Thursday, September 13, 2007

Spring cleaning and other discoveries

Ernest H. Shepard

Throwing the windows open, pushing up your sleeves, getting a little bit dirty. Nothing’s quite as rousing as a good spring clean. Cobwebs in the mind swept out with the cobwebs lurking in the corners. Re-alphabetising books might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but had I not been doing just that, I wouldn’t have come across this from Kenneth Grahame:

‘The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs…till he had dust in his throat and eyes…and an aching back and weary arms...It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said “Bother!” and "O blow!” and also “Hang spring-cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.’

That first paragraph of The Wind in the Willows is one of the most delicious beginnings to any book I know. Like Mole, my tidying had been halted and was to be so for a couple of lazy, book-filled hours. Alphabetising has its charms. I wouldn’t have come across another gem, placed by me on the wrong shelf had tidying not been firmly on the brain.

Melinda of Melbourne Larder wrote in July about a rather grandly-titled Bible Cake, a recipe gleaned from her beloved grandmother’s cookbook. I too am custodian of my grandmother’s recipe book, written in her familiar, slightly wonky hand writing.

Unsurprisingly there was no need to fight for it given the tiny size of our family. I asked. I received. The book itself, hand-bound in red, was made by my father and stands as a reminder that bookbinding is a skill high school woodwork teachers, those younger than dad, no longer possess. Shame really. I would have enjoyed the Industrial Arts a great deal more had I learned to wield an awl, sew booklets of paper and stretch leather over thick layers of board. Mind you I did make a barbeque fork with an excellent double twist in the handle in year 7 metal work, long since lost in my travels. Haven’t ever had a barbeque to use it on. How un-Australian.

I digress.

Grandma learned to cook as a servant, in the kitchens of much grander homes. She wasn’t a fancy cook. No deep-fried lemon zest in these pages. Baking was her thing, and very good at it she was. In fact there are only two savoury recipes in the whole book – one for Quiche Lorraine and another for Cheese Scones. There are recipes with wild names like Impossible Pie and Champagne Pastry; recipes attributed to women who, like my grandmother, are no longer around. But my favourite by far is a recipe for Mock Nougat Bars, an oat-y, chewy slice that sounds very like something copied, possibly, from the Australian Women’s Weekly in WWII – a substitute for something exotic in far leaner times. Unthinkably easy to make and very adaptable, I like to imagine that the oats and wholegrain flours make up just a little for that whole cup of sugar, but I’m fairly sure that I’m fooling no-one but myself.

Mock Nougat Bars
Why Mock Nougat? Who knows. It’s had many incarnations in my lifetime. This, then, is the current favourite. Add any dried fruits or nuts you like, use all white flour, omit the chocolate. Sweet spices like cinnamon and ground ginger work very well. Over to you. It’s dense and chewy and a good-ish snack every once in a while.

125g of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of golden syrup
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup sugar
½ cup of wholemeal flour
½ cup of brown rice flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 egg, lightly beaten
Small handful of glace ginger, chopped
Small handful of dried fruit
Small handful of chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Melt the butter and golden syrup together over a low heat. Cool.

Mix the dry ingredients together, add the cooled butter and golden syrup, followed by the beaten egg and mix well. Mix in the ginger, fruit and chocolate chips. Spread out in a baking-paper lined rectangular tin (approx 20 x 30 cms), pressing down with the back of a spoon to even the surface. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Cool in the tin and cut into fingers while still warm.

I don't think she'd mind me sharing it with you.


Christina said...

I love it. I love her handwriting, the generosity of sharing your grandmother's recipes, and the Wind in the Willows opening. I'd really enjoy hearing about more of her recipes.

And, all those oats are good for us too, even with mixed with the sweet treats!

Rosa said...

Lovely story, Lucy! I personally will stick to the theory that the oats and whole grain flours make up for the sugar.

Another Outspoken Female said...

I think the 'mock' recipes came out of the WWII shortages. In my grandmothers cookbook I notice recipes with bran or carrot from around that time. I doubt our grandparents were pioneers of the wholefoods movement, it was just what was available at the time.

Anh said...

Lucy, I enjoyed this post a lot! I am actually on a mission to re-create some of my grandmothers' dishes here in Mel... I miss them a lot, and hope to see both of them next year!

winedeb said...

Ah Lucy - I could not have come to visit your site at a better time. It is early morning here, I am having a cup of tea and reading your wonderful story. It IS amazing what you come across while cleaning up a bit, especially when you "deep clean". Seems I always come across a good memory also. I have a little box that is full of grandma's handwritten recipes on little note cards and scraps of paper. I cherish them. I have a cookie bar that she taught me to make that is a great portable bar. She would send boxes of them to my uncle during the war as they would keep well during the shipping of them. Oh such wonderful memories.
Lucy, thank you for making my morning tea so special!

Truffle said...

Oh what a lovely post. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Lucky you being custodian of such a gem!

Anonymous said...

I love that you have your grandmother's cook book :) Cherish it.

Sophie said...

Yum, I bet this would be great with white chocolate (white chocolate goes really well with crystallised ginger)

There is a fair bit of sugar in it but I'm surprised how healthy the other ingredients are (wholegrain flour and oats) given the vintage of the recipe.

Lydia said...

My grandmother never wrote out her recipes, but when I was about 9 years old, I asked her to dictate some to me. I still have the recipes that I wrote while sitting at her kitchen table, on yellow sheets of paper, in pencil. And I remember the day well.

Lucy said...

Christina, I'm heartend by your thoughts on all those wholegrains no end. I love my grandma's handwriting too. So glad I asked for the book. Hope one day that mum passes hers on to me as well.

Thanks Rosa. I agree. And really, what's a cup of sugar between a hefty amount of serves!

I love the nougat part of the 'mock' AOF. Those substitutions make for great and humbling reading. I rarely need to substitute a 'lesser' ingredient in the 21st Century.

Oh, Anh, will you invite me for dinner when you recreate them!?! I'll bet you can't wait to see them. Not long now.

And here I am drinking a cup of tea reading your comment Deb! I'd love to hear more about your grandma's cards - any chance of a look?

Lucky me Truffle. Reading your post this morning it occured to me that you should get some of yor dad's recipes/thoughts/ideas down!

Thanks Maryann. I really do.

Sophie, you read my mother's mind. She makes it with chunks (not chips...yum) of white chocolate and dried cranberries. Delicious.

Lydia, THAT is a damn fine story. So you've been a recipe magpie for some time then! And at her kitchen table as well. How lovely.

Cynthia said...

You are so blessed to have your grandmother's cookbook.

Casey said...

I love the Wind in the Willows reference and the tale of your grandmother's little red cookbook. You've inspired me to share the tattered little cookbook that belonged to my grandmother on my own blog.

shula said...

That shot of Mole skipping took me back.

And God bless your grandma.

I confess, there's not a lot of savoury in my recipe book, either.

maninas: food matters said...

:) I really enjoyed this post, Lucy. It's really well written.
I really love the red leather on the book - it's beautiful!

Did you know that crumbles originated during the shortages of WW2? You need less flour, butter and sugar for a crumble than you need for a pie! I wrote a post about rhubarb crumble, including this story, over at my blog.

maninas: food matters said...

god, i hate cleaning! i'm there with the mole! ;)

IronEaters said...

lovly post. its such a blissful thing to be the guardian of our grandparents' recipe books. thanks for sharing this with us =)

Wendy said...

Absolutely adorable post. Love the "Wind in the Willow" extract (though have to tell you that D -the biology teacher - has a pickled mole in his classroom from the Sixties and it always makes me think of this character!) and was really touched to hear about your grandmother's book.

Susan said...

"Mock," I'll wager has to do with its chewy quality as much as careful nursing of sugar rations. Real nougat takes tons of sugar.

This post, Lucy, is so delightfully timely for me. I've just spent nine hours on the road reading an encyclopedic cookbook from the 1930s, not unlike the unfussy yet sentimental kitchen writings of your grandmother.

Happy Spring!

Miss Eagle said...

Thank for your visit and good wishes over at Oz Tucker. The flu was dreadful (in spite of flu injection) and recovery is quite upsy-downsy. However, Spring sent me to breaking up the oregano and marjoram and parsley and so on as well as lots of orchids. All in all, potted about 30 or 40 pots from very small to very large and working my way through about 150 litres of potting mix. That was one productive day last week. The only other productive day was a drive to cheer myself up yesterday afternoon making inroads into other people's hard rubbish. Brought home two huge square planters with lions' heads on the front. Have also scored a wicker couch. So spring has sprung - just want it to have some consistency in the body.

Blessings and bliss

Lucy said...

I am indeed Cynthia!

Casey, I would LOVE to see it.

Shula, don't you love that little Mole-leap? Sweet usually wins out over savoury ound here too, so long as it's not me cooking it...

Thanks Maninas, it was a delightful thing to stumble across. I'll check out your post about crumble - sounds fascinating!

Oh, you're welcome Ironeaters!

Wendy, D's pickled mole sounds gross but very, very cool. It must be a wonderful thing to spook the kids with!

Susan - nine hours?! Good Lord woman, you must be exhausted (or at least your legs and bottom must be...)! That book sounds fascinating - something newly acquired on your travels?

Miss Eagle, you did have me a little worried. Pleased you've been out in the spring sunshine, albeit for a short but productive time. Best wishes. The flu sucks.

Susan said...

What a heart-warming post this is, Lucy. From the Wind in the Willows excerpt to your grandmother's handwriting to the delicious recipe, this is truly memorable. I savored every word. Thanks for sharing.

Lucy said...

Ah, Susan, you must have some great recipes from your grandmother you'd be willing to share. Thanks, lovey!

Callipygia said...

lucy- I adore Mole from Wind in the Willows and appreciate your sweeps through time! The recipe is fun, I love nougat and tho this isn't really like it, the name is whimsical.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Lucy, I have been rather weepy since the whole wedding in Maine - watching a close friend get married rather did me in for some reason, and now you have too! My granny was a great baker too, and seeing your granny's lovely handwriting and glorious recipe names is such a treat. And now I want to reread Wind in the Willows! It is the most wonderful beginning, you're right! Thanks for such a great post.

Lucy said...

Callipygia, whimsical seems synonymous with spring, doesn't it?

I reckon Wind in the Willows is better read as an adult Amanda! Funny, but most people who used to buy it from me were essentially buying it for the pleasure of reading it aloud themselves, I'm sure. Sorry to have done you in... ;)

Laurie Constantino said...

What a lovely mood your story creates. The handwritten book is such a treasure.