Kitchen Memories

Family memories seem to be order of the day today – the JusJoJan prompt word is Family and Amanda at Something to Ponder About asks us about memories of our grandparents, so it seems sensible to cover both at once…

My paternal grandparents lived on a coastal farm set high on the cliffs on the North-East coast of Scotland, just South of Aberdeen. It was mainly an arable farm but they kept a couple of cows for milk and chickens for eggs, and always kept a vegetable garden. The busy square-roomed farmhouse kitchen was large and multi-purposed, and as I picture it in my mind’s eye I see it from the simplistic perspective of childhood.

The door was in the top right hand corner, and on your right as you entered the kitchen was a huge carved wooden sideboard filled with boundless treasures, or so it seemed at the time. On the wall facing you was the fire – an old range when I was younger, later replaced with a ‘modern’ tiled fireplace as I grew older. In the right-hand corner corner was the hot water tank housed in a slatted-shelf airing cupboard, heated by the back boiler behind the fire. In front of the fire were the tired old armchairs where my grandparents sat in the evenings, although not so much during the day, constantly busy as they were. There was a small black and white TV tucked in to the left-hand corner, behind my grandmother’s chair, but I honestly don’t remember it being on much.

Along the left hand wall sat a solidly huge extending kitchen dining table, with heavy wooden carved legs and an almost-out-of-place cream formica-style top. I know it was an extending table because of the seams in the surface but I never saw it other than fully opened. There were mis-matched chairs pushed in all around the table, maybe nine in place constantly, but often seating twelve at a push. On the back wall was the big stone sink with draining board, a standard electric cooker, a small fridge and the kitchen ‘press’ – a 1950s-style larder cupboard with a hinged pull-down door creating an extra work surface as needed. Inside the press sat a large white enamel bread bin with blue trim.

The pantry was a separate deep-shelved small storage room off the hallway, and it was in this room external to the kitchen that the big, bulky pots and pans and suchlike were stored, and the milk-house (an outside stone-built cool-room close to the back door) was where meat and dairy were traditionally stored and where jams and jellies were cooled and set. I remember the old wooden butter churn being kept in the milk-house, but by the time I was born butter was regularly made using the much-prized electric bowl mixer that was stored in the pantry until needed. The milk was still left to settle on the marble work top of the milk-house, though, with the cream being skimmed off carefully as it separated.

So this was the big old kitchen in which I learned to cook – my mum has never enjoyed cooking, for her it was always a chore, but my paternal grandmother was a typical farmer’s wife and an excellent cook, and it was from her I learned to make the hearty soups and stews and everyday cakes and bakes that traditionally fed a farming family back in the day. My dad remembers his mum making oatcakes on the old range when he was a boy, but by the time the grandchildren came along oatcakes were generally bought in. Pancakes, however, were made almost daily, a staple sweet treat. Not thin crepes, but thick, fluffy Scotch pancakes, lined up in rows and cooled in a folded tea-towel before being transferred to the table.

One of my dad’s cousins regularly made a variety of cheeses, so oatcakes and home-made cheese (plus home-made butter) were the usual mid-meal snack eaten hungrily around the table, along with the home-made pancakes dripped with thick, sticky golden syrup. Meals I particularly remember eating there include boiled eggs in egg cups dipped with toast ‘soldiers’, mince and tatties and peas, smoked kippers, boiled crabs collected fresh from the fishermen, tasty cauliflower cheese with baked ham. Soup and pudding was a regular on the menu, too – a big bowl of thick soup with hunks of bread, followed by crumble and custard was a surprisingly filling meal without a ‘main’ course in between.

My dad was one of six children, so I grew up with myriad cousins and aunts and uncles and my grandparents’ farmhouse kitchen is the space where I picture us all in various combinations of family groupings at different times of the day and year, preparing meals, eating meals, and the inevitable clearing up afterwards. Another of dad’s cousins regularly avoided the washing up by always going to the toilet immediately after each meal, and always showing surprise on her return that the dishes had all been done already. This little trick was known within the family as ‘doing a (family member’s name)’ although we always had to remember not to say it when any of her immediate family were present!

I later realised as an adult just how hard a life it must have been for my grandmother, bringing up a large family as she did with minimal mod cons at the time, but for me as a child it was simply the perfect family environment, always warm and welcoming, always busy and bustling, always a place I loved to be. And I realise in my heart of hearts that’s the feeling I want people to get in my kitchen when they come to visit me. We don’t live in a farmhouse, or on a farm, but I try to make sure there’s still a warm welcome and wholesome, homely food on offer for all everyone we invite across our threshold… 🙂

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Not Thick, just Less Able…

When we were young judgemental kids growing up we were always cheerily quick to point out someone else’s inability to do or understand something we found relatively easy, and as kids do, we would scornfully label them as being ‘thick’.

Mum always remonstrated with us not to be so hurtful with regard to the inabilities of others, and that if someone was struggling with something it’s not nice to call them ‘thick’, as it’s not their fault they were simply ‘less able’ than others. We had it frequently drummed into us – it’s not ‘thick’, it’s ‘less able’…

So of course me and my sister and brother took this edict as gospel and ran with it in the extreme, having ‘less able’ soup with a ‘less able’ slice of bread and the like, driving mum nuts with our complete exclusion of the word ‘thick’ from our childhood vocabulary in all contexts, regardless…

Even now, in our late fifties, any one of us can still break into a childish grin with a wicked glint in our eye at the mere mention of ‘less able’ foodstuffs… 🙂

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: A phrase you grew up with

Squirrelly Share Your World

What was the very first popular song you remember taking a liking to?

‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ by Nancy Sinatra, circa 1966, when I would have been three years old… Are you ready boots?

Are you one of those people who get queasy at the sight of blood, or could you watch an open heart surgery?

I’ve never watched open heart surgery, but while working as a Physiotherapy Assistant in the past have been present in an operating theatre to watch both a knee replacement and a hip replacement (on two different patients). The idea was that I would assist in the pre-op phase for these patients, watch the actual operations take place, and then assist with the post-op rehabilitation afterwards. It was a fascinating opportunity, watching live surgery is absolutely amazing!

Who or what do you feel is lurking right behind you, just waiting to ambush you and make your life a living hell?

That’s an easy one – my recurring depression. It’s shadowed me for years, sometimes rising up and overwhelming me completely but more often than not just waiting expectantly in the background, reminding me its enveloping darkness is never far away…

What is the gaudiest thing you have ever worn?

Depends on your definition of gaudy… I’ve never done bling or shiny fabrics, but in the late 1980s I did own an eye-catching pair of purple leopard print harem pants that I just adored and wore to death! OMG they were wonderful!

Fess up! What is something you did as a child that got you into big trouble?

When I was growing up we lived next to a railway bridge, and we used to play on the bridge a lot, daring each other to do ever more dangerous feats of bravery. I was once dared to walk along the outer edge of the bridge ledge across the tracks, holding on for dear life, which I did… But a railwayman saw me and he told my mum and dad, and not surprisingly I got absolute holy hell for that! Gives me palpitations to think about now, but I guess you do crazy shit when you’re young…

What are you looking forward to as the festive season approaches?

Nice food and drink, and spending time with my children and grandchildren.

Squirrelly Share Your World

Rock Buns

I decided to make some traditional rock buns this afternoon – I used to make them often when I was younger, but haven’t made any for years. Rock buns are a favourite family tea-time treat that have sadly gone out of fashion with today’s more sophisticated tastes. Proper childhood comfort food to cheer me up – a real blast from my baking past.

They’re so easy to make, and thankfully their rough-and-ready appearance (rock-like, hence the name) means neatness is never a requirement. I love the crumbly, crusty exterior and the spicy, fruity interior that together creates such a satisfyingly perfect accompaniment to a lovely cup of tea. If you’ve never had rock buns, they’re not quite as sweet and rich as cake, not quite as light and airy as bread, and in spite of their strange name are not quite as solidly slice-able in texture as a scone, either.

Happily it seems I’ve not lost my touch and these have turned out a treat – I’ve already had one (OK maybe two, just to make sure!) with my afternoon cuppa, and hopefully they’ll be a nice surprise for my husband when he gets home from work later tonight – yum! 🙂

Boiled Eggs and Toasted Soldiers

OMG I love the taste of real butter – I remember so well the creamy yellow full-fat butter made by my grandmother on their arable farm. They always had a cow, though, kept for the milk. First the cow would be milked by hand, the warm, frothy milk splashing straight from the cow into the milk pail. Then the milk pail would be left to settle in the ‘milk-house’ which was a long, cool, stone-built out-building by the back door to the farmhouse. In due course the cream would be skimmed off the top of the milk and it was this cream that would be made into butter.

The old labour-intensive wooden butter churn still sat in the milk-house, next to the cool marble-topped work surface, but by the time I was old enough to remember the process the butter was being made in the kitchen using a standard electric mixer. From runny liquid whipped up to a thick cream to making little yellow globules of fat solids in white opaque liquid with minimal effort – perfect! Once the butter was fully separated from the buttermilk in the mixing bowl it was taken out and washed in cold water and salted to taste, before being carefully formed into a small rectangular block using ridged wooden butter pats.

In my memory the residual buttermilk was always given to the chickens to help keep them healthy… Oh, and thinking of the chickens reminds me of the fun of egg-collecting, too. I remember us grand-children being sent into the hen-house to collect the eggs, nestling so gently in the straw all brown and fragile. Carrying them in to the kitchen so carefully, then having them soft-boiled and sat in individual egg-cups with a steaming little cap sliced off the top, just enough to be able to dip in lavishly buttered toasted soldiers – long thin fingers of toasted bread, just perfect for dipping into the egg…

Such wonderful childhood memories… Actually I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a soft-boiled egg eaten with butter-laden toasted soldiers, but I’m almost tempted to give it a go tonight! 🙂

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Butter

The Back of Woolies and Other Lost Locations

One of the weird things about moving back to a place where you grew up so once knew very well, but in the interim you have lived elsewhere for twenty years, is that past locations that are so clear in your head are now lost to the present world. The back of Woolies in Inverness is one such lost location.

The two-storey Woolworths store in Inverness had a great corner location with the front doors on the High Street, but with the ‘back’ door (actually at the side of the building) opening up onto Lombard Street, a short quiet pedestrians-only back street creating a quick and easy cut through to Union Street. Woolies was a favourite shop for so many bits and pieces, so always enjoyed a high footfall including capturing extra trade via plenty of casual through-traffic.

When I was growing up and catching up with friends on a Saturday afternoon ‘the back of Woolies’ was a regular central meeting place. In those days, before the advent of purpose built shopping malls to pull the bulk of people away from the middle of the town to congregate in cavernous indoor off-centres elsewhere, the buzzing High Street with its jumble of large and small retailers all jostling for prime position was the pinnacle of our everyday shopping universe.

Sadly, Woolworths as a company died a death many years ago, and the retail company that now inhabits the ground floor only of the site has closed off the back doors entirely, losing the fluidity and flow of customers in the current configuration. The street, of course, remains intact, but inside my head Lombard Street will always be called ‘the back of Woolies’, even though the Woolies store referred to no longer exists exept in my memory.

Other lost locations in my memory include the Record Rendezvous on Church Street, one of only two dedicated vinyl record shops in Inverness. (Incidentally, the other record shop was on the Market Brae Steps at the other end of the High Street and was actually called ‘The Other Record Shop’, known affectionately as TORS.) However I see that the aptly named Rendezvous Cafe now sits happily on exactly the same footprint as the old Record Rendezvous, and the continuity of the name makes me smile every time I walk past it.

And in the same vein only a few yards away along the street from the Rendezvous Cafe there is also now a pub/ cafe bar called ‘The Auctioneers’ on the site of what was in my day actually a proper old fashioned auction house selling household furniture and similar items – it’s so nice to see a nod to the old businesses of the past in the naming of the new.

Alternatively, places where the name has changed but the business is the same still catch me off guard – the Victorian hotel built in to the fabric of the train station may now be branded as the Royal Highland, but it’ll always be the Station Hotel to me. And in my head the more modern Mercure Hotel overlooking the River Ness is still the Caledonian Hotel, known to all and sundry of my generation as the ‘Caley’, although its probably been a good decade or so at least years since the name changed 🙂

Blast From the Past: Childhood Ice Lollies

Old-time rocket-shaped lolly named Zoom

Juice-filled frozen fruit flavours go boom

In your mouth layers sweet

Melt to mush as you eat

Wooden lolly stick sucked till exhumed

Although Fab was my favourite vice

With its hundreds and thousands on ice

Adding crumbly feel

And exciting appeal

To a fun lolly sure to entice

A blast-from-the-past limerick twofer for Esther Chilton’s word prompt of ‘Zoom’ for this week, helpfully illustrated by a retro metal sign hanging in my kitchen 🙂

A Stitch in Time

While I was visiting my parents yesterday I looked out my old toy sewing machine to take home with me, purely for sentimental reasons – it’s a dinky little diecast alloy Vulcan Minor hand operated machine, which really worked! It only stitched a kind of simple chain stitch with only one thread not two, but it was such fun to use when I was small.

Sadly over the last 50 years parts of it have become broken and missing, and the hand-cranked wheel is slightly buckled now, but I still love it. The plastic tension guide on the top broke and disappeared a long time ago, and the needle has long since snapped. Size wise it measures about six inches long by just short of six inches high and not quite three inches wide.

The point is, this childhood toy was my first introduction to using a sewing machine, and over the years sewing has remained an ongoing part of my creative life, although with a full-sized adult sewing machine – making soft toys, patchwork quilts, clothing alterations – although making clothes completely from scratch is prohibitively expensive these days!

These manually-operated mechanical toys were originally made for little girls to help them learn to become good homemakers when they grew up, as was expected at the time. Gender stereotyping aside, I truly loved my own little sewing machine, and I can’t help but think it would be great to be able to get it fully working again, just for fun 🙂

On the Hunt for Joy: Rediscover your Childhood Joys

Coffee, Tea, or Milk of Magnesia?

I thought I was going to be totally stumped today by Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt of Coffee, Tea, or Me – flirty phrases are just not me, especially not embarrassingly dated stuff like that.

Then I read John Holton’s SOCS post mentioning about air stewardesses back in the day writing a book of that name and suddenly it all became clear. Yup, in the context of the sexist world of the original ‘trolley dollies’ (such a ghastly, demeaning name) I can see how that phrase might come about.

But to be honest the thing that struck me most about John’s post is the 1970s ad he’s included at the bottom for Milk of Magnesia – because oooh, there’s something I can post about, family medicine cabinet staples from my childhood! I suppose it’s a kind of Stream of Consciousness post once removed – related to Linda’s topic, but indirectly, through reading John’s post.

I so clearly remember the blue bottle of Milk of Magnesia, we were usually given a spoon of that white milky liquid for the solid kind of bellyache caused by constipation – I can even remember the odd taste of it. It was joined in its choice of eye-catching blue glass bottle by a little jar of Vicks Vaporub – its powerfully strong menthol heating sensation when rubbed on your chest and back was used to relieve congestion due to a cold.

My dad used to be bothered with indigestion a lot so there was always a tin of Andrew’s Liver Salts to be had – a spoon of that dissolved in water would fizz up into salty bubbles to be drunk down straight away, usually followed immediately by a huge belch, to settle any stomach discomfort. And I remember dad also carried little white square Rennies tablets in his pocket at all times for his heartburn.

Another duo of products that spring to mind is a tub of Vaseline petroleum jelly and a tin – a proper round tin, not a tube – of thick, pink Germolene antiseptic ointment. Now there’s a smell to stick in your nostrils. In my mind’s eye I link the strong smell of Germolene to the memory of fabric sticking plaster strips, because scrapes and grazes were cleaned with the sting of diluted Dettol, Germolene antiseptic ointment was applied, then a plaster cut to size was stuck over the top and you were sent on your way.

The painkiller I remember most from childhood is Disprin, a dissolvable asprin. If there was such a thing as ibuprofen available way back in the 1960s and 1970s they definitely didn’t make it as far as our medicine cabinet. These were the main generic products I remember, but I was ill a lot as a child so had my prescribed medicines to take too – Phenergan Syrup for my allergies tasted absolutely vile… yuk!

OK, that memory has put me off now, so I’ll just stop there while the going’s still good 🙂

Cherry Coloured Twist

Sometimes my brain comes up with the strangest memories when prompted by just one word, however different the context. Fandango’s One Word prompt today is ‘twist’ and straight away a voice in my head muttered ‘cherry coloured twist’ and there I am, back in early childhood being read Beatrix Potter’s ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’ by my mum.

We read all of Beatrix Potter’s little hardback books over and over again – I think they’re probably still there somewhere at my mum and dad’s house, actually – but my two favourites were always ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’ and ‘The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies’. I think I liked the illustrations as much as the stories, they were so beautifully done.