Growing up, I planned to be a physical education instructor, or if I got really lucky, to train dolphins and
swim for a living. Swimming is a passion of mine; I wasn’t sure where I would
find dolphins in Shrewsbury, an agriculturally rich town and definitely inland and without any visible
signs of dolphins. I hadn’t got a clue how a small town girl like me would find the kind of money it took to move away and follow one’s dreams. That was the kind of thing other folks did.
I had no plan to work at the local swimming pool. I knew I wanted more than that, Apart from swimming I didn’t have anything else that I figured I could do. Besides, every one can cook, right?
Food service is an interesting profession. You meet all sorts. The workload is demanding, the hours are long and hard. The fun comes from the satisfaction of a job well done and from
working with like minded people who can laugh in the face of adversity, perform well under pressure and love what they do.
I have worked long and hard but I have laughed long and hard also. Working with food is not just a job. It is a way of life.
I can’t say that I was born to cook. I was raised in a family where there were six kids and my mum had to feed us.
She was pretty much on her own. Looking back she was incredibly creative compared to many of my friend’s mothers. There was very little money at home and it would have been easier for her to “just feed us”. Instead she was always
looking at ways to get us interested in what we were eating.
We had to help in the food prep. It wasn’t an option. In a time where boys had boys’ jobs and girls had their jobs,
my mum cut across the entire BS and just got stuck in with handing out the chores. Everything was divided by six. I was raised as an equal to any male. I learned to pluck and draw wood pigeon, guinea fowl, to marinade venison (my grandfather worked part time as a game keeper and this was all free). I was taught how to boil the carcass of fowl,
pick out the shot, (which would crunch on your teeth otherwise) and grate in the vegetables and add barley for soup which was very welcome coming home from school in the winter. We would mix muesli, using all of the odds and sods in
the cupboard in order to stretch the breakfast cereal.
I think my mum was a little ahead of her time in some things. She had a huge leather bound cook book ( which as
tatty as it is now, I was given after she died and I am very proud to own) On her “good days” she and I would sit together and go through the things we would like to make…or the things we would eat when we were rich! Mainly though the
book fell open at cake recipes that you could make with the use of vinegar if you hadn’t got an egg, (after Wednesday there were never anything as choice as eggs left in our house) or her favorite Thursday “fill them up” jam buns. (I hated those things with a passion, I can taste them now. I still cringe when I see them in the bakers’ window when I go back to England.I call them Paupers buns. We always had them when there was nothing else in the house!).
On her good days my mum was very innovative. On her bad days, we learned to be creative. As a result, she raised strong women and my brothers have certainly been able to take care of themselves and their children as well as any female can!
I was going to say mum grew her own vegetables, the reality is, we grew vegetables. We were part of the digging, planting, weeding and watering. Again, I don’t remember any of this being optional. I do however know and appreciate the smell and taste of new potatoes, fresh from the ground. Just boiled and rolled in parsley butter. Served with a hot dinner, freshly picked salad or leftovers. I love fresh or stewed rhubarb. I can eat peas cooked or straight from the pod. I adore fresh
vegetables and can really appreciate good produce and the seasons that deliver it. We were eating beet leaves and the like long before it was hip and fashionable!
So if we wanted to get romantic about this, we could say that I have been involved with food since I was knee high to
a grasshopper! The truth is I have been given food related chores since I was tiny. I am basically a nosey bugger so I couldn’t “just do”. I have always needed to know the ins and outs of a ducks behind, as my mother would say. I have always fallen back on my ability to get in the kitchen, when my regular income needed boosting, or more often than not, when I had no regular income. I love to be creative, and not “just feed them” I have never wanted to “just feed”. If you are going to do something, give it your best and kick ass. I am certainly no Michael Roux or Wolfgang Puck but I am a damn good chef and I give 110%. My food has made a lot of people happy.
A lot of my recipes are in my head. From the egg custard my mum had me make every Sunday morning. The shortbread my
Grandma made without scales. The macaroons Grandma made using her tea cups and egg cups as measurements. I do work with other peoples ideas and play with them. Mostly I carry my own repertoire of tried and trusted basics. Depending
on the situation, I will play with the basic and get a derivative. Just like you would with a mother sauce.
I truly believe that anyone can cook if they are interested. It is the passion that makes things happen. The professional training will give you a broader canvass; it will help you work out how you can take this to the next level, or
where you went wrong. Some things don’t need to go to the next level…they are just wonderful as they are, simple dishes, as you remember them, or as your mother used to make them …just for you. The real key is the love, appreciation and respect you have for food and the desire to share it with your family or friends, just as you do with your hugs and cuddles.
I think my cooking is an extension of myself, a display of my need to share and care for those around me. So to those of you out there who know me, even if I haven’t hugged you in a long time, If I have shared my Espresso Torte with you….you
have no doubt in your mind, that I love you.