It's the half term holiday tomorrow and we're all packing to go to Grandma's. The kids are looking forward to it, as always. And almost their main reason for looking forward to it is that Grandma will have made little buns with special things on, like maltesers and large chocolate buttons, especially for them. The day we turn up and the tins are not filled to brimming with little treats, woe betide Grandma - i expect they'll pack up their little rucksacks and want to go back home. Such is the inevitable routine. And when i think back to my Granparents' visits, i remember i could always be relied upon to help my Granny with her unpacking. Emptying brown paper bags of fragrant oranges and tins of chocolate-covered Nutty Slack (a particular Northern treat, like flapjack made with coconut and raisins)
These are our memories of the people we love, then. Not just the birthdays, the weddings, picnics and holidays, but particular foods we attach to our memories about them.
My Grandpa was a wonderful man, firm but fair and with a wicked sweet tooth. With no teeth of his own left, we kids would line up at the bathroom door to watch Grandpa take his teeth out to scrub them with a nailbrush and soap. "Quick, Grandpa's taking his teeth out", we would call. On long walks up the Rottington road, in the little village where i grew up in West Cumberland, Grandpa always had a golden-wrapped butterscotch secreted in a pocket somewhere when little legs were flagging. He taught me the names of all the wild flowers in the hedgerows; and ragged robin, silverwort and birdsfoot trefoil remain with me to this day.
Back home it was straight to the biscuit tin - a 70's orange flowered barrel which always had a supply of his favourite ginger snaps inside. I like to make them still; a kind of cornish fairing with ginger. And every time i bite into one they remind me of him and the little 1930's house with its polished linoleum floor, and the mangle in the annexe (where all the cooking was done), and the glass-stemmed grapefruit bowls with their fan-shaped spoons. Even in the late 70's and 80's where other homes had moved on, a house that had been bought as new and furnished became a little timepiece. Children don't like change of any sort. The starry red winter curtains must stay. We always had a Steak and Kidney pudding with a blackbird in for my Dad; and no one fried fish like my Granny.
My Grandpa had been a fishmonger and, although he retired long before i remember anything, he used to take me down to the fish quay at North Shields early in the morning to watch the catch being auctioned off in wooden boxes. To see the firm glossy flesh and bright eyes and smell the sweet smell of really fresh fish before the fishiness sets in.
As if you're reading my thoughts, i turn to your diary and see you're making a supper of smoked haddock. This could've been my granny: You say," there is something old-fashioned about a supper of smoked haddock, something redolent of the 1950's, when women wore an apron when they cooked and would get a meal on the table at the same time each day, year in, year out." Even in her 90's, when steered away from the cooking, she made sure the dog got its dinner at 5 o'clock on the dot.
My Granny used to make the most wonderful Bread croissants, with yeast and plenty of fresh butter folded into the dough, and plaited and baked to a golden shine. I used to make them with her but they were a lot of work; delicious to eat and probably extremely bad for you. They knock spots off any shop-bought croissant i've ever since had. I think the yeast-based ones are from a particular province in France, for i've not seen one since.
Enjoy your fish,