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Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Great Notts Show, an extravaganza of good taste.

On the Old Market Square this weekend Nottinghamshire folk and visitors from far and wide are able to enjoy a real taste of what Nottingham has to offer. I went around lunchtime yesterday to check out the vibe. The Market Square and surrounding streets were packed with stalls and marquees promoting and selling quality products including food and drink by local business and restaurants such as Memsaab, Eviva Tavern and The Wollaton.

More about the event can be found at this link.

I bumped into Johnny Pusztai in the marquee (with chandeliers no less) and he said that his JT Beedham Butchers stand was doing a roaring trade in burgers and sausage cobs plus extra sales in fresh meat to take away and that he was looking forward to challenging the kids to make a better burger than him. Back at his shop in Sherwood the guys are currently preparing for their first time at the Goose Fair.

                                              Sam from JT Beedham awaits another order.

I also had a chat with my friend Ade Andrews famous around Nottingham and beyond as Robin Hood and Ezekial Bone the best ghost story teller in the Midlands. He was having a busy day as Robin Hood and he said that he had been reading my blogs and really enjoying my writing. Check out Ade's website at for a great flavour of what he does.

All around me people were enjoying the event, the food, the music, the local beers in the beer tent and the glorious weather. Here are a few pictures I took to document the time I spent at the event. I shall certainly be going back today to enjoy the Great Notts Show.


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A chat with award winning Johnny Pusztai - a proper butcher.

I recently met up with the affable and award winning Nottinghamshire butcher Johnny Pusztai at the Festival of Food and Drink at Clumber Park and arranged to pop into his business (JT Beedham) on Mansfield Road in Sherwood near Nottingham for a chat about his business and in particular to check out the charcuterie side of his butcher's shop. The shop website is certainly worth checking out for a great overview of what this fantastic butcher and his loyal team are all about. Click back here after you have read about my time with Johnny today...

The wonderful Johnny Pusztai

First of all it would be very appropriate to say that Johnny's passions for what he does are very evident in meeting with and chatting to him. In my opinion he is a proper butcher - knowledgeable - friendly - passionate to be the best - diverse in offering something traditional and yet modern and expansive in terms of his other business at . BBQunique offers his meat products and more for small private parties to weddings, events and special occasions. His fantastic meat products have won him numerous awards within the food industry and he even has the Michelin starred Sat Bains as a regular trade customer. His meat is very high quality and locally farmed and his ranges of sausages are Gold Award Winning Speciality sausages. He encourages his staff to take their job seriously but also to have fun and be creative. His latest apprentice, Joel has just won Butcher's Apprentice of the Year and JT Beedham's sausage range is now graced with Joel's own sausage recipe based on Haggis and they have named it Haggis McJoel!

Joel with his sausages.

Haggis McJoel sausages! How cool are they!?
So, Johnny was very welcoming and showed me around the prep room of his shop in Sherwood, plus the air drying cellar and the smoke room. We also had a smashing mug of tea made by young Sam and a scrummy bacon cob from Johnny's own bacon. You couldn't ask for more!

The meat fridge was chocker with the carcasses of pork, beef and short legged lamb and Johnny explained to me about the longevity of the hanging/maturing process for each type of animal carcass. He believes that the shorter legged lambs provide better value for the customers and are from his own farm at Wellow. The hind quarter meat is hung much longer than the fore-quarter ( fores being used mainly for braising and stewing) and the pork sides come into the shop at about twenty eight weeks old and the bacon pigs at about thirty-eight weeks. We discussed that the pork for supermarkets would be sold on a counter at about twenty two weeks old. A lot of the business at JT Beedhams is sausage related including many European and Eastern European inspired sausages, smoked and otherwise and mostly pork based. Only natural casings are ever used for the sausage skins. An exception would be the lamb based merguez sausages that for such a skinny sausage have a lot in them like, Hungarian paprika, cumin, white salt, oregano, crushed black pepper, garlic and crushed cloves.

Meat fact: In the early 1990s there were about twenty thousand registered butchers businesses in the UK. Today there are about six and a half thousand in the UK.

From the meat chiller we ventured down some steep stairs into the shop cellar where Johnny has re-created a traditional Pince (pronounced like Pin sah)  - a temperature controlled room where the meats are air dried and sometimes preserved in brine baths. As Johnny Pusztai said to me with a cheeky grin, "This is where the magic happens!" The smell was truly heavenly for anyone like myself who loves smoked products. The Pince is modelled on one that his grandfather would have had back in Hungary and Johnny explained that the air dried meats would have been stored on one side of the room and oak barrels of red Tokaji  (tokay) wine on the other. The oak from the barrels might well have a been a contributory factor to the taste of the meats. Johnny said that traditionally this would have been a very male environment with no females allowed. A funnel would have gone into the back of the room or cellar from the outside world to let the air circulate and bacon, sausages, and other dry cured meats would have been stored there along with fruits at about six degrees centigrade to ensure freshness and this temperature was also perfect for storing the Tokaji wine. We also spoke about the salt element and the drawing process of curing. I was left for a few minutes to take a few pictures (not my best I admit) whilst Johnny asked one of the members of his hospitable staff to make a cuppa for us. Regarding the air drying and the smoking processes Johnny put a lot of emphasis on the present day provenance of the meats and the past historical methods used by his Hungarian ancestors and their contempories  in the world of charcuterie.

Johnny had to take a couple of phone calls so I had my cuppa and bacon cob and then we tasted some of the new sausage mix based on pork, leeks and chilli. Our tasting was part of what they always do at the shop. The mix is completed and then they cook up a patty of the sausage mix, taste and improve if necessary. This one was sweet to begin with then you got an explosion of the chilli as a back taste. Very nice it was too!!

                                   Preparing and trimming the pork for the sausage mixes.

At the back of the shop we had a brief look at the smoking box where a fusion of dry and weathered fruit tree wood (taken from the Beedham orchard) and charcoal is burnt very slowly in two twelve hour sessions to impart the hung meats with a sweet smoky flavour. Layers of wood and charcoal, more wood and charcoal very slowly burn until the process sets the other element off.

Johnny wanted to tell me some more about his business so we went upstairs to his kitchens above the shop to chat some more. Johnny said that the key to the success of the business at JT Beedham's is about the fact that they take the time and love to produce products of great quality through the crafts of butchery, salting, curing and charcuterie.

Every year there runs a competition called British Sausage Week and amongst this is a part called Iconic Sausage which butchers can enter sausages depicting a, or about a, noble British person or event, past or present. Johnny and his team have been entering this competition and have had great pride and fun in presenting their sausage entry.  I had to smile as he told me all about their entry in which they depicted Christopher Hoy the great British and Olympic cyclist through the medium of bangers. Firstly they created a cycle tyre out of sausage in a circle and then created the spokes with long small sausages within. Another idea was for the  sausages filled with haggis ingredients for Burns night (a winner in 2012) and this year they have created a sausage made from the ingredients normally found in a spring roll with added pork and the linked items they called (and I laughed out loud at this!) the Orient Express! The judging of any sausage competition would be, of course, down to the palates of the panel. As Johnny said "One judge might prefer the taste of a Lincolnshire sausage to one of my spring roll sausages but for us there are two key things in our sausage production and those are honesty and consistency ."

Finally, Johnny intrigued me with the notion - apparently true - that the Romans originally  nicked the idea for air dried hams like those we know of and from Bayonne, Spain, or Palma ham from the Welsh! I will have to look into that one for sure!

            "Yep really Phil, the Romans stole the idea of air drying ham from the Welsh. Honest"

I had a wonderful hour or so at Johnny's shop and in the company of him and his great team and I look forward to meeting him again this weekend at the Great Notts Show in the city's Market Square. For the future we have discussed the notion of me doing a day in their shop and maybe having a 'Phil makes his own sausage recipe day' with a bangers and mash meal for the staff!

I couldn't leave without purchasing some of the wonderful sausages, pork and bacon on display. This is the air dried bacon, merguez sausages and Haggis McJoel sausages. As I unwrapped them at home they smelt fresh and fantastic. I can't stop sniffing them! Thanks guys - you are all proper butchers at JT Beedhams!

Now go back to the top of the blogpost and click on the link for the JT Beedham shop website and do go there if you get the chance. You won't regret it.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Festival of Food and Drink at Clumber Park - a great day.

Ok, I need to get this bit out of the way first so that the rest of the day is put into perspective. I woke up at 5am and couldn't get back to sleep. At 10am two burly men arrived at my house with a new gas cooker all packaged up in protective wrapping. I signed for the new cooker and then I was free to go out and do what I had planned -visit the food festival at Nottinghamshire's beautiful Clumber Park. I don't drive so I got a bus into Nottingham - walked through the city to the Victoria bus station and, as timing would have it, waited only ten minutes for the Ollerton bus to take me on a two hour journey to North Notts and to the venue at Clumber Park. The day looked like it was going to be sunny. I was dressed for the winter but, hey ho. The bus took its mainly elderly passengers on a rather circuitous route through Sherwood and further on, through some pretty villages and a lot of countryside. Brown tourist signs for Clumber Park frustratingly came and went out of sight to taunt me. It seemed like we would never get there.

A sweet grey haired old lady passenger got off part way and promised to ask the driver to tell me when we had reached the stop for Clumber Park. I yawned a lot on the journey through tiredness. The bus eventually arrived at a stop in the middle of no-where (well, the middle of the outskirts of Clumber Park actually). I was confused and getting grumpy. It didn't help that the driver then told me that busses were every two hours. A few other people were behind me as I crossed the road to witness a never ending road going through the park and no sign of a Food Festival in sight.

I walked and walked and walked and walked getting more tetchy with each heavy step. God damn it! I just wanted a nice day out in order to blog about the Food and Drink Festival. I stopped and let the three others get closer so I didn't feel quite so alone in the walking miles punishment experience. At this point I introduced myself to a young woman who turned out to be a masters student at Nottingham University and hadn't been in the UK for more than a few days. She was very nice and I became less and less grumpy as we both laughed and moaned about the endless walk together. Her name was Kathy. It gets much better from this point and you will get to read about food, I promise. Thanks for being with me so far. Incidentally, we had walked down this road for at least forty-five minutes. In a car, the medium in which most sensible people arrived, it would have taken five minutes. We did see a lot of trees, no litter and tarmac. Eventually other people came into view which was somewhat encouraging.

Finally the festival ground itself came into sight and we got ourselves into the Food and Drink Festival. It was pretty busy and while I was talking to one of the organisers about my intention of blogging about the event I lost Kathy in the crowds but I was sure that we would bump into each other along the way. She had spoken about getting something to eat. I guess you are thinking by now, "So how was it? The food! The food! Tell us about the food!" It was excellent actually and with the pleasant weather and great food and drink stalls all my tiredness vanished and I became my normal friendly and enthusiastic self.
It was past midday so the event was pretty busy with families enjoying the convivial atmosphere and of course, the food and drink. I made a bee line to the award winning butcher, Johnny Pusztai follow each other on Twitter and I work with meat too) and I introduced myself. He was very down to earth and agreed to have a photo taken with one of his customers and even offered to give me and the missing Kathy a lift back to Nottingham if we were stuck. Genuinely nice guy. I want to chat with him another time about the charcuterie aspect of his business. At the event Johnny was manning his own butcher's tent and also hosting two events in the Cookery Theatre. And my, his meat products did look good. Very good. Later on I had a sausage cob with a couple of Johnny Putzai's award winning pork sausages. They were very meaty and they tasted just fabulous. I may well pop into Beedham's shop in Sherwood next week to get some more!
I spoke to several of the exhibitors as I made my way round and am delighted to say that every one of them seemed very proud of what they did and the large Food Exhibitors' marquee with over sixty-five stands was constantly busy. This is 'constantly busy' with people engaging with the owners and buying products a plenty not folk - just looking. They were doing a very brisk trade. These are just a few of the lovely people I managed to chat to about their businesses.

This friendly pair are called Suzzane and Matthew and their company - Riverford Organic Farms - produce a variety of organic veg boxes full of seasonal products as well as fruit bags and salad boxes to top up the veg order and if you want to sort out the week's veg and meat in one fell swoop they do mixed boxes for one to two people, two to three people and three to four people. They spoke enthusiastically about their work and the provenance of the food and food miles saved. They also do eggs, milk, butter, yoghurt, cheddar cheese and crème fraiche. Through the seasons they offer some seasonal treats such as romanesco, venison, chard and muscat grapes in September to cavolo nero and swede in November. Their delivery is free and comes with a friendly smile.

I spoke with this charming and eloquent couple from Liza Bakes based near to Chesterfield and they spoke passionately about their business and the ingredients that go into their cakes and the fact that they promote a local Stilton like cheese alongside the cakes. They always use butter in the cakes and whenever possible, fresh locally sourced ingredients like fruit and free range eggs supplied by Ayres on Chesterfield Market, wheat flours from Cauldwell's Mill at Rowsley, Derbyshire. Their dried fruits, nuts and spices and specialist sugars they source from Lembas near Sheffield. They avoid using artificial flavours or colourings. I sampled the Lemon Drizzle cake and the Brampton fruit and Ale cake with some of the cheese. Yummy.

On the way round the Food Exhibitors' marquee I was intrigued by these colourful jars and on enquiry discovered that they were jars of cookie mix produced by Crazymoosejars. They have a facebook presence at THIS LINK. Love the aprons guys!

I bought a fantastic pork pie (tasty pork, slightly peppery, good jelly and succulent pastry) from the Redhill Farm stand who produce free range pork products all to be drooled over at their website and business three miles north of Gainsborough between Morton and Laughton. This company have recently won the Lincolnshire Co-operative People's Choice Award 2013 and at the presentation dinner their free range pork did them proud! You can view all about their successful business at or follow them on Twitter @RedhillFarmPork.

                                                              Redhill Farm pork pie.

I suppose I would naturaly gravitate towards the meat based stands but there was plenty of other food and drink products to choose from and to buy. I was amazed to bump into an actress friend of mine working on her musician boyfriend's parents wine English wine stand. Natalia was very busy so I only had a few minutes to say hello.

                                                Natalia working on the English wines stand

Outside the Food Exhibitors marquee was getting busier as the afternoon went by with people attracted by such by the look and smell of the food on stands such as Crepe Lucette, Ostriche Direct, Romano Coffee, Malong Lai Thai Cuisine, Las Paelleras with their huge paella dishes cooking and steaming away, Bofs Hoggs and the popular Red Bus bar serving beers, lagers and Pimms. Among over twenty outside stalls was one whose company name really made me smile - The Floppy Chicken Company.

This guy was a very amusing ex butcher selling a brand of knife sharpeners

                                      A family from Ollerton out enjoying the food and the day.


 All the time I had been happily wandering around in foodie heaven I had been thinking about my new American friend Kathy and just as I passed the music tent she appeared. We spent the rest of the afternoon together at the event and she was, and continued to be, wonderful intelligent female company for the remainder of the event and on the long forty five minute back walk out of the park. Our chat continued on the unexpected (going the wrong way but at least on a bus) bus trip to Worksop and a coffee break at Costa Cofee and then the two hour bus journey back to Nottingham that, to be honest, flew by, so convivial was her company and conversation.

To finish off I must mention that the festival was a great hit for me. Despite my initial (and unusual) grumpiness at the start of the journey through tiredness, the company; the foodie atmosphere; the chance to watch John Burton-Race demonstrating in the cookery theatre, the sight of young children being taught some pizza making cookery skills by The School of Artisan Food and the very fact that all the producers were so alive within their arts and keen to promote themselves with a big smile makes me even keener to go to the Food Festival at Donnington Park in early December.

Many thanks to The National Trust, Delicious Magazine, Great Taste Festivals and The Guild of Fine Food and to the organisers at Clumber Park for a fab day with food and drink.

John Burton-Race demonstrating.

Friday, 20 September 2013

A sad goodbye to an old friend. It's been a gas.

This is our last weekend together dear old friend. We have wept together over spilt milk, we've cooked up a storm, created many a stew, burnt a few curries and the occasional cake. You have been my comfort and my joy and life with you has been a gas. Eleven years! Who'd have thought it!? I will always recall how you gleamed and smiled whenever I finally got round to cleaning out your oven. You never once complained when I turned up the heat, drank too much wine or splattered hot food on you. But life for an old cooker doesn't last forever. I wouldn't want you to suffer and well ... how can I put this?
Mr Indesit IS50GW will taking be your role on from Monday next. There I've said it.  Good luck in all you do. Adieu, my Leisure 50 friend. Adieu. Sob. Love you!

PS: I'll always have this picture to remember you by. Sniff, sniff.

Roast belly pork and Puy lentils

I had intended to make a dish using belly pork and Puy lentils that I found through watching Rick Stein's tv show, French Odyssey. It is called petit sale aux lentilles (salt pork with lentils). I had the belly pork already in my freezer and had it thawed out in my fridge. Unfortunately for this dish one needs to rub a dry salt cure into the meat and cover in cling film in the fridge for four hours. I had forgotten this was the case and neither had any salt cure or the time to prepare such a dish yesterday.

So I turned to another recipe in a small book of recipes called Frugal Feasts published by the Delicious magazine. It was simplicity itself.

                                 Bouquet garni of bay leaves, celery leaves and flat leaved parsley

I used a kilo of boneless belly pork in the piece, scored the skin with a sharp kitchen knife and rubbed sea salt into the skin and surface flesh. The oven had been pre-heated to Gas Mark 6. I roughly chopped an onion and some celery for the pork to sit on in the open casserole dish and added a small amount of sunflower oil to the surface of the pork. I also made a bouquet garni and tucked it under the pork to flavour the juices. In it went for an hour. When I took it out for a baste, the skin had already started to crisp up in that lovely ruddy brown way and, as per the recipe, I upped the temperature to Gas Mark 7 for the final half hour. To add a bit of meaty variety I added a couple of bratwurst to the pork dish. They had been in the fridge for a couple of days so I didn't want to waste them.

The Puy lentils were a doddle. I had purchased a bag of  'ready to eat' Gourmet Puy lentils a while ago and they were an easy 'drop into boiling water for ten minutes' boil in the bag type of option.

Another time I shall prepare myself properly and try out the petit sale aux lentilles, a recipe that also recommends putting smoked sausage with the dish as well as red wine and diagonally chopped vegetables. Sounds yummy.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The release of Rachel Khoo's new book - My Little French Kitchen.

Owly Images

I love Rachel Khoo's work and I'm looking forward to seeing her new book 'Rachel Khoo - My Little French Kitchen' when it gets released on the 10th October 2013.

'Taking her 'Little Paris Kitchen' on tour in her second official book, Rachel leaves Paris to travel throughout France in search of the very best recipes in the country. From the snow-topped mountains and Christmas markets of Alsace to the winemaking region of the Bordeaux, the dreamy vistas of Provence and the well-stocked larders of Brittany and Normandy. Rachel seeks inspiration in some of the best-known foodie places as well as uncovering and sharing hidden insights. Recipes include: pork and clams with cider and butter beans, spicy aubergine sticks with couscous, baked figs with walnuts, beer-glazed ham hock, caramelized apple bake and spiced almond biscuits.' (source: Amazon)

I have been trying to find out if there is a telly series connected with the book (I'm assuming so) but have no news on that front. I'm keeping my eyes peeled (that always sounds so painful!) on Rachel Khoo's website and through Twitter. By the way if any readers want to follow me on Twitter I am there at PhilLowe7. See ya there.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Great British Baking - in France

I'm not a baker myself but I have a lovely friend Jean who lives to bake and I would highly recommend a visit to her blog for inspiration. She also lives some of the time in France so her cakes and tarts can have a French flavour. The last blog post she did had me practically licking the screen to savour her quiche! Then there are the tarts, the flammekeuche, the bread the cakes!!

So without further ado here is a link to Jean's blog. Happy baking!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

La Cuisine de ma Mère et la cabane de mon Père. (Mum's kitchen – dad's shed)

Mama et Papa Lowe weren't French and our family didn't live a beautiful, turn of the 20th century, Provençal style existence romanticised by Marcel Pagnol, writer of books with a similar title to mine above. Cicadas never ever clicked charmingly away over the summer evening landscape of 1970s Chaddesden, near Derby. Olive oil never graced our food. In fact, the only oil to fragrance the air would have been the liberally applied Ambre Soleil sun cream oil basting the adult sunbathers in our petit jardin, the adults all determined to reach a level of incinerated brown tan achieved by BBCs popular 1970s 'Holiday Programme' presenters, Judith Chalmers, Cliff Mitchelmore or Frank Bough.Whereas for our early 1970s Derby folk, olive oil was reserved for ear aches and purchased from the chemist, not for a piquant salad dressing, for goodness sake. Pourtant, the title I have chosen does refer to a romantic notion of the place my step mum liked to inhabit and the place my dad could most likely be found, apart from the bookies or the toilet - picking his horses.

Yes, I refer to the domestic kitchen and the garden shed. Both of these were within shouting distance of each other, barring selective deafness or next door's ultra loud Alsatian dog, the unfortunately named, Nigger, having a barking fit at Misty the Russian Blue cat, traversing their dog poo encrusted lawn, delicately.

The kitchen at Redcar Gardens was tiny, as were many bijou kitchens across the vast Council housing estate. So tiny you would have a hard job swinging the proverbial cat around. The small back window opened to permit the interminable rubber hosepipe gain access to the cold tap and also, to allow both the adventurous feline Misty, and various unwanted insects, free entrance and, sudden death by fly swatter or rolled up newspaper. The insects that is, not Misty.

The kitchen cupboards were rammed full of kitchen paraphernalia such as: baking trays of various sizes, bun tins, cake tins, casseroles, flan tins, loaf tins, ramekins, pie dishes ceramic or otherwise, mixing bowls and pudding basins, milk jugs, jelly moulds, ring moulds and pie moulds. Not forgetting all that was needed to make jam and preserves such as clean jam jars, rubber bands, paper lids, labels, jam thermometers, two large, battle scarred, stainless steel preserving pans and a brown paper bagful of circular inserts to place on the surface of the cooked jam. I believe we also had something called a Charlotte mould too. What that did I don't know. On the kitchen side itself was a green coloured metallic bread bin (BREAD emblazoned in Army white across the curved cover) and a tea caddy and fancy tea spoon and a brown tea pot suitable for six.

Delve into the myriad of drawers in this 1970s kitchen and you were likely to find all sorts of treasures that would be a veritable boon for today's collectors of 'quaint' vintage collectables. Here would reside the: apple corer, ball scoop, cheese slicer, egg slicer doubling as a childhood mini harp instrument, various relatively blunt knifes with bone handles passed down from granny Lowe and granny Hanson, a rusty potato peeler, a knife steel with finger guard, an old fashioned can opener, a host of pastry cutters all collected together in the order of size, a bottle opener, a bizarre screw top jar opener that no-one could fathom out how to use, a fish slice or two and other assorted cutlery items fashioned in Sheffield stainless steel.

Pots and pans would be stored nearest the gas oven for easy access. The chip pan had permanent pride of residence on top of the cooker itself and later on a new fangled pressure cooker fought for cooker top dominance. The chip pan spat dangerously and bubbled away in unbridled temperament, the pressure cooker hissed back, violently and threatened to have a mega hissy fit. Misty, the terrified cat, ran for cover. The chip pan won and after a short trial period the pressure cooker was brought out only for special occasions. A certain smugness came from the pressure cooker however as it came with its own special booklet - albeit in code more devious than any used in World War Two espionages.

Some things have a certain je ne sais quoi about them and a fondness felt towards them by the family, based, perhaps, on good times or lean times or both. The extendible toasting fork was the main benefactor of this loving notion of  'family goodwill towards certain kitchen tools'. It had been with the Lowe family way before my step mum and her two daughters arrived mid 1960s and I have fond memories of toasting bread with it on the warming coal fire in the otherwise chilly front room of my previous childhood home on Perth Street in Chaddesden. This was with my dad after my birth mother, Marjorie, had passed away from a brain tumour. I was about nine years old and my dad and me sat toasting bread to have spread with lard and salt as a treat one Christmas Eve. Lettuce sandwiches with salt were another favourite. Yes folks – just lettuce and table salt. The lettuce was likely to have been grown in my dad's cold frame at the bottom of the garden on Perth Street. Any slug trails would have been removed by the application of water from the tap in the kitchen before eating. Did I tell you about the freshly dropped horse dung we collected to encourage the roses to grow? Mention that to a few of the cosseted young people I know and they would drop their precious mobile phones in horror! Another world...

And so time goes by in a proverbial dusting of flour; the kitchen clock spins frantically towards the future and in the cramped kitchen of our fast forwarding history lesson, the garish, Nouveau Domestique aspirant - late 1960s - wallpaper at number four Redcar Gardens saw many a cake made and the vinyl work top cluttered with aspic cutters, biscuit cutters, injured gingerbread characters – some maimed for life, flour sifters, damp forcing bags, nutcrackers redolent of Christmas and floury pastry boards, wooden rolling pins and sharp pastry cutters, tongs and jelly bags and a plethora of plastic icing nozzles parading like miniature Pierrot clown hats.

                                                      Egg slicer and mini harp style instrument

There would have been many a Tupperware bowl or re-seal-able container to house all the things that needed housing and kept dry including, much to my step mum's chagrin, some rusty old nails that had escaped from my dad's shed. Elsewhere, storage room was found for all the major pots and pans, the well used and greased roasting tins, the dilapidated, battered and reluctantly flaking white-green colander, an even more battered selection of various gauge sieves, the ubiquitous frying pans and rolls of grease proof paper and silver foil as well as stacks of paper, sit up and beg nicely, cases for all the potential fairy cakes. And finally the cat food bowls for Misty the cat and dog food bowls for his friendly dog amis, Mick the dog. Even Mick the dog had a connection with food as he was of the variety known as Heinz 57 – of unknown parentage.

And so to la cabine de mon père, namely the garden shed that sat at the end of the garden path that my father made – yes he made a garden path from concrete as well as fancy bricks to create garden boarders. The bricks were made with moulds and he made hundreds of them to grace our garden and the garden at Perth Street. If ever I pass the Perth Street garden (which is rare these days) I always smile to myself that those bricks are still there fifty-three years on. I would love to knock of the door of the present owner and tell them but would hate to think they don't care.

Le histoire la cabine de mon père. The story of the shed of my father. (lit trans)

                                                      The shed she looked a bit like zis

The flat roofed shed would have been purchased not long after we all moved into number four as a family – somewhere about 1967. It was needed to house all the gardening stuff but also as a repository for a large Victorian chest of drawers that belonged to my dad's deceased foster parents  – the Lowes. The chest of drawers took up a large part of the floor space of the shed and my dad being somewhat one who loved to hoard (“It'll come in useful one day son - mark my words.”), the formerly fine chest of drawers began to deteriorate and slum it and became the space all the junk got put into. Rusty nails, old screws, old tools, embittered bits of string, sad decaying rubber bands, unknown items 'borrowed' from Rolls Royce, measures, rules, compasses, new bits of twine and string, Donald Duck memorabilia, rough rasping files and practical trowels with fine turned wooden handles and so on all got stored in and around the accepting chest of drawers. Hammers and saws and screw drivers all hung expectantly on hooks or doubled up nails on a large piece of hardboard at the back of the shed. Each tool had its outline transcribed in felt pen so that that it knew its place on the board. The six family push bikes vied for extremely limited floor space in front of the chest of drawers plus my new little brother's scooter and pedal car. Every morning as I went to work in my job at Bosworths aged sixteen it would take me at least ten  minutes just to get at my bike and untangle the rest. Even the spiders who liked to live in the shed and spin undisturbed grey brown webs were fighting for space.

My dad would collect anything and hoard it away in the confines of the Tardis-like shed. Hundreds of canes would be suspended from the ceiling along with strips of 'apparently' re-usual scraps of timber and the bloody creaking shed only measured about six feet by six with a maximum height of eight feet. He also collected old coins and had biscuit tins full of them in the recesses of the shed. They turned out to be worthless financially but an interesting look back on old coinage. Yes that shed was very cramped. In fact a U boat full of skinny sailors would be less cramped.

One winter in the late 1970s there was a night of terrible wind. Not the baked beans I assure you but wind like in a mini tornado. It was very dramatic I tell you. The manic fury of the tornedo attempted to tear the roof off the shed but my dad and me managed to strap it down with rope and secure it in order for it to live another day. Cruelly we laughed as the neighbour's greenhouse twisted and shattered in the storm.

If there was an identifiable smell that came from the shed it would be a combination of oil, fresh cut grass from the push along lawn mower and that of just cut timber. In the summer the heat from the sun penetrating the shed would accentuate the combined male smell.

My dad would spend hours tinkering in his beloved shed and greenhouse and as he grew older (before and after his retirement) he started making wooden models and renewed his interest in crocheted pictures, something he had enjoyed doing and learning about in his National Service years as a younger man.


Monday, 2 September 2013

More food memories from the 1960s and 1970s.

Memories from the past often trigger other memories especially where food is concerned and since I recently wrote the popular blogpost "What we ate in the 1960s and 1970s" more food thoughts have come to me that I'd like to share with you now.

We British have some interesting names for our food dishes that are passed down from generation to generation. These include 'Bubble and Squeak' a Monday way of using up the leftover cold meats and vegetables from Sunday lunch by frying them: 'Toad in the Hole' sausages in Yorkshire pudding and loads of Bisto gravy: 'Fly Pie' another name for buttery and sugary Eccles cakes that have loads of currants in them (hence the fly lookalikes) and of course that pudding that makes everyone smile, 'Spotted Dick' a steamed pudding with currants and usually served hot with warm custard. Our family enjoyed all of these in the 1960s and 1970s. We kids once discovered the rudely named,  'Cock - a – leekie soup, and giggled about the name for months. In fact we were terrible gigglers at the dinner table and often got reprimanded by my strict and old fashioned father. Like all daft teenagers we'd want to snigger even more as he went redder and redder in his exasperation of trying to control us. Bless him.

We also had some silly names for some desserts including Jelly and Blank Monkey (Blancmange) and Dandelion and Bird Muck for the soft drink Dandelion and Burdock. I'm sure there were more besides. When my step mum made a trifle she would be very liberal with the colourful hundreds and thousands and those edible little silver balls. As our parents were only occasional drinkers of alcohol the sherry put in the trifle wasn't so liberal at all. Barely a sniff in fact.

Cheap meals were often an economic staple in the Lowe family diet and included a lot of meals like beans on toast; cheese on toast that bubbled away under the grill and was also called Welsh rarebit; macaroni cheese; pigs liver and onions with mashed potatoes; bangers and mash; scrambled eggs on toast awash with brown sauce; home made sausage meat pie; corned beef hash; plenty of Heinz or Cross and Blackwell's tinned soups but mainly cream of tomato, cream of chicken, oxtail and vegetable. To bulk the soup out we children were encouraged to eat lots of fluffy, thick sliced and processed white Hovis bread with it and slurping the hot soup was a heinous crime. The punishment for regular slurp disobedience was being sent to bed early – without any supper. The supper would be cheddar cheese and crackers with Branston's pickle. Occasionally we would go food barmy and have a choice of Cheddar cheese or Red Leicester or a white crumbly cheese like Derby or Derby Sage.

We also had plenty of beef stew type dinners or variations of. These were usually quite simple cooking but the stew and dumplings, the steak and kidney puddings, the beef and lamb casseroles and slightly more kitchen time consuming, Lancashire hot pots were all delicious and the memory of them forms some of my most pleasurable cooking methods today.

Meat joints such as a shoulder of lamb cooked on the bone or a rib beef joint or part leg of pork for roasting were purely the preserve of the Sunday dinner table and unaffordable to have in the week as well.

My step mum used to bake a lot and there always seemed to be constant supply of jam tarts and lemon curd tarts as well as sponge cakes, fruit bread and scones. And when the times for celebrating Christmas came around each year she would make the fruity and very alcoholic Christmas cake well in advance and it would sit in the pantry in a cake tin for seemingly months before December came around. To have a 'shop bought' cake in the house was unheard of if she could make a better one herself at home. So from her industrious hands and mixing bowl came, Victoria Sponges, Gingerbread, Dundee Cake, Coconut Castles, Pineapple and Cherry loaves, Swiss Tarts, Rock Buns and many a Chocolate Layer Cake! The only things that were shop bought were cheap Swiss Rolls and the Saturday treat of cream cakes from Birds the Baker. Otherwise all was home made and us kids queued up to lick out the pastry bowl or nick (with permission) bits of marzipan when the Christmas cake or a birthday cake was being made. My dad rarely did any cooking but he did enjoy making cheese sticks, gingerbread men and Bread and Butter pudding. Bread and butter pudding is a dish made with slightly stale buttered bread, sultanas, the grated rind of a lemon, two eggs, caster sugar and a pint of milk. It smelt great as it came out of the gas cooker and it was a particular family favourite. Incidentally the stale bread crusts were always removed.

                                                            Dawn, Angela and me.

Every year the family excitedly looked forward to Shrove Tuesday when we made and tossed pancakes and covered them in lemon juice from Jif lemons and lots of Demerara sugar. Why we used the plastic Jif lemon containers instead of real lemons I'm not sure.

                                                  Dad with blackberries collected locally.

My step mum often had the complaint that she bought in weekly supplies of fruit like apples, oranges, crisp pears and bananas and very little of it got eaten by us kids. There was a range of fruit that never graced our dining table and they were Ugli fruits, Persimmons, Paw Paws, Lychees, Limes, Mangoes, Kumquats, Greengages, and Figs. These all appear in a Reader's digest 1970s cookery book that I have on my shelf and they must have been available somewhere in the UK but presumably not something that our family or many other Chaddesden based working class families enjoyed or needed back then.

We had apricots, fruit salad, nectarines, peaches and pineapples rings or chunks from tins and occasionally a real live pineapple might make its way to our table. Gooseberries were grown from the bush, dates and nuts came around during the Christmas season, damsons were scrummaged from local orchards or former orchards in Breadsall Village. We might have had a melon or two but never ever had continental ham with it! Far too pretentious and Abigail's Party-esque.