Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Nan, Pépé and the lamb chops

Most of my childhood holidays were spent in Ramsgate as we could stay cheaply with Nan's mother, a deceptively sweet-looking old lady.
One summer when Nan and I arrived at Great Gran's flat after the lengthy trip from Oxford to Kent we were greeted by the lovely, greasy aroma of roast lamb.
 'That smell's good,' says Nan enthusiastically - it being sometime since we'd eaten our banana sandwiches. 
Great Gran smiles indulgently 'I always do Pépé a couple of lamb chops on a Saturday, don't I my darling boy?' 
Great Gran's small grey poodle wags his stumpy tail.  'If you two are peckish I think the Chippie is still open.'

Monday, 24 October 2011

Nan and the egg flan

I wouldn't describe Nan as a gifted or even enthusiastic cook; but her cooking reflected her personality - generous, colourful and just slightly strange.
My continuing love of the tinned tomato stems from Nan's trademark Sunday breakfast - scrambled eggs served with at least two slices of white bloomer and submerged with tinned tomatoes and juice.  The eggs were beaten using a miniature plunger in a pyrex glass.  The glass was decorated with the heads of the Fab Four - a little creepy when their eyes went yellow, but it did produce a satisfying froth.

One of her culinary specialities was egg flan; economical as it was made with as much pastry as filling.  The pastry could only be eaten if soaked liberally (and for sometime) with gravy - after applying gravy it was necessary to eat all the filling, the mashed potatoes and green beans before attempting the pastry.
The flan was always cooked in an oval heatproof glass dish that was reputed to be unbreakable.   One day, when getting the flan out of the oven, Nan burnt her hand on the oven shelf and dropped the dish.  What might have been a lunchtime calamity turned into a mealtime miracle when the dish shattered into many pieces, but the flan - encased in its concrete pastry jacket remained in one piece.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Nan and travel sickness remedies. Part III.

Occasionally while staying in Ramsgate we would take a trip to France (Boulogne or Calais - I can't remember which).  My other vehicle of choice for travel sickness was the ferry - something much smaller than the car ferries around now. 
Neither newspaper nor pennies would do for mal de mer.  Nan's first anti-nausea strategy at sea would be for us to sit on the open deck. I would then be instructed to look at the disappearing landscape;  unfortunately my extreme short-sightedness had not yet been diagnosed  - so horizon-spotting did not have the desired effect.  By the time land disappeared we'd have blue lips and bloodless extremities; Nan would sigh and reluctantly say: 'We'll just have to go downstairs - nothing else for it!'
So down below deck into the smokey bar.  Nan would order a medicinal brandy  (generally a double) and I would have a fizzy drink.  If the fizzy drink failed to still my churning stomach I would be given sips of brandy.  It would be true to say that I have rather hazy memories of our French day trips.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Nan and travel sickness remedies. Part II

If the newspaper method had failed on the way down to Ramsgate, the famous penny cure would be used on the way home.  I would be given two old pennies (big ones, pre-1971 - preserved especially by Nan for this purpose) to hold, one in each hand.  After about ten miles my hot and sweaty hands would interact with whatever metal the pennies were made from to produce a truly vomit-inducing smell.  I've just tried to replicate this with a 2p, but the smell is much more subtle.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Nan and travel sickness remedies. Part I

Most of our family holidays were spent in Ramsgate where Great Gran lived.  The journey before the arrival of the M40 could last all day.  If Dad was driving we would start at day break to miss the traffic; this was optimism on his part as year after year he would take the wrong turning and we would experience the delights of the London morning rush hour.  As someone who suffered from acute travel sickness I found the journey utterly miserable.
Nan had several favourite remedies for travel sickness.  At this point I should say don't try these at home as none of them work.  Method one involved placing a sheet of newspaper - the News of the World or the Oxford Mail being the papers of choice - on the backseat of the car and I would then sit on the said newspaper.  The idea being that I would have a nausea-free trip; unfortunately the smell of warm newsprint made me feel worse.  But ,on a positive note, the newspaper was useful when Dad failed to stop the car in time.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Nan and the mince

A teenage boyfriend visits me at Nan's house and is invited to stay for tea.  Her speciality mince with mashed potatoes and peas is on the menu.  Most of my Nan's cooking involves a 'secret' ingredient; this one is a packet of oxtail soup added to the greasy mince.  We sit down, Uncle silently reading the Oxford Mail, boyfriend being charming to Nan, Nan flirting like mad (she can't help herself) and me sulking because everyone is ignoring me. Uncle has a quizzical look on his face that morphs into disgust.  His rapid, somewhat desperate swallowing suggests his distress is food-related rather than something in the newspaper.  The mince tastes odd, not unpleasant, but not exactly right.  In fact in tastes of no oxtail known to man, woman or ox.
 'Muuuther, what have you done to the mince?' The cry of an anxious man who likes his food.
Boyfriend, having been at boarding school, will eat anything and empties his plate: 'Delicious, best mince I've ever had.'  It was at that moment that I realised our relationship probably wouldn't last.
Nan, delighted, offers him more.  Boyfriend, polite, greedy or possibly both accepts.  Nan disappears into the kitchen, only to signal wildly for me to join her.
'I think I've discovered why it tastes a bit odd,' she whispers dramatically, producing a packet of chocolate Instant Whip from behind her back.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

My Nan and Other Animals

My Nan is a great animal lover: mainly dogs, cats and budgies. Occasionally a taste for the exotic would take hold.  Once, looking in a petshop, she saw two forlorn-looking chipmunks.  Taking them home on the bus was challenging, especially when they started to eat their way out of the cardboard box (chipmunks will eat almost anything).  She put the box on the dining table and called my uncle to see the latest additions to her menagerie. He opened the lid and gave his usual despairing cry of 'Mother', or more strictly 'Muuuther', as both chipmunks escaped up the curtains.  It was some hours later that they were enticed back into the box.  The chipmunks obviously couldn't live in a box; so initially they were moved to the budgie's cage, the budgie being allowed to fly free in the spare room.  The long suffering uncle was then given the task of creating suitable accommodation for the new additions. The chipmunk run was an early memorable feature of my childhood: at least 3 metres long, it stood balanced on kitchen stools in my Nan's bedroom.  Their piquant odour competed with Coty's L'Aimant and the Oil of Olay (aka Oil of Ugly).

Nan and the shed

Uncle runs into the house from the garden, slamming the kitchen door.  Breathing hard he moans: 'They almost got me - that was a lucky escape!' 
  He bolts the door top and bottom and instructs us to stay indoors for our own safety while he goes upstairs to get his gun.  Our demands to know what on earth is going on are met with a stern and manly 'This is no time to ask questions; this is a time for action'.  He thunders up the stairs and we stand petrified in the kitchen; Nan bravely peers through the window and says she can't see anything. 
  Uncle comes down holding his airgun.  'This will settle their hash,' he says with a definite air of John Wayne, although that may have been lent by his blue and red checked shirt.
  'Son, don't do anything silly - violence isn't always the answer,' Nan says.  'If it is those kids from next door, I'll just go and have a word with their mum.'
  'Don't be stupid woman, it's rats.'
  Rats we both repeat, somewhat stupidly.
  'Yes, rats.  I went into the shed to get my bike and two big rats came rushing out from behind the coal bunker.'
  'Oh, you don't want to be worrying about them,' says Nan.  'They're ever so tame: they come out from behind the coal bunker whenever I go in there to feed them.'