These “Unprecedented” times are new to us, but not to our parents

April 3, 2020

This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.

In these difficult times journalists reach for new and rarely used adjectives. One of the commonest is “unprecedented” meaning never having happened or existed in the past. Er no. It’s only “unprecedented” to us. Certainly not to our parents who went through 5 years of World War Two.

What I find unhelpful are recipes for meals suggested by London media people who patently have not stood queuing and worrying 2m apart in the cold to get a loaf of bread in Bradford.

These "Unprecedented" times are new to us, but not our parents

Jack Monroe's Tin Can Cook

So I’d like to recommend a book. Tin Can Cook (75 simple storecupboard recipes) by Jack Monroe who, despite her first name, is a woman. Check it out.

In times of difficulty I ask myself “What would my Mother do?”  

In the kitchen yesterday I reached past the modern cookbooks to her wartime recipes. She would often write them down privately on anything she could. I found one I’d not discovered before written on the back of a Christmas card she’d inserted into a well thumbed McDougall’s cookery booklet. It was never meant for anyone else but I’m sure she won’t mind if I share it with you now.

It’s 70 years old and for Baked Haddock.

  • Haddock (12ozs)
  • 2 tspns mayonnaise
  • 1 tspn English mustard
  • 1 tspn Lemon juice
  • 1 tspn chives and chopped parsley
  • A pinch of salt & pepper
  • 2 large tspns of Parmesan cheese

Arrange fillets in a dish. Combine the rest of the ingredients except cheese and stir well. Spread over the fish and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake at regulo 6 for 20 minutes. Mum preferred gas to electric when cooking as she felt it was more controllable.

It says “serve with” and the last word is indecipherable but I would suggest proper mash and peas. This was a simple recipe written as a young Mum. She had no access to information about how to cook other than her own Mum and a few books.

These "Unprecedented" times are new to us, but not our parents

Fifties cookery book

Her most cherished was this cookery book by The Association of Teachers of Domestic Science who lived at 29/30 Gordon Square, London, WC1. Tel: Euston 2151.

What I like about their style is they start from scratch and assume you know bugger all. It patronised some but didn’t care and the reason was its anonymous authors knew there were millions who hadn’t a clue – and their brief was to do something about it. I still turn to it.

As a newly married housewife in the mid fifties it was crucial Mum could make meals for her husband and two young children. Her notes to herself remind me just how dedicated Joyce was to being the best she could be for her family.

Mum taught me cooking and one of the most important lessons I learned as she busied about in her apron was you could make it up, which as a rebellious youngster I thought was great. Rules could be broken. How good was that?

These "Unprecedented" times are new to us, but not our parents
Fifties housewife recipes

But there were some that could not. One was about how to make Yorkshire Pudding. She was quite specific on this.

4oz flour, an egg, a quarter of a pint of milk and a pinch of salt. Whisk the batter and get air into it so you get lots of bubbles – the key to a light batter. I remember the first time I mixed my own batter and the nerves of waiting to see if they had risen. They did. I could do it!

Heat a little beef dripping into a square tin until hot then pour in the batter. When the Yorkshires are in call your diners though the hatch to the table. Tell me you have a hatch.

Watch them carefully (which includes diners reading the Sunday paper). When ready cut into squares then serve first as an appetiser before the roast. Probably not the way you do it.

Am not sure when round Yorkshires came in but they were always served square when I was young. Nanna Addy (my father’s mum) would serve them in gravy as a first with golden syrup on top. Yum.

I’m so lucky her thoughts are written down about how to cook. As I read them I’m transported back into her kitchen as she showed me what to do. She collected recipes by snipping them out of women’s magazines then she would experiment by adding her take on them.

I love my slow cooker. Mum said cuts like brisket of beef and neck of lamb were cheaper. She took me to Leeds market and to the butcher she trusted. I watched her ask for meat she wanted and counted out hard earned money onto the counter from her purse.

These "Unprecedented" times are new to us, but not our parents
Hot Pot - 70 year old recipe from Northern Male's mother

Here’s her Hot Pot recipe for a family of four. Mum didn’t do metric. Consequently neither do I.

  • 1.5lb neck of lamb
  • 2 lamb kidneys
  • 1lb potatoes
  • 8oz onions
  • 6oz of mushrooms
  • 4oz stock
  • 1oz of butter

Cut lamb into cutlets, remove fat, core kidneys and cut into slices. Thinly slice potatoes, mushrooms and onions. Cover base of dish with some of the potato slices, stand lamb on top with kidneys and onions. Arrange rest of potatoes on top, brush with melted butter.

At this point I’d add 7oz of red wine – Mum never did.

In a slow cooker this could be 6 – 8 hours but in an oven I’d suggest 180c for an hour, then lift the lift and do it at 200c for another 30 minutes. Heart warming. Delicious.

We all have time to experiment now. I’ve a health condition so am one of the “shielded” who can’t go out. Bronchiectasis is a long term problem where the airways of the lungs become abnormally widened and vulnerable to infection. So am going nowhere but remain optimistic.

It’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good.

I’d be interested to hear if you’ve recipes to share which have been passed down. Feed your family if you are able and stay strong.

Take care. 

More posts from the male perspective here

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