My grandmother’s kitchen

I’m inclined to say I grew up in my grandfather’s house but it was of course also my grandmother’s and I lived there for most of the 1950s.

It was a generous four bedroom detached house which stood proudly a 100 yards or so up Wepre Drive and just a short walk from the butcher’s shop which my grandfather owned and and where he worked. The four large bedrooms upstairs were reflected by equally generous rooms downstairs and in two of those rooms my grandmother ruled supreme.

One of these rooms was the kitchen which you entered from the back door. This was where cooking and washing up was done. There was a gas stove and a big ceramic sink, but no fridge, and a walk in pantry. For some reason, probably architectural, there was only one small off centre window which made it rather gloomy.

Through the back door we had a sort of working conservatory with access to the coal house, a downstairs toilet and a utility room. In the early 50s we became the proud owners of a washing machine, I remember it looked like a lunar module, and that’s where it lived.

The second room we called the ‘sitting kitchen’ and was quite different. There was a big window, a central table on which my grandmother did her baking and where we eat most meals, and a built in fire place and oven over which there was a rack for drying clothes. There were two clocks which were bizarrely kept half an hour fast and which my grandfather wound up every day. There was also a treadle sewing machine.

In the window area we had a telephone, not exactly common in those days, and our the phone number was Connah’s Quay 125. There was no dial and you made calls through the operator.

Life was different in those days of course and most married women did not work. They were housewives, they kept the house in order, took care of mealtimes and generally looked after the children. My grandmother was no different and because my mother and I lived with her she essentially had a second family to look after.

I remember lots of baking, mainly cakes and scones, and as a small child it was my privilege to lick the spoon. We didn’t bake bread but what we bought was not sliced and there was an art to cutting it. First it was buttered and then sliced according to need. Everyone had their own ‘slice’ and my mother couldn’t slice a loaf started by by grandmother and vice versa.

Because my grandfather was a butcher we ate a lot of meat but it was mainly lamb, roasts and chops. Just occasionally we had roast beef but never steak. In those days beef was expensive, nowadays of course lamb costs more. It was generally meat, potatoes and two veg and for these it was any two from peas, carrots, sprouts, turnips, cauliflower and cabbage.

Once in a while, and in season, I’d see pheasants hanging up in the pantry complete with feathers. I never saw them plucked but they must have found some way to the dinner table.

We had fish once a week when Mrs Millington came round with her fish van. She filleted the fish in situ and it was always plaice which my grandmother fried in breadcrumbs and served with potatoes. No chips. Just occasionally a whole salmon would appear having been delivered to my grandfather’s shop in a roll of newspaper. This would then replace the roast lamb for Sunday lunch.

It was all good simple fare and we did our shopping locally and the produce would largely have been locally sourced as well. Although the early 50s were still days of post-war rationing we enjoyed all such local food that is available today. But there were exceptions. I don’t recall broccoli or asparagus, turkey was strictly a once a year meat and rice was just for desert.

We enjoyed some imported produce like bananas and citrus fruit but they didn’t fundamentally change our style of eating which was resolutely British. Nowadays middle-class Cambridge bubble staples like garlic, kiwi, mango and avocado, olives and olive oil, chorizo and salami, and wine and continental beers were just not present.

It’s this latter category which perhaps signals the biggest change. Although we were not a teetotal household as such, sherry was enjoyed as an aperitif and as an essential ingredient of the eponymous trifle, we were a chapel family and my grandfather was a member of a ‘dry’ Lodge. So there was neither beer nor wine in the house although I’m told that there was a bottle of whisky in the pantry from which my grandfather would occasionally and secretly drink.

As a child I never wanted where the basics of life were concerned. I can remember no real post-war deprivations and never felt myself any better or worse off than any of my friends with whom I went to school. But I do recall a quality of life which was enhanced by the house that I lived in and the excellence of the food which nourished me.

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