Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Friday, 30 December 2011

First Class Performance

Alan’s picture prompt for the Christmas edition of Sepia Saturday was a jolly postman delivering everyone’s cards and parcels. As a student I worked for three successive Christmas holidays doing this job. It was anything but jolly, but it did give me  some extra money to buy family gifts. However, the prompt did make me think of another experience, some years later in 1994, linked to the Royal Mail.

Teaching and admin staff and midday supervisor
show off the Royal Mail sweatshirts
Headteacher in her prime? The grey hairs
came much later!

I was no longer a student, but still a young (ish) woman and into my first headship of a tiny village school in Wiltshire. In this picture some of the staff are wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the legend ‘Post Early for Christmas’. These were given to us, along with £500, when the school won that year’s Nativity Play competition, sponsored jointly by Royal Mail and the local radio station, BBC Wiltshire Sound.

The play was writen by the teaching staff (ie me, infant class teacher and the part-time teacher who came in one afternoon a week when I did my admin) and every child in the school had a part to play. Based loosely on the medieval village nativities, it was in verse form and easy for children to learn. One of the stipulations of the competition was that we had to bring The Royal Mail into the play. Here’s how this was achieved.

Posing for the newspaper
Some time later, in the town,
The people gathered near,
To hear a proclamation,
Sent to all Judea.
They heard that they must travel,
Back to their place of birth,
For Joseph, that meant Bethlehem, 
The dearest place on earth.
A letter mailed by Caesar,
Sent from the Roman camp,
Had urgent news for everyone.
And bore a First Class Stamp.
The soldiers looked important,
The stars of the show
And puffed up with their pride,
They solemnly opened up their scrolls,
And read the words inside.
Now then, you lot, listen here,
You have to go back home,
Back to the place where you were born,
The order comes from Rome.
Tell your neighbours without fail,
This news comes in by Royal Mail!

The play was broadcast live on BBC Wiltshire Sound, along with the other entries from local schools, and we heard that we had won the same night. Here you can see the recording in progress, with anxious Headteacher, script in hand, on the left ( I was also narrating). Stamp aficionados will note that the screen in front of the stage was decorated with the 1994 Christmas Stamps. It was an ‘outside broadcast’ from Salisbury’s historic market square in front of the Guildhall. The next day the radio presenter, Kevin Gover, interviewed me for local radio and that was even more nerve-racking. I stood in my office, after everyone had gone home and waited nervously for the phone to ring and hoping I wouldn’t say something silly. Listening to the recording just now made me smile, as I managed to get a plug in for the Book Fair the school was holding too, with a veiled grumble at the Local Education Authority about the funding for small schools - but nicely.

No room at the inn!

I also have a recording of the original radio broadcast of the play and listening to that bought a lump to my throat; the earnest young voices speaking out beautifully in the cold, dark Winter air, with a background soundtrack of Salisbury traffic moving down the streets near the square. Me, eighteen years ago, just as keen to impress but ever mindful of the reactions of my young pupils, who sang their carols so sweetly and looked for their mums and dads in the crowd. They’ll be grown up now and some will have children of their own, probably attending that same village school. I do hope they have happy memories of that night and that they remember that Christmas of 1994 as being just that bit more magical.

For more stories and pictures of long ago, catch the last post for Sepia Saturday.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Raising the Game

Alan’s prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday is a page from Mrs Beeton’s 1901 Cookery Book, and shows an array of very ornate dishes, fit for a banquet. One of the dishes is Raised Game Pie (thanks to Martin who gave me the idea for the title of this post in his comment on the prompt page). The picture above is from a more recent, but still vintage, cookery book; Marguerite Patten’s Everyday Cook Book. Now, oddly enough I have just re-acquired a copy of this book and I am delighted that it is back in my possession. I was given the book, I think, for my 21st birthday and it was invaluable. Full of useful information and recipes, it was really the only cookbook you would need to get by in any situation. My original copy was well-loved and food spattered and falling apart at the seams, which is probably why I foolishly discarded it in favour of new glossy recipe books. Imagine my surprise and delight, when last Saturday at a charity bookstall I saw this 1976 edition (10th reprint) and fell upon it eagerly. I parted with the princely sum of 1 euro and the book was mine. It’s in much better condition than my original copy and doesn’t seem to have been used much as the pages still bounce from the spine, showing that they have not been lovingly creased down and carefully pored over. As the book is now out of print I was doubly pleased with myself. The jovial stallholder hinted that he expected an invitation to tea and cakes now, and I told him that I already knew many of the recipes as I’d owned the book as a young bride. I had managed not to poison my husband and 36 years later he too enjoys cooking as much as I do.

This is the picture of Marguerite from the fly-leaf of the book. She is going strong today at 96 years old, and still writing cookery books. She learned to cook as a thirteen year-old out of necessity and went to demonstrate cooking for Fridgidaire. She also went to drama school and was an accomplished repertory actress, a skill she put to use when she worked for the BBC. During the war she presented programmes on the radio, giving listeners ideas about how to make their rations stretch further and eat healthily and, now that people are once more feeling the pinch, she is again advising and writing new books. She is held in high regard by fellow cookery writers and her 170+ books are in great demand. She’s had a very interesting life and in 2001 she was the guest on BBC Radio’s ‘Desert Island Discs’, where imagined ‘castaways’ choose the records they would take to a desert island, interspersed with stories from their life. I was amazed to find that the whole programme is still available here on the BBC website.
As well as the gorgeous picture of a game pie, the book has colour plates to illustrate every section, and all the recipe pages are enhanced with line drawings. It’s a real nostalgia trip to flick through the pages and see the food simply, but appetisingly, displayed in what are clearly recognisable 1970s style serving dishes; stainless steel, old style Pyrex and casseroles with big bold designs. All the recipes are in Imperial measures as it was pre-decimalisation, but there are handy conversion charts to American measures.
It was the era of pineapple and cheese on cocktails sticks, mounted on half a grapefruit, and of course was pre-microwave oven. There’s no mention of terms such as ‘pan-fried’ or ‘jus’ or ‘hand-torn’ lettuce, just good, honest cookery.

This book has everything including useful information on cooking techniques, wise shopping, emergency dishes and suggestions for dealing with ‘minor mishaps in the kitchen’. With this book I learned how to make pickles and preserves, as well as sweets such as fudge and coconut ice. Yes, I know you only have to search the web for a recipe these days, but there’s so much more fun to be had from slowly turning the pages of a well-written and beautifully illustrated cookery book.

Here’s Marguerite’s version of 'English Monkey’, which is a sort of savoury sauce poured over bread or toast, similar to Welsh Rarebit and great for hot snack in winter.

English Monkey
Cooking time; about 10 minutes
1 oz butter
1/4 pint milk
2oz soft white breadcrumbs
4 oz grated cheese
1 beaten egg, salt, pepper
made mustard, Worcestershire sauce
4 slices toast, to garnish 1 tomato

Heat butter, add milk and breadcrumbs. When very hot, add the cheese and egg. Add all the seasonings. Stir until thick and creamy. Pour onto toast, garnish with slices of tomato.

As it’s nearly Christmas, here’s a real banquet, not Mrs Beeton’s, but Mrs Patten’s, and not a stuffed plover’s egg or bouquet of prawns in sight. If you visit Postcardy’s Sepia Saturday post, she has a video of a more recent Marguerite showing us how to make Christmas Pudding in a microwave!

After all that you’ll need to loosen your waistbands and sit back with a another glass of wine. Mince pie anyone? The feast’s not over yet as there are more fascinating posts by other Sepia Saturday contributors. Be sure to head over there and browse their menus!

I’m also linking to Weekend Cooking on 'Beth Fish Reads’.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie feel free to join in.