Apprenticed to My Mother: fine wining and constant dining

My mother loved to cook. That’s not really the full explanation of the importance of food in her life. She loved to be the creator of comfort and food featured highly in that equation. When I was a child she tended to a fairly traditional menu of British staples: roasts and home grown vegetables; puddings to add ballast; fried and grilled flesh of all kinds; and tea, lots of tea.

The selection depended, as so much did, on my father’s current philosophy – perhaps prejudice would have been nearer the mark – and as his focus widened so did his tastes. A tin of curry powder appeared circa 1971, the assumption being it didn’t matter what you curried the spices remained the same. Then pasta joined in – spaghetti at first then penne but the sauces stayed largely of the bolognaise disposition until the 1990s. There followed exotic and not universally successful experiments involving kidney beans (too explosive), chow mein (too viscous) and artichoke (seriously explosive).

If you wanted to follow one path along my parents’ culinary journey, their relationship with alcohol would be a good place to start. When I appeared in the 1950s beer was my father’s staple. And that’s the flat warm ale beloved of old men in pubs and trendy micro-brewers residing mole-like under railway arches, and not the fizzy amber dishwater that passed for lager back then. If he felt flush he might have had a whiskey – a blend like Bells, not then anything as subtle as a single malt – and if he felt sophisticated it would be a G&T. Mum drank the G&Ts too but also port and a yellow by product of medical experiments called Warninks Advocaat or some such. The only saving grace about this sweet sharp gunk was the glacΓ© cherry that floated on the top and, if I behaved mum would let me steal.

But come the 70s wine appeared. To begin it was distinguished solely by colour. Whites, usually capable of immobilising Mammoths and Reds that must have been sponsored by dynorod as they certainly cleared the sluices. Gradually wine categorisation narrowed: French = sophisticated; German = sweet and cheap; Australian = not taken seriously. Then finally we had a Cote du Rhone and the die had been cast. By the time dad died I’d say spirits had retreated, though scotch had been replaced by a taste for calvados, and while beer still featured in the right company it was the wine that was making a bid for the top spot.

dad and the boys in Spain circa 1995

Inevitably mum and dad tried to make their own, with no noticeable success. Do not believe anyone if they say oak leaves can be made into wine. They can be made into floor cleaner or one of those mysterious ungents that my grandmother used for rheumatics and which made her whimper at the same time as walking quickly with her legs oddly apart. But fit for human consumption? I think not.

Mum believed food should be fun. As boys we made fudge and fondants and we were encouraged to join in creating meals – making chelsea buns was a popular choice.

grandchildren, of course, made it even more fun

And of course, cooking did feature on The Mum List.

The Mum List comprised the skills the Archaeologist and I had to acquire before we left home. The philosophy of the Mum List was to imbue in us

a set of skills that all young men should have but which your father hasn’t.

So far as she was concerned she was not going to allow us out on the world and in particular prey on some unsuspecting but probably gullible female as ill-equipped to survive as dad had been when she fell for him. Β As examples of the more critical skills, we had to learn how to

  • iron a shirt and fold same
  • ditto a pair of suit trousers using a damp cloth to create a sharp crease
  • cook three meals involving meat, fish and a pie and three puddings
  • wash clothes (no washing machine allowed) including handkerchiefs
  • rewire a plug
  • Make a bed
  • pack a suitcase
  • put up a shelf
  • clean a bathroom (and why)
  • check the vital signs of the internal combustion engine viz check oil and water levels, spark plugs and tyre pressures.

There were other skills I failed to acquire: changing the tap washer for instance, but if we grasped the main list we were forgiven the extras.

dad’s cooking was what you might call functional

When dad died, mum’s cooking retreated somewhat though it remained as a metaphor in a way for the ongoing relationship between mother and son. I would arrive at mum’s, probably with a list of jobs to do, places to take mum, etc. By now she was in her 80s yet she’d usher me into her kitchen, sit me down and make tea while asking questions of her grandchildren’s latest doings. She’d then start cooking a meal. Unconsciously, since this is what had happened forever in my life – from coming home from school to returning from university and later visiting with my own family, I let her potter around her domain, talking, listening and letting her cook.

‘Aren’t you going to help your mum?’

It was the Textiliste. She watched with a degree of horror as I slumped back and chatted, waiting to be waited on. She was already up, peeling potatoes or something but, like my father before me, I was in mum’s zone, playing by her rules so I sat, sharing my bon mots and repartee while mum worked – slaved perhaps.

I stood to wash up; Mum tried to stop me. She wasn’t cross with her daughter-in-law, not at all. And her resistance was half-hearted. But I think, for her, by sitting and allowing myself to be waited upon, I served the purpose of reminding her of dad, of how he couldn’t really function without her. And how the centre of their world was the kitchen even if her truly happy place was her garden. She let me help – she understood male guilt better than most – but she would have preferred I stayed put and let her pretend, for just a little while longer that something of her beloved Des still remained nearby.

She had this silly carved sign on her wall by her stove which said it all really:

No Matter Wherever I Place My Guests

They Always Like My Kitchen Best

 

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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38 Responses to Apprenticed to My Mother: fine wining and constant dining

  1. The Mum List…wonderful, in so many ways. (You learned to do laundry without a machine ? Impressive) But you really had me at “constant dining”…I get it. Lovely post, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What lovely memories – and the reference to wine-making made me smile. My father was obsessed with it, and the list I could give you of fruits, vegetables and general vegetation from which it’s (allegedly) possible to make wine is quite something. My favourite, though, was the fairly prosaic cherry. I’m almost tempted to have a go myself….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sue Vincent says:

    I’d have liked your Mum, we could have compared lists πŸ™‚ My sons left home with cooking, baking, household skills (including basic electricaland plumbing stuff) and embroidery under their belts… then came back to learn of those little mysteries like spark plugs and oil changes…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary Smith says:

    I enjoyed this post and it brought back many memories. My parents made wine from just about anything from dandelions to brambles. My sister and I were roped into harvesting stuff. They made gallons of everything and always put one bottle away for my 21st. I don’t remember my 21st. The only one which was half way palatable was an apple wine. In the winter my sister and were given a tiny glass of advocaat (home made, of course) mixed with lemonade to ward of colds.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ritu says:

    I just love your mum!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Carl Bystrom says:

    This is wonderful. A delightful tour of you and your parents – and the kitchen. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You know I love to read your stories about your mum. Along with the oddities and the humour, I also found this post deeply touching. That you understood your mum so well, that you could play along without rancour or judgement is wonderful. (I must be in a philosophical mood this morning.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That penultimate paragraph is profound

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That thing about you sitting back and letting your mum wait on you… I try not to let it happen too much, especially as my mum has become frailer in recent years. And yet, I know that it also gives her a sense of being needed, of still being a “parent”, so I do still sit back as well at times.
    I first recognised that need in myself a few years ago when I went to visit my daughter while she was living in the Canaries. It was clear that her lifestyle was wearing her out and, when she fell asleep on the sofa in our apartment, for a brief moment I felt like a proper dad again as I put a blanket over her and tucked her in.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Lovely read!
    My home life was a bit more random. One highlight was my dad sitting on a plate of ravioli. The simultaneous sounds of squish and snap will never leave me!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Lovely post…reminds me of my Dad and Mam…they tried the wine making too…and reminds me of the seventies and wine…Blue Nun! πŸ™‚

    Like

  12. The kitchen in my mum’s house is always at the centre of anything. A chat with tea and bicuits is always on the menu.
    Mum is such a brilliant cook and meals were always large and plentiful (she was used to cooking for our huge family)! Often at parties, we would lay on the food ourselves, especially as we grew older and were able to cook ourselves.
    Funnily enough though, my brothers did not have to do any housework or cooking at all. I think she could have done with taking a leaf out of your mum’s book Geoff. That list certainly gave you all a great start! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Anabel Marsh says:

    Hi Geoff, I’ve been following and enjoying this series but I had to save this one for a few days. I usually read blogs on my iPad and your newsletter pop-up window covers almost the whole screen. The close button doesn’t appear and I haven’t figured out any other way of shutting it down! Today I’m at my PC and the close button is functional – just thought you’d want to know about the problem as there might be a setting amiss somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Debbie H says:

    This was a really enjoyable read Geoff. It tracks many a family’s history with food during that time, I’ve no doubt! Your story shows your love of your mum and her love for her family.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Charli Mills says:

    I chucked over the evolution of house spirits with your parents. I’m terribly curious about the wine from oak leaves for your warning. I snort laughed at the Mum List because I had one of my own and while said son did me proud, the Hub razzes him for not knowing how to fall a tree. Son in law, to my daughter’s horror, picked up a few bad habits from her dad, but that’s another story. It’s this line that is the heart of this piece and teared me up: “I let her potter around her domain, talking, listening and letting her cook.” That’s​ Mum’s happy place and you understand it’s sanctity.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. When my parents met my wife Carol for the first time, they pulled her aside and suggested I wasn’t good enough for her, and she might want to look elsewhere. That was more than thirty years ago. Carol understood that if I wanted her to get something for me from the kitchen I would ask her. That was fine with her. She’s nobody’s slave. My mother knew better than to question why I poured my own coffee. I only let her pour coffee for me if she was pouring for everyone, and, even then, sometimes I would get it myself. (She made coffee my father’s way, which was terrible).

    This was hard for mother because our family had a tradition of lying about imposition. If you asked a member of my family to put a car on their shoulders and carry it to the next town they would do so. But if you asked a favor, even the slightest favor, say, “Could you grab a Coke while you’re looking inside the refrigerator,” they’d say, “Glad too,” and hold a grudge about it for years. Naturally, if you offered to do something for yourself, they’d assume you were lying.

    This is why I never accepted a favor from my family.

    Carol’s mother, however, spent the rest of her life asking Carol if I wanted coffee, a sandwich, a glass of water. And Carol always told her mother, “If he wants it, he can get it himself.” She wondered why I let Carol treat me so poorly.

    She would ask Carol’s father, “Henry, don’t you think Carol should get coffee for Phillip?”

    Henry would look up from his crossword and say, “It’s their life, Nancy. They can work it out.”

    Carol understands why I got along far better with Henry than her mother.

    Like

    • TanGental says:

      tough one Philip; I tend not to comment on my in laws because one is still alive but they would be a rich source of these sorts of stories. Glad your relationship survived the initial damming !!

      Like

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