Stocks, soups and stored knowledge

13Oct08

We’ve had a fun couple of food days.

We had a roast hoggett (hoggett is a 1-yr-old-sheep) leg last night, so today was leftover-tastic. I had to laugh, though – more at my own assumptions being blasted out of the water than anything else. Rumpus asked where the meat came from, so I told him. He was horrified, and wanted to know how the sheep managed with one of its legs missing.

Ah.

I think he might be a vegetarian now. He wasn’t happy about the sheep being killed so we can eat it, but I’m pretty unsentimental about farm animals. This particular sheep came from the farm we go to every week, we see them in the field, we know they are well treated, and live as contented and whatever as a sheep can be before it’s slaughtered. I don’t buy into the ‘it’s immoral to eat/use animals at all’ argument in any way, though I do think it is immoral to disregard those animal’s welfare needs in the interest of making a quick profit.

Anyway, I digress.

I always buy a big joint, so we have plenty over for in the week. This week there was enough meat over for two meals, so Honey and I split some of it up and she put it through the mincer with onions and some (fresh) herbs – that’ll go in the freezer for another day, and then we made pastry together and made a meat pie for dinner. AND THEN we put the bone into the pan with veg tops and trimmings for stock.

It made me think about when I was young, and the relationship I had with my mother and with food. It was non-existent, pretty much. Food came from the supermarket, even back in the 1970’s, and meals were functional and little more – my mother’s cooking standards were erratic, it’s probably most diplomatic to say – so I have no real memory of learning to cook from her, and most of what I know now is reconstructed from what I remember of my grandmothers’ cooking.

My mother’s mother lived in the country. She had a big, old-fashioned larder, always brim-full of fascinating things – jams, jellies, chutneys, pickled onions – all the harvest of the year stored and good for use all the year through. She had a fridge but I don’t remember her having a freezer until I was in my late teens, and even then she never had much in it. In her dining room, there were always fermentings on the go in huge demijohns under the sideboard, and I remember being fascinated by the slow rise and pop of bubbles through the luscious blood-dark sloe gins and elderberry wine and raspberry cordial she used to brew. When we stayed with her, it was all traditional home-cooked food – nothing flash, nothing fancy, but everything was done well, and she never wasted anything.¬† And her soups were divine. She always used to make a huge stock from the sunday joint, and it would slowly mature through the week, the base for every other meal, it seemed almost. I miss those soups – so rich, yet so light, ambrosia for the soul, so comforting in winter and refreshing in summer. And because she never made two the same, I don’t have a single recipe.

It was a good way of living, and I loved spending time in her kitchen. I am ashamed how little of it I remember, and wish I could have kept more of this stored knowledge. I think it’s sad, too, that my mother missed out on it all somehow. She maintains that it was the sixties, and she wasn’t going to be a housewife or mother, therefore never learned the ‘trade’ . . . ironically, she ended up being both, just without the skills. (Somehow she muddled through – we all made it).

I feel almost as though I’ve gone full circle, coming back to where my grandmother used to be, sharing the same interests and applying the same techniques and knowledge that she had to my harvests here and now, and I’m hoping that a lot more research will help me unearth and learn a lot more about her cookery and householding skills.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t for a minute want to turn the clocks back to a time when women were effectively chained to the home with little/no other options in life – I think that being able to choose a career in any field I want to, being able to combine a small business with family life, being able to lose myself in fulfilling domestic tasks and childcare is an incredible privilege.

I do regret, however, that I missed out on sharing times like those I have had with Honey with my mother, and I regret too that a lot of the stored knowledge of the women of our family, handed down a long line of mothers and daughters, has been lost to us. I feel like I’ll never recapture any more than a small proportion of it. I hope it’s enough.

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