Are you hungry, duck?
Not yet, Nan. Thank you. We’ve just eaten dinner.
Ettie was often found preparing and cooking in her small but adequate kitchen and over her reliable 1970’s electric hob oven, with a gas grill section on the top. But a great cook doesn’t need much more than that. Because there, she fed her family.
The smell of her homemade sausage rolls. That pastry… The counted and well-placed layers of lasagne between mushrooms, mince, and tomatoes. And those roast dinners… The succulent meats, golden potatoes, mounds of veg, epic Yorkshires, stuffing, and gravy made from the joint’s juices, all piled on to white china plates with a navy-blue floral pattern in the centre. And there would always be extra veg in mismatched dishes laid out on the white-clothed table, just in case we didn’t have enough on our plates.
Before the modern health warnings came about, Ettie’s meals were fondly called ‘heart-stoppers.’ She’d stir, bake and fry most food in proper lard, with a lit cigarette, just about gripped between her heavy smoker’s lips – oblivious that ash was seasoning the food, below.
Tell them about when Terry carved the turkey at Christmas, duck. I still can’t believe what he did!
One year, on Christmas Day, when our Canadian relatives, Ann and Terry came over to visit for the holiday, Terry was asked to carve the turkey that had been in the oven for most of the morning. As a former butcher, he was entrusted in doing a professional job, which he did, proudly. Except, not knowing it was perhaps a British custom – or a Brown-Belcher one at least – that we thoroughly enjoyed eating the precious, coveted crispy skin too, he carefully cut and threw it all away, before we had a chance to get our eager fingers to it.
“Ah, you silly sod! What’d you do that for?” Ettie yelped, standing completely gob-smacked looking down at the scraps of skin now in the bin, considering whether she could possibly salvage any of it.
“You eat the skin?” Terry asked apologetically.
“Yes!” Other shocked family members cried out in sync at the devastating news.
“But it’s so gross and really unhealthy!” Ann steps in at Terry’s defence, trying not to laugh too hard.
“It’s ok,” Ettie finally let out a sigh. “Christmas isn’t ruined.”
Everyone laughed and carried a dish or glass of something to the decorated table, and filled themselves with the now naked turkey and all of its trimmings, not knowing they would be talking about this Christmas dinner for years to come.
Well, when you’re hungry, you know where the kitchen is, duck. Help yourself to whatever you want. If it’s there, have it. If it’s not there, you can’t.
Will do. Thank you, Nan.
Whatever her cooking methods, you never went hungry at Ettie’s. She wouldn’t let you.