Monday, September 23, 2013

Changes of Life....

Managed to watch all of '....Bake Off' (repeat) yesterday.  Still found it hard to concentrate.  Earlier  watched 'Sweet Genius' (Food Network) as was hoping to learn some new ways of presentation, but got very confused.  This was a contest between four'chefs, three rounds, one voted off in each round.  One was a lady I recognised from a 'Cake Wars' (or similar prog). She may be good at making cup cakes (who isn't?), but seemed to fall to pieces when having to poach some meringues (to make what we call a 'Floating Island' dish.  Even I can make better poached 'islands'.

What did make me laugh, and I really mean laugh out loud, was when one of the chefs (the most famous one - at least in the US), began speaking.  He was French, spoke English perfectly but with an accent, but easily understandable I would have thought, but not so apparently as subtitles were shown up so that everyone (in the US) could understand what he said.  I agree that this can help sometimes when a lot is being said, maybe quite rapidly,  but when a person says 'Thank You' very clearly, do we really need to see 'Thank You' shown in big print at bottom of the screen?

Apparently when Daniel Radcliffe (hope I've got the name right) was interviewed in the US at a Harry Potter premiere, they put subtitles as his (perfect) English would probably not be understood.  So am assuming they also do this with any cookery programmes hosted by the English such as Nigella, and what about Paul Hollywood who has a slight Liverpudlian accent, when he hosted '...Bake Off' in the US, did they put up subtitles when he spoke?  Did read somewhere that viewers found his accent difficult to understand, and quite honestly never realised he DID have an accent.

Mind you, in Britain we can have difficulty with our own language.  We had to ask our Scottish (from Perth) daughter-in-law to tell us what was being said in a comedy series, think it was H.C.Nesbitt with his Glaswegian accent and we could not understand one word of what he was saying.  DIL would be rolling around laughing, and we kept saying "what did he say, what did he say?" . Also, when staying in Cornwall, several times I had to ask the landlady (who came from London) what her husband was saying (he was broad Cornish).  Charming though his accent was, I couldn't understand a single word.

I'm not very well up with fads and phrases from yesteryear, but after watching the final repeat of 'Downton Abbey' (Yippee - the new series began yesterday), surely the 'don't be such a big girl's blouse' was not said in those times?    How good it was to have 'Downton...' back' but wish Miss O'Brien had not left.  Maybe she will return in a later series.  Do hope so.
What a wonderful actress Maggie Smith is, she has only to move her head slightly (very slightly), or lift an eyebrow, and her face expresses a thousand words.

Quite a lot of my 'free' day yesterday was spent sorting and freezing a bag of plums that a sailing friend of B's had given us the previous day.  When B returned from his day out yesterday, he found another bag of plums on the doorstep, so these need to be sorted today.  Seems that this year has been a very good one for most fruits, so now have to find more room in the freezer to put the plums and blackberries (the latter picked from a hidden bush in our garden that B discovered this year and also from a massive bush in the club compound).  Think jam is on the cards as well.

Probably teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, but the easiest way to remove stones from the larger fruits such as peaches and plums is to use a sharp knife and slit the fruit down the little crease that runs down one side from top to bottom, then follow round to slit the other side.  Give the two halves a twist and they easily come apart. If the fruit is very ripe the stone then falls out.  If under-ripe the stone has to be lifted from one half.  
Some cooks slit the fruits (plums/damsons) etc but leave intact, then simmer the fruit (when wishing to make jam etc), the stones then releasing themselves and usually rising to the surface.  This does work but always best to count the fruit before cooking and count the stones after as it is all too easy to leave a stone there that can often get left in the jam (and maybe break a tooth when eaten?).

Later yesterday I read more of that wonderful book 'Bombers and Mash', the story of the domestic front 1939 -1945 (author Raynes Minns, published by Virago. ISBN 978-1-84408-873-7)'   This should be required (or is it called 'essential'?) reading for schools if only to prove to all how lucky we are now to live in such a (relative) time of plenty and security (even though many may disagree).

This is an interesting statement from the book that comes after giving some sobering percentages of the poor health of children pre-war, as - due to rationing of food when sugar was in short supply - meals then became better balanced (even though frugal to the extreme) and it was said:  "those children who had lived on bread and cakes with jam, cheese and chips, as many of the poor did, no longer had them, and much healthier for it.  There was enough, and it was simple".

It was that statement : 'as many of the poor did...' that caught my eye.  Today, bread cakes and jam, cheese and chips could now be counted as fairly expensive, so maybe not thought of as 'pauper's food'.  We don't now have rickets as were commonplace in first half of the last century (my dad had rickets due to extreme poverty and malnutrition), but we do have an obesity problem caused by eating too much of the same (wrong) things. 
With much of the nation aiming to raise their standard of living, am surprised that the old-time 'food of the poor' still remains a favourite.  If we want to have a better quality of life, then we should also improve our eating.  Nothing wrong with cheese and home-made cake of course, but think you understand what I mean.

Did I read recently that school meals will now be free?  Even if this does happen, are we sure that children will eat them?  If used to eating junk food, doubt very much they will wolf down a plateful of healthy vegetables.  Perhaps if there was a proviso that the meals would be free ONLY as long as they are eaten, otherwise the offer would be withdrawn and the parent then has to provide lunch (even if not the right food, this then would mean extra expense, and that may be enough to change the status quo).

Returning to memories of wartime, my own recollection of meals is vague.  Maybe too young to realise how restricted our mothers were when it came to making the best use of rationed foods, and anyway used to 'eating to live' not the other way round.  The above book really shocked me as to how bad things were.  All I can remember about meals then were porridge for breakfast, and lots of stuffed marrow for the main meals.  We were fortunate (I suppose) in that my Dad grew vegetables in our small back garden (loads of marrows on top of the Anderson shelter, and these could be stored for months), but then meals had never been THAT interesting.  It was only after rationing ended (early '50's) that we discovered the delights of eating convenience foods (and who could blame us), and - as time went on - the huge variety of fresh and processed foods from all round the world, and seem never to have stopped since.

There is plenty in the book about 'the Kitchen Front', and loads of illustrations of the posters of that time explaining how we can make the most of the little we then had.  Massive amount of propaganda, and certainly the women were made to feel they were doing as good a job on the home front as their menfolk were when fighting abroad. 
Prices rose dramatically for almost everything, but most people could afford to pay as there was no unemployment.  All women had to go out to work whether they wanted to or not, only those with children under 14 could stay at home,  expected to 'do their bit' by taking in evacuees/refugees (my mother fitted into this category). 

The book has many wartime recipes, and however much I like to try 'food from the past' even I would not care to eat some more than once, and then only for 'research purposes'.  On the other hand, there are many that are good enough to continue making today, especially as these would (now) be very economical to make.  Anyone living on a very tight budget would be happy to make up many of these dishes, use the suggestions, and improvisations.   The book was originally 'publishers price of £12.99 but sold at 'our price' for £4.99, and well worth every penny.  Having said that, why not ask for it from your local library and copy out the recipes?

Here is one I intend trying, although I can't quite work out how (given the added weight is less than 1lb) it can double in weight, perhaps they mean it ends up looking like twice the amount. In those days the milk would be full cream, not semi-skimmed.  Might give it a try as the end result can always be used when baking.

Turn One Pound of Butter into Two:
Warm 1 lb of butter to a consistency that will permit it being beaten up with a fork to a cream, taking care that it does not oil.  On no account should the butter be whisked with an egg whisk.
Boil half a pint (10 fl oz) milk with a pinch of salt, and allow to cool to blood heat.  Then stir the milk gradually into the creamed butter.  Put in a cool place to set and you will now find you have 2lb butter. 

This next recipe 'an excellent one for the troops. It needs no eggs and makes a good-sized cake', I've included because it has a story to go with it. A footnote says: 'a slab of this cake was sent to the Front in France, travelled round France, chasing the owner.  Missed him and came back. Other things in the parcel were spoiled, but this cake was good after 10 weeks.  It finally was sent out again and was much appreciated'.
Trench Cake:
6 oz margarine
6 oz brown sugar (or white granulated)
2 oz chopped peel (optional)
4 oz mixed fruit
8 oz flour
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
nearly half a pint of milk
Cream the margarine and sugar. Warm the milk and pour onto the soda. Add the prepared fruit, the milk and the flour. Mix well. Bake in a moderate oven for about 2 hours in a 7 inch cake tin, or in slabs, for about 1 hour.

What a great idea it would be for everyone to have one week a year living on wartime rations and eating meals our mothers (or grandmothers) used to make in those days.  Would anyone wish to try this next one? This 'Oslo Meal' in particular was found to be 'so nutritious that the health of schoolchildren who were given it daily was much improved.  They grew taller, learnt faster and were better-tempered'.  Anything that helps to make anyone better-tempered is worth serving.

The raw veggies suggested for this dish were shredded cabbage, lettuce, chopped parsley, but would change according to what was in season.  Very vague as to the method of prep, but it does seem to have a leaning towards coleslaw. Have a feeling the salad dressing could mean a blend of the milk powder, vinegar, water (how much of that?) and the seasonings.
The Oslo Meal:
4 oz any raw mixed vegetables
grated carrot (if available)
sliced tomato
grated beetroot (cooked or raw)
salad dressing
2 tblsp dried milk powder
2 tblsp vinegar
salt, pepper and mustard
Mix well together. Accompany with wholemeal bread and butter, 2 oz cheese, apple and as much milk as rations allow.

When it came to wartime bread, there was only one type: 'the National Loaf' that although a healthy 85% wholemeal, was a dusty, grey bread that turned mouldy very quickly.  There were many letters of complaint to the Ministry of Food re this bread and 'for a few weeks people indignantly ascribed every minor ailment or malaise from which they suffered to this 'nasty, dirty, dark, coarse, indigestible bread'.
Bread was never allowed to be thrown away, and one woman was fined £10, plus 2 guineas costs, for permitting bread to be wasted. It was stated 'the servant was twice seen throwing bread to the birds in the garden, and it was admitted that this happened every day.'
That fine was probably more than a month's pay (at that time), maybe two - three months, so you can see how waste (of almost anything) was a punishable offence.  For goodness sake, what would they think of the mountains of food waste that is thrown away today?

Whatever we think of how it was then and how it is now, and anyone younger than 50 probably has no understanding of any life other than the now much more affluent times (even though it isn't at the moment), it does help to read a book such as the above to put things into perspective.  It may have been very hard in wartime, and perhaps only to us older folk life seems far too easy now, and I say that even though I know there are people struggling out there to keep a roof over their heads and buy enough food to feed their family. Fifty or so years ago the struggle would have been much easier to cope with because domestic skills had not then all been forgotten.  
As ever, it is the lack of domestic education that we need.   How can we cook when we don't know how to, and no shame in that. I'm not ashamed because I don't know how to use a computer properly.  I don't learn because I don't NEED to, but if I did then I would.  We do (all) need to learn how to cook if we want to both save money and eat better meals.

Perhaps today we have begun to believe the amount we eat matters more than the content.  If we can still survive if we returned to living on wartime rations - which were even more sparse once the war had ended (rationing lasted for 12 years), not of course that I'm saying we SHOULD, maybe we need to put our thinking caps on again.

Children didn't seem to need any persuading to eat during wartime. They seemed to be happy (or should it be even grateful?) to take a sarnie for school lunch made with that dreaded National Loaf, and the filling being grated swede.  Can you imagine a child eating that today?
Pre-war, and for some time after, we were never expected to enjoy our food.  Just eat what was given, so presumably not that difficult to do the same during rationing.  When served anything we really liked, this was a real treat.  Now we have got used to 'treating' ourselves with every meal. 

Seems I am rambling on and on about what many will now seem to be not worth considering.  To me it does seem we should give more thought to food in general, especially now that prices keep rising.  Do we really need to eat so much? Has snacking and nibbling become a habit?  We are not like cows who graze all day. Why not go back to the  good (or bad) old days when breakfast, lunch and supper was all that was needed.  But then there are diets who prescribe 'eat little and often'.  Trouble it is has got to 'eating a lot at meal times, then eating a lot of 'littles' between meals'.  Having your cake and eating it too comes to mind.

As the Hairy Bikers have said recently (on one of their repeats) "at breakfast eat like a king; at lunch eat like a prince; at supper eat like a pauper".  Must remind my B of that as he tends to eat the other way round.  Must remind myself as I often fall by the wayside and end up 'grazing' (yes, I know I can be a real cow at times, but don't have to copy bovine eating as well).

Yesterday made a lovely soup using the same 'holy trinity' of veg:  diced, carrot, celery, onion, with the addition of diced potato. I'd like to have included a parsnip but didn't have any.
Instead of cooking the veggies in chicken stock, and mainly because I couldn't find it in the freezer (it's in there somewhere), decided to use a tub of beef stock.  This being the very 'meaty' stock left after slow-cooking a lot of beef rib trim and cubed stewing steak. Very inexpensive to make, but worthy of being served in a top restaurant.  Smelt and tasted GORGEOUS.

Goodness me, is that the time?  A quick thanks to those who sent in comments (just a couple), and a reminder that anyone who grows veggies (such as Wimmera and her pumpkins) should keep back a few to ripen, save the seeds then they will be able to grow 'free' crops the following year (and forever after...).

The 'autumn instinct' is fast flowing through my veins and it's sleeve-rolling up time ready to make all the preserves and pickles.  Also not forgetting the planting of bulbs, and repotting of plants to bring indoors.  Am hoping to find time to blog fairly regularly, but if I spend a whole morning doing so (as today) am not going to leave myself much time to do what needs to be done.  Expect me when you see me.  Could be tomorrow, might be Wednesday (although that is Norma day), but I'll be back. See you then.