A weekend of the occasional catering reminded me of one of my mother’s enduring lessons in the kitchen…
What’s an Ifit? Well, it’s a made up word that goes back to my mum (as well as being useful for scrabble)
I inherited many things from Mum when she died, not least her collection of thirteen glass mixing bowls and ten measuring jugs, but the one that is most important, which most reveals the essence of that woman and food is a little wooden sign that now hangs above our tea caddy (does anyone else think it’s odd that we have a tea caddy and a golf caddy but no other form of caddy? What does a dried leaf that creates the ultimate refreshing drink and a smart-arse heaver of clubs have in common? No idea. Where was I?
Where was I? The sign? Yes, sorry.
No matter wherever I place my guests
They always like my kitchen best
Mum’s kitchen was her second happy place after her garden. She would occasionally visit other rooms for sleep/guests/miscellaneous bodily functions but they were duty visits.
She cooked to feed, to inspire, to sustain, to console, to love, to mend, to compromise, to mollify and just for the sheer joy of it. But there was one rule, in her kitchen – no, that’s rubbish, there were plenty, but the one I’m thinking of now is the one that said
Thou shall not waste so much as a grain or seed
She would not, could not throwaway food (and if she really really had to because it had developed a fungus whose colour you would only otherwise find on the colour charts for 1979s sanitary ware, it ended up as compost.
Carcasses were boiled into stock, stale bread made into puddings, peelings were either juiced or composted. If jam went mouldy then the mould was scraped off and the underlying, and in her view, untroubled lower layer used as if nothing untoward had happened.
And so it was that we might be confronted with a meal that smelt fantastic but had the look and consistency of wallpaper paste. The ingredients may have once been a chicken and a potato but any semblance of those physical characteristics might have long since disappeared. No recipe was troubled in the making of this feast, no ingredient too humble to be excluded. And they always tasted delicious.
What are we having, Mum?
When asked what we were having, she might purse a lip, furrow a brow and continue to stir the pot.
It’s a sort of chicken casserole, darling…
We all knew what was coming
… ifit works
And so it was that the family had another uncharacterizable yet eponymous ‘ifit’ for lunch or dinner. Chicken and lamb ifits were regulars; after Christmas the turkey ifits were ubiquitous. I don’t recall many dessert ifits but I’m sure there were many.
I inherited many other things from Mum, a lot before she died and one is that no dish is ever ruined by an extra ingredient. My family awaits a lasagne or cottage pie with a certain trepidation if I am the chef. They have been known to play Geoff the Chef bingo to see how many ingredients they can spot in any one dish. No one is surprised if the pork cassoulet has been enhanced with kumquat and chia. In part, it is because, like Mum, I hate to see things go off. But really it is my attempt, in these days of plenty, to pay homage to the simple and homely ifit meals of my youth.
That’s the other thing she passed on: a love of the kitchen. I’m often sent on courses by the family in the hope I might be corralled into the tyranny of recipe fascism. This is me, a while ago, pretending to be able to fillet a fish
Note the stiff fingers; they’ve actually frozen to that piece of haddock. I think I’ll stick with mum’s approach.