Sunday, 29 March 2009

Sights, sounds and tastes of yesteryear...

As a lad growing up in Cottingham, East Yorkshire with my parents and grandparents in a three storey Victorian house you might imagine that being born only 14 years after the war ended, perhaps things were still a little tight and our diet I remember was interesting to say the least.

My motive for writing today's blog is to test my memory of the sights and sounds, smell and tastes of the old house. Starting with the diet which brought all this to mind, my Grandfather was a Londoner, born back in 1882 in Islington. One of his delights was to eat tripe and onions. He was the only one to eat it mind; my mother cooked it and never a morsel of it passed her lips. It looked disgusting: white and spongy and the smell is unique. It was cooked in milk as I remember and the sweetness wafting through the house belied its looks. He never ate other traditional London foods such as jellied eels or anything else like it thank goodness. Thinking about what tripe actually is, I'm glad I never tried it (look it up if you don't know!)

One treat of course was bread and 'dripping' after the Sunday roast. For the uninitiated in this modern world, the meat was fairly fatty and lumps of lard were often used to baste the meat. When the roast was cooked, sliced up and served, the juices from the meat had the fat spooned off and placed in a cup and the meat juice used for the gravy. When the fat in the cup was solidified, that was the dripping, served up on doorstep slices of bread liberally sprinkled with salt! Any 'Weightwatcher' would faint at the thought of it - and one slice would have probably made up the whole week's points.

The kitchen was tiny compared to the rest of the tall rambling house, probably 8 feet by six feet, very narrow because there was a cold walk-in pantry taking up much of the space. There was the traditional marble slab to keep food cold and let me tell you with high ceilings, brick walls and no window to let sunlight filter through, it was effective. The gas cooker was temperamental unlike today's cookers and if mother was baking, you couldn't enter the kitchen or shut doors quickly anywhere in the house for fear of the draft causing her cakes to sink! We never starved although having snacks was difficult because the Anchor butter was always rock hard and the bread which you had to cut with a bread knife could never take it and inevitably I ended up with a lump of hard butter and loads of holes in the bread! The Stork margarine mother used mainly for cooking was no better and when I was young I remember slicing a lump off thinking it was cheese and let me tell you - I was nearly sick! The once a week treat was Smith's crisps with the little twisted blue bag of salt so you could sprinkle it to taste.

We made our own homemade ginger beer too, until the time when the bottles of ginger beer were put outside in the warm weather and the tops secured far too tightly. Of course the fermenting yeast kept building up the pressure and whilst eating tea one day, a series of loud explosions rent the air as one by one each bottle exploded with the pressure. After that we bought it in from the Jones' delivery man who came with bottles of soft drinks once a week on his open backed lorry, (tuppence on the bottle if we gave it back.) His ginger beer, in glass bottles delivered in a orange painted wooden crate had secured wired stoppers on the top.

The house must have had servants in years gone by because there were still bell pushes in some of the rooms and in the middle downstairs room next to the kitchen there was a bell board which told the servant where the bell was rung from. The house had huge ceilings, probably ten feet high with picture rails and the house was draughty and usually chilly, no double glazing or central heating then. Enough reminiscing for now - time for bed with a slice of toast thinly spread with margarine and a spoon full of marmalade - 1 'Weightwatcher' point!

Chat soon


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