Whilst having Sunday lunch today with my daughter and son-in law, we got to talking about how things were done in my younger days.
We had a very nice plum tart and custard, and Tommy said it reminded him of the puds his granny used to make, and I started to reminisce about my mother's cooking when I was a small girl just after the second World War.
In those days everything was made from scratch, we had no supermarkets, few people had a family car, and the housewife had a daily trudge around the butcher, the baker, the grocer and the fishmonger. How people managed to carry all that shopping for miles is a mystery to me - especially if they had a large family!
Money was scarce, and some things were still on ration, but my dad had a huge garden and grew all our vegetables. We foraged for blackberries, blueberries, chestnuts and mushrooms in the surrounding forest, and my father made most of our bread which was much tastier than the baker's loaf. I can never remember eating in a restaurant, and the only fast food available was fish and chips, a rare treat on a Saturday night if Mum had a few shillings to spare, and was in a good mood.
Yes, feeding the family was a lot of hard work, but we never went hungry, and we seemed to have a tremendous lot of fun finding and preparing food.
Most of all, I used to look forward to pickling and jamming time. Every Autumn when there was a glut of fruit and vegetables, Mum used to set to with a will. Pickled onions, pickled cabbage, picallili, bottled plums, apples and greengages, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry jam, and tomato chutney were chopped, seasoned, sugared, boiled and poured into jars.
I used to help make all of these, and my hands would smell of onions for ages! What a lovely sight and smell in the pantry, though - all those spicy, gleaming, jewel-coloured jars of jams and pickles - it makes my mouth water now, just to think of it! One or two of Mum's offerings always took pride of place at the Chapel Harvest Festival.
One thing that was definitely NOT welcome at the Harvest Festival, however, was home - made wine. In those days Methodist ministers preached total abstinence from any form of alcohol, and my dad, who was a lay-preacher, would be up there with the best of them, condemning the drinking which led to poverty, and cruelty to wives and children. He would be 107 now, if he had lived, and I often wonder what he would think, if he could see a typical city on a Saturday night, with people falling out of clubs and pubs, absolutely trolleyed out of their skulls. I think he would have disapproved!
Temperance notwithstanding, Father didn't seem to think that the rule applied to a bottle of good, wholesome home-made wine. Every year he would put down a store of redcurrant, blackberry, damson and elderberry wines, and these would be produced with great pride every time we had visitors.
"Arhh!" he would say "You'm doan' want any of that Harvey's Sherry, nor none o' that fancy French muck! This 'ere's the boy - you do know what's gone in 'im!"
He would make the wine in an assortment of old crocks and bottles in the wash-house, but it was always most delicious, and some of it was viewed as having medicinal properties. It would certainly lubricate a sore throat.
My father sang a fine tenor, and one night at chapel choir practice, someone remarked to my mother that he was in particularly good voice that evening,.
“Well now” she said “that’ll be the Elderberry!”
You see in 1948 we had only just received the blessing of the National Health Service. It took people a while to get used to the idea of being able to see a doctor any time you wished, and all for free. Until that time, if you were ill you treated yourself, only calling the doctor if all else failed, and my father’s Elderberry wine was held to be a bit of a cure-all.
It was particularly good for sore throats, rheumatism, gout, whooping cough and bronchitis. Father used Granny’s recipe, and swore that she had once cured a case of diphtheria with it – though maybe that’s carrying credibility a bit far.
That stuff was so potent, however, it would probably have served as an anaesthetic, and after a couple of shots you would no longer have cared what was wrong with you!
I’m sitting here nursing my sore knees and aching hands, and thinking, 'What wouldn’t I give for a glass or two of the Elderberry cure-all.’
God Bless and rest you Father! He was a funny soul, eccentric and old-fashioned, with a vast knowledge of the medicinal use of plants and herbs, and he set me on the path to my nursing career. I wanted to be modern, and I was so sure that he’d got it all wrong with his potions and brews, but now I’m not so sure.
I wish he was still around – with the benefit of my own experience there’s a lot I would like to ask him!