So, how did you start to cook ?

Posted on January 13, 2011

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It’s a hard question to answer, “what was the first food you ever cooked ?” because I suppose we all start by helping Mum, helping her stir the Christmas cake batter, helping out by mashing spuds badly.

I used to love to mash the spuds, and my family never grumbled at how badly mashed they were, how was I to know that at age 5 ? I had invented crushed or crumbled potatoes, 35 years before they started to grace Michelin star menus.

The very first thing I remember, or significant thing I remember, cooking from when I was a kid is Vesta Chow Mein. For me there was something magical about it, even the packaging was exciting; the China-man sat cross- legged with his paddy field hat and long drooping moustache looking very much like the evil genius from Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty. The steam rising from the plate in front of him, all topped with crispy noodles, and it was the crispy noodles that held the real magic for me; tiny, thin pasta like bars that changed within seconds to golden, fat, curly gems when dipped in the ubiquitous chip pan, just waiting to be drizzled with soy sauce, and at that time soy sauce was as exotic as you got – certainly in our house. My Dad would not even eat spag boll, deeming it foreign muck but then he also had a pathological aversion to Danny Larue or men dressed as women in general. Many’s the time when we would all have to hold him down to stop him kicking the telly in during a a Royal Variety Performance. Even years later when everybody’s basic dinner party dish was spag boll, if we could get him try it at all, he would insist on eating it with a knife and fork claiming that anything that you did not eat with a knife and fork was “ *** Food” not very PC, but just remember before you judge him too harshly, that this was in the day when the term was in daily use, and programs like Love Thy Neighbour and Till Death us do Part were the biggest shows on TV, and yes, take away Alf Garnets’ glasses, give him another few inches of extra height and change the Cockney accent to broad Yorkshire, that was our dad.

But we get off the point. The chip pan was also a big thing in our house, and coming from a family of six kids, plus Mum and Dad, who were both working full time, you can see why.

A lot of stuff was cooked in it, not just chips; there was fish, chicken, pork chops, fish cakes, croquets of various type, sausages, and remember in those days it was not oil in the chip pan but dripping, this also gave the bonus that when the lard was not in use, with all that good stuff going in, when it had cooled you had a big pan of dripping to spread on bread. My brother Pete, at times, even used to put it on his hair when out of Brillcream !

One of my most vivid memories of the chip pan is not a good one; I was about ten and one day while my older brothers were cooking chips I had a crisp bag full of water and was throwing it up and down when our boxer dog decided he wanted to play, within seconds the bag full of water had landed in the chip pan. The pan virtually exploded and set the curtains alight, whoops!! My brothers managed to put the fire out but decided it would be funny to punish me by holding me down and filling my nostrils with English mustard, then holding my mouth shut so I had to try to breath through my nose, ahh brotherly love, I didn’t have a head cold for about ten years !

Baking day was Sunday so after Mum, who worked six days in our shop ( fish and deli ), had made breakfast, done the washing up, cooked Sunday lunch then done that washing up, would start to bake up a storm, and I would help. Well sort of, by about four o’clock I would have no skin on the top of my mouth from tasting stuff before it cooled. A lot of stuff was cooked from the BE-RO Cook Book. This tiny book given away free by being sellotaped to bags of BE-RO flour is still my bible for baking 40 years on, their Cornish pasty recipe is legendary. Last year I cooked a batch for some expat friends and they loved them, my pal Rob said “that’s the most Cornish pasty tasting Cornish pasty I have ever tasted, er if you see what I mean” yes I do, and they are.

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