Uncle Dave’s Advice:


Image: Cooking in a Beddsitter by Katherine Whitehorn.

Cooking in a Bedsitter by Katherine Whitehorn. Now available as an eBook with a jazzed up jacket.

Podcast: download (Duration: 5mins/4.6mb)

Learning to cook in one sentence with two clauses.

I grew up in a time when many families still had more than two generations living together. Mum and Dad both worked, Grandma cooked and ran the house. Provided each is happy in their role it’s an arrangement I commend to modern times, when children are expensively farmed out to a commercial nursery and old folks consigned to a residential retirement or nursing home at the first inkling of infirmity. The old arrangement made for a happy childhood in a household with enough income to provide for our needs, and a freedom from worry about what may befall the elders in their failing years. Grandma, who lived with us until her time came at the age of nearly 102, had a great fear of the Victorian workhouse.

Of course it has its disadvantages. Since Grandma ran the household and in her world little boys played Cowboys and Injuns while the girls learned to cook, I left home when the time came without the first clue how to cater for myself. I was saved by Katherine Whitehorn who wrote a little paperback called Cooking in a Bedsitter. I still have my copy and despite its unappetising cover (what is that thing hanging on the middle hook?) I commend it to anybody leaving home for the first time. An eBook edition is available on Amazon.co.uk. 

I wasn’t in a bedsitter as it happened. My first efforts at cooking came when I went to sea in a small sailing yacht, though I guess that has much in common with bedsitter living, with the added thrill of being thrown about by waves whilst attempting to hold bubbling cook pots on a two burner stove and simultaneously fending off malicious kitchen knives that like to attack when one is not looking. One rapidly learns always to put things down in a secure spot. But I digress… 

Before I discovered Katherine Whitehorn I faced for the first time the knotty problem of sausages. Now, Uncle Dave’s father (ie my maternal grandfather, who I never knew since he died the year I was born) was a family butcher – a phrase that used to appear over the door of high street butchers’ shops in the UK before the supermarket movement butchered the butchery trade. Of course it doesn’t mean he butchered families; no, he catered as a butcher for families – so I figured Uncle Dave might have some insider knowledge in the matter of sausages.
            “Uncle Dave,” I asked one day when we happened to meet, “how do you know when sausages are fully cooked?”
            “Eee lad,” said uncle Dave. “When they’re brown they’re done, when they’re black they’re buggered.” And that’s been my philosophy of cooking ever since. As a lesson for life it has served me well: don’t make things too complicated. 

Ok, Uncle Dave may not have actually said “Eee lad”, but the rest is, I swear, gospel truth. 

All this jibber was brought to mind when I visited the website of another author recently (Peter May. I mentioned his book, The Lewis Man, a while ago) and found there, to my surprise, some recipes. It seems to be a meme in modern novels to work in a recipe or two, and I did so in Sunset over Salhouse Broad, choosing an old favourite that Grandma fortunately did manage to teach me before she departed this earth. You may already know it, but for those who don’t here is my take on Grandma’s recipe for Blimey (or Blind Scouse: ie scouse without meat or frills):-

Peel some spuds and slice into scallops. Snap half the scallops in half (don’t cut them) and put the lot into a saucepan with enough water to cover. Add some larger lumps of potato too. Add a whole chopped onion and a knob of beef dripping. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until the potato starts to break down and form a thick sauce. Serve immediately or keep for days according to whim. Don’t bother to weigh or measure anything; Grandma never did and neither do I. 

I daresay there are many variations on the theme. Throw yours into the comments below if you like. For the curious who have not yet read Sunset over Salhouse Broad, Sally cooks blimey for her brother Will and his father John, and at another time she makes a salad, the recipe for which I just pulled out of thin air, but my sister tried it and said it was delicious. 

Phew! Got away with that one, then…


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