Tuesday 7 January 2014

Receipts and Artichokes

Until the mid-50s, with many non-luxury foods still limited, producing an interesting meal required patience and imagination and occasionally, even courage (hence the badger.) By the age of twelve, both my interest on the food-front as well as my ability in the kitchen, had increased considerably. Domestic-Science at school had been well taught but it wasn't until after leaving - having been accepted by a nearby Art School - that my culinary talents moved on. With no specific plans for the remainder of the summer (the words "gap-year" had yet to surface) I became part of Mother's new project, a Victorian country pub and restaurant - or 'Grill-Room'  - in Kent. With extra help always needed and catering staff having long been a transient lot, there was no shortage of work, but as our chefs attachment to the bottle had finally overtaken his attachment to the job, after a spell of waiting on table, I was slotted in.
This probably sounds more difficult than it was, but a grill-room, by its very definition, meant a simple menu. Starters were seasonal and uncomplicated - usually soup, melon or grapefruit, complete  with - yes - the glace cherry; or a small plate of assorted hors d'eouvre - followed by a steak: rump or fillet, or two large chump chops, or a mixed grill. This most popular dish comprised a lamb chop, lamb's kidney, a sausage, a rasher of bacon and a 'minute' steak - its size meant it cooked in just a minute - all garnished with a sprig of parsley, a grilled tomato and a mushroom - and served with chips or new potatoes and a green vegetable (side-salads being seldom requested in the '50s). There would  then be a choice of  (three) cold desserts, cheese and coffee.
'Speed' I decided - hmm - as opposed to haute cuisine, would see me through. After several crash-courses taken throughout my working life, this first, from Mother, soon had me producing edible rare, medium, and (trickiest of all ) well-done, but still palatable, steaks : and proper soups, involving, in those blenderless days, a good stock-pot and a selection of sieves and wooden spoons. Soon, following a formula of preparation, organisation and synchronisation; plus deep sinkfuls of hot, soapy water and the help of  'Carrie at number two' (the pub came with three cottages) a workable pattern of sorts began to emerge - except on Saturday nights when, heavily booked, I simply floundered my way through, incapable of even recognizing the word 'organized'.
By today's catering standards we were pathetically under-equipped, although the kitchen housed two cookers: a normal-sized domestic gas cooker and a temperamental solid-fuel Rayburn, which sulked when the wind didn't suit (virtually every other day). A massive double-doored catering 'fridge took care of hygiene and into this - terrified of killing our customers that first sticky summer - I would cram just about anything remotely classifiable as perishable. On top of this machine stood, alongside a caged, blue Budgie - much beloved of my sister - a large china bowl, into which Mother, when she remembered, would toss bills and receipts.
Before long, the contents of this usually overflowing container, requiring from time to time the attention of 'Lovely Gerald' our-oh-so-patient accountant, would redistribute itself throughout the works at the back of the machine, as well as across the surface of the floor beneath. When summoned, Gerald, one of |Mother's oldest and most devoted friends and  (would-be lover, though never encouraged) would appear and with little more than a resigned sigh and a nod, murmur 'Time to move, Bev.' Together we would heave, from side to side, the big, white monster, rocking it back and fore until every scrap of paper had been safely harvested into brown paper carriers.

Artichoke Soup. (for 4)
500grm Jerusalem Artichokes - scraped and par boiled
2 med. sized leeks  - cleaned, chopped and sauteed in mix of oil and butter (2 tabsp. Oil,/20grm butter.
1 med. aubergine sliced and cooked in oil & butter (20grm butter 2 tab.sp oil)
5-6 med. sized mushrooms -chopped
900mls good chicken stock
Place all veg together (incl. cooked veg) in baking tin and cook in mod. Oven 15/20 mins.
Cool and liquidise  with stock-boost
Add scant full-cream milk:300ml.
Season to taste.

from "Singing to the Goldfish" by Bev Pettifar

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