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Friday, 23 March 2012

A Tribute To My Nan

My Nan, along with my Mum taught me to cook and in fact (sorry Mum) it's standing next to my Nan and her stock phrases which stand out in my mind when I think of my early cooking experiences. She was a key inspiration for this blog. She sadly passed away on 23rd February this year and I miss her so much it actually physically hurts.

But she lives on in my memories and my heart and is there with me everytime I bake a cake or make the dinner and so it's fitting that I dedicate this post to her.

My Nan had five children and nine grandchildren who were comforted by her clever and satisfying home cooking. In fact, at her funeral, her last day holiday hash even got a mention. Nan and Granddad didn't have much money when my Mum and her brothers and sisters were growing up, but they never missed a meal - largely due to my Nan's skill at frugal cooking. Both my Nan and my Granddad prioritised food. Offering guests something to eat was fundamental to welcoming someone into their home, to the point that if you decline my granddad will keep offering a range of tasty morsels until he finds something that suits (and if you're not hungry that's no excuse).

My Nan's mother was a cook and she passed her secrets on to my Nan and in turn they were passed on to me. My apprenticeship including cakes (fruit and sponge), souffles, quiches, how to make a basic roux (and from there a white sauce and a whole host of other dishes) and even on one occasion rainbow trout (I didn't like it). I was a vegetarian (well pescatarian until the age of 15 when I finally declared no more fish after a 14 day fish diet instigated by my Granddad to help me with my exams - brain food don't you know) from an early age and this was unquestioningly accomodated by my Nan. It was a common Saturday ritual to discuss what I wanted for dinner and then have my Nan help me cook it. My favourites were cauliflower cheese and vegetable lasagne (that basic roux came in so handy). I can hear Nan's voice now, "As my Mother said, gentle persuasion is the key Trudie". This gentle guidance was given in response to my over zealous mixing which splattered the walls and surfaces with molten cheese sauce.

We never used a recipe and apart from cakes I don't remember doing much measuring. It was all stored in our heads having been orally transmitted from my Nan to me. I'll let you in to the secret of the white sauce later.

I suppose my training started even before I could reach the cooker when I come to think about it. My early memories involve standing with my elder cousin and a play rolling pin in my Nan and Granddad's conservatory or shaking milk in a jar to make butter (rancid after a day of shaking by little hands on a sunny day).

And before I give you my family method for a white sauce, there's one more tip. "Use the heat of your hand". This is invaluable when creaming butter and sugar when making cakes ;-)

Nan's white sauce:

A large dollop of butter (or marg if that's what you have or are sticking to the dairy free thing)
Plain flour (although if I've only got self-raising I'll use this instead)
Milk (or milk and water, or soya milk - my preference)
Salt and pepper (and now I tend to add a bay leave too)

First slowly melt the fat.
Turn the heat down a bit.
Shake in flour and stir until you've got a smooth lump (this is a roux). You can probably look up the flour to fat ratio, I do it by eye.
Slowly add the milk stirring, stirring (remember gentle persuasion) so it's smooth.
Don't worry if you get lumps, you can beat them out with a whisk and usually I abandon the wooden spoon and move over to a whisk at this point as a matter of course.
Keep adding liquid until you get the right consistency (e.g. the thickness you like).
If I'm making a cheese sauce (either using actual cheese or nutritional yeast flakes for the vegan option) I'll make the white sauce a bit thinner than I like because the cheesy stuff will thicken it up.

So here's to you Nan. I've already had N on a chair next to me in the kitchen and I promise to cook with her, teach her your recipes, methods and phrases and above all to remember the love you put into food and me.

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