Our mother was no Delia Smith.
I mean, her food was edible when you were hungry enough but not the sort of thing you would look forward to all day while you were playing out in the woods and fields of our childhood.
And of course it was all home-made, we didn’t have a freezer until I was all growed-up so none of this frozen meal rubbish that offers a level playing field to kids diets these days (albeit that the level isn’t very high), our mother couldn’t just open a door, pull out a packet of frozen something and warm it up, oh no, she had to peel potatoes and everything.
In fact its only in recent years that our own children have come to realise what we mean by “proper chips”, made from real potatoes and not taken from a packet of frozen chip shaped mush sticks, so we cut our mother some slack in the food department, she gets a one star credit for using raw materials.
And occasionally something that she made would meet with universal approval, that is we all ate it and agreed that it was, on the whole, edible, an empty plate returned to the kitchen indicated to her that the three males sitting in the other room were of an opinion that she had surpassed herself on this one occasion – and that was a problem.
Return an empty plate to the kitchen and she’d get ideas beyond her skill set, she’d assume that you loved that particular item of fodder and she’d write down what she’d done in an old kitchen diary, and then make it again and again and again, every day for months on end until eventually one of us would be brave enough to leave some on the plate and Oliver Twist-like venture the suggestion that we’d like to have something different tomorrow, “But I thought you liked this…” she’d respond, “Yes mother” we’d reply, “just not every night thats all”
It was thus that she found a recipe one day for something that I have since seen named as “Millionaires shortbread”, consisting of a baking tray in which a layer of shortbread and caramel are topped with chocolate, its nice, well, when our mother made it it was OK, but not when she makes it for your tea every night for six months, she was very hurt when we told her that we’d had enough one night.
Her buns and cakes were things of legend, you could build small houses from her left-over buns and cakes, and there were plenty that were left over, Ned and I named them rock cakes, not because she followed the recipe for the well known cakes of that name but because they literally had the consistency of a very hard rock, not sandstone, I would probably have eaten them if they were like sandstone, but they were more of a granite composition such a shame that our mother is not around to bake huge trays of her cake mix these days as she could make a good living manufacturing those fancy granite kitchen worktops that are all the rage.
So she’d make a huge batch of buns and a cake every Sunday for our posh Sunday afternoon tea for although we weren’t posh we liked to think we were posh with a posh Sunday afternoon tea, taking our lead from our posh Auntie Doris who most definitely could bake and who most definitely would have a posh Sunday afternoon tea.
On the table for our posh Sunday afternoon tea would be a range of our mothers best efforts at baking and plates full of chocolate things that she’d bought at Asda, I’m shamed to report that all of the Asda stuff would vanish without trace within minutes while our mothers baking efforts would remain rooted firmly to the plates, literally, you couldn’t lift them off the plate you see.
And so every Monday afternoon she’d throw her abortive baking efforts out onto the front lawn for the birds to eat and suddenly our front lawn would resemble a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” as feathered creatures of all shape, size and hue would descend to our garden from miles around to feast on our mothers baking, I’ll say this for her, she made damn good bird food.
Unfortunately of course the poor birds had no recourse to taste buds or common sense and would find after consuming even a modicum of this feast that they were unable to fly away, they sit there on our front lawn for hours on end forlornly flapping their wings and trying to hop off the ground an inch or two before settling back down and grinning sheepishly at their birdy mates with a “I’ll give it another five minutes then”
And of course there was the one time that our dad cracked and in a moment of madness ventured into the kitchen with the thought in his mind that this baking lark couldn’t be that hard and that he’d make us a nice strawberry sponge cake for us tea (note to non-Yorkshire folk, “us tea” is perfectly grammatically correct).
For over an hour he whisked and beat various implements and basic foodstuff in the kitchen, only poking his head around the door once to ask our mother where the strawberry food colouring was and we eagerly awaited his masterpiece.
He emerged carrying his strawberry sponge cake of perfection on a tray at arms length later that night, he held it at arms length for its colour was remarkable, so remarkable that it hurt your eyes to look at it for more than a few seconds, to say it was pink would be a huge understatement, pinker than Barbara Cartland, pinker than Penelope Pitstop, an intense pink that burned itself into your retina so that everything you viewed for days after would be tinged with pink, how he managed to concoct such a colour in a baked item was a mystery.
Or at least it was a mystery until we bit into it.
The recipe definitely stated that only two drops of strawberry food colouring should be used for one large cake, unfortunately our dad thought that it didn’t turn the cake pink enough, so he put the whole bottle in and remember this was the 1960s, food colouring in the 1960s was a pure cocktail of chemicals and preservatives, more E numbers than actually exist these days – the cake tasted awful, it actually tasted of chemical food colouring, tasted like eating melted plastic.
The seagulls on our front lawn feasted on a pink cake the next day and for days afterwards houses in our district were bombarded with pink seagull diarrhoea.