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Getting ready for winter

September 24, 2012

It must be something about the time of year but I have been inexplicably filled with the urge to bake, cook and preserve. Some of it must be nature after all before deep freezing and refrigeration my forebears knew they must preserve summer’s plenty or starve in the winter. Doubtless some of it is also nurture. In the last month my Mum has pickled onions, made chutney and at the last count at least five kinds of jam. The cellar shelves of my childhood home are literally groaning with her efforts.

Going down to look at it makes me think of the girlsown stories of my childhood. Anne of Green Gables and the Little House books are filled with domesticated matriarchs who bake, preserve and prepare for bleak winters. The kind of books I reread over and over again usually when I need a cosy comfort read are all full of home baking, preserving etc. Somehow in fiction and reality it makes my world seem just that little bit safer.

Both my grandmothers baked and preserved until age and frailty prevented them and my grandfather’s pickled onions were a family legend. It is possible that none of us will recover from the horror of knowing the recipe went to his grave with him. We’ve tried to replicate the legendary pickles using recipes we found but completely without success. Let me assure you if I thought it was possible to communicate with the dead I’d be trying to persuade him to give us the recipe. It did at least prompt my aunt to immediately teach all the women in the family how to make her famed chocolate mousse. It’s still a family secret but my cousins and I can all make it now.

It’s one of oddest things about my grandmother’s confusion, she has lost the physical skills to cook – it’s as if her motor memory is gone but she still retains the memories of cooking and preserving in the forties and fifties. She can tell me in great detail how to salt runner beans for winter and how to dry peas and mushrooms in summer so they are available for Christmas dinner. She can still explain how to dry roses in July to decorate the table at Christmas too. Last week she pronounced that it was time to make jam. Mum and I nodded and agreed choosing not to tell her that her preserving pan, jam funnel and jam thermometer are hidden in the parental cellar because we dare not risk the combination of physical and mental frailty and boiling sugar. So many things are lost in the mists of dementia but not those years when she scrimped and saved.

I can’t say my diet has been helped by Mum’s baking spree either. Homemade fruit bread spread with Mum’s homemade strawberry jam is surpassed only by her freshly baked cheese scones with homemade mango chutney. The oat and raisin cookies and crystallised ginger biscuits also have high approval ratings.

Thus far I have resisted the urge to make jam although it’s getting stronger and simply admired Mum’s rows of colourful glowing jars. however I predict there will be lemon curd in my future, especially as somehow lemons, eggs and unsalted butter found their way into my trolley on Sunday. Sooner or later there will be a row of jars lined up in my kitchen.

Instead I have focused my efforts on stocking my freezer against famine, snow or illness. I’d eaten virtually everything I prepared earlier during my recent illness. It gives me deep sense of satisfaction to open the door and see soup – two kinds, Vegetarian lasagne, Sweet Potato and Bean chilli , Cowboy Pie, Aubergine Pasta, burritos, refried beans, Veggie Cottage Pie, Aubergine and ricotta parcels, Roasted Vegetable pasta bake and apple crumble all stored ready for the dark cold days of winter or more likely lazy days when I cannot be bothered to cook.

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