's back. I'm probably no more refined now than I was back then in the early nineties. But my love of cooking and sharing food has grown as I have. If you come round for tea (and if you're in the area, please do) I can promise you hearty flavours, full to bursting plates, seconds if you should so desire and no standing on ceremony. I won't ask you to wash up, although carrying the plates through to the kitchen would be much appreciated. There will be wine or beer and definitely a cup of tea to help your dinner go down. And no doubt some rather rude jokes to go with it all.
This weekend, I'm planning slow roast pork with all the veggies and roast potatoes. Followed by apple pie and custard. What will you be having?