Food at 9DR
Seen from the French perspective, this subject is a double-sided one, because throughout my youth (and still now, come to think of it) people would always taunt me with the ordeal that (according to them) I must had gone through when in England. Not only did English food have a dreadful reputation (as you’ll read here in my description of school dinners!), but however hard I tried to explain that I loved Grandma’s meals, there would always be a comment on her watery cabbage and absence of taste, meaning that she didn’t know how to make good food because she herself didn’t care. My dad used to picture her trying to fill him with boiled meat and strange looking saltless veg. “More cabbage, Charles?” he would taunt, and he meant: what IS this stuff?
(some jars which used to be at 9DR in Grandma's kitchen)
(Other pots that were in Grandma's kitchen, or were they in Auntie Olive's?)
But annoyed as I was, I was unmoved. My truth was that I loved Grandma’s food, and that even if I knew of other places where the reputation of British grub corresponded to what French people said (and then I was pleased to concur, inwardly focussing on those places, and mentally separating 9DR from any confusion, but abandoning the task of explaining this difference), I knew that when I returned to the old home, I would relish whatever happened in her kitchen and was soon after transferred on the table. I’m not only referring to puddings, loganberry jelly as an absolute n°1, which was served with Walls vanilla ice-cream and maybe custard, but Grandma knew what I liked and I remember fondly her tomato salads, with fresh lettuce from the garden outside, her firm and tasty little potatoes, I used to love her Heinz soup (and we all did, including my critical dad, who imported it dutifully in the later years, and when we had it at home it was a treat), which was drunk with a round table spoon somewhat too wide for my mouth. She prepared fantastic bacon and eggs for us, with those amazing sausages and cooked tomatoes, of which there was never enough. Then she would always do some toast, and I can still see the size of the butter, its exact shade of yellow and the knife used to spread it.
Loganberries have only been known in France recently. But thanks to Auntie Olive and Auntie Maud (I think Olive was the original and genuine gardener; Maud put too much passion into it), they are an essential element of the magic of 9DR (together with gooseberries, which fewer people loved). Grandma’s stewed loganberries with custard was a rapturous experience. We would eat them either hot, just cooked, and that was fabulous (I would drain the juice from sheer greed), or we might have them cold, and then she would scoop them out of a jar which were stored like precious metal by Monsieur Père – was it in the cellar? – and it was just as fabulous. We might eat them with ice-cream then. There was loganberry jam of course (drives me silly just to think of it; I would actually eat spoonfuls) and loganberry jelly, thick syrupy jelly which was had with cake or biscuits – now I know why I’m an anglophile. In the summer, we would also go outside, and in spite of contrary orders, we would pick the fat juicy purple loganberries on their stalks: intoxicating! Soon we had some at home, because Mum had brought back stalks which quickly adapted to French soil, but nothing anyway could beat Grandma’s loganberry jars.
Now here is MP's Loganberry jam recipe, a copy found in Cath's cook book. What's interesting about it is the comment MP made about men using electric razors. What would that have to do with Loganberries, you'd surely wonder... ?
One special word about Marmite. I think that even in England, there are some people that didn’t / don’t like it. But I must have had some stirred in my feeding bottles because as soon as I think of the stuff, I start salivating! Mind you, it’s exactly what it does in reality: you still have it in your mouth hours after you’ve spread those thin scraps on buttered bread (another sign of partiality is my fondness for English bread, when I have French baguette to gorge on every day here!). We used to laugh so much to observe unsuspecting French people spread Marmite on bread, “to try”! At tea-time, I was the Marmite guy and Paco the Chocolate Spread one. Today, I still use it even if probably back in England it was part of a kind of vitamin-added diet which well-meaning grown-ups who had known the war thought was necessary. We were given Marmite as part of the system which made Grandma use TCP (another one of dad’s subjects of 9DR bashing), but we loved it.
When we went to school or out to London for the day, and she had to prepare a picnic for us, we had little custom-made bags:
(this is one the original ones which Noel has kept, God knows how)
And inside were the revered sandwiches (pronounced sambwiches) cut in manageable squares and wrapped in some unremembered paper, but what I do remember was that we would have lamb in the middle, with chutney and lettuce, tomato slices: goodness they tasted like Heaven. Then there was some orange juice which Grandma had squashed for us, and maybe two Penguin biscuits in their brightly coloured foil, which was the promise of their amazing minute of pure crunchy delight, or a Kitkat bar which I also relished. Finally an apple which I ate even if they didn’t taste (this time) as good as the ones we had in France. And in the shops, we marvelled at the incredible head start which the British had over us in terms of candies! These names: Flake, Malteasers, Crunchie, Rolo, Fruit gums, Smarties, Chocolate drops, Curly Wurly, evoke such a richness of memories that I could speak about them for hours, it seems!
Ah, and of course, jelly babies: were you among Grandpa’s grandchildren whom he unknowingly doomed to adult-life visits to the dentist? Well I certainly was. He would come in our bedroom after we had switched off the light (we knew he was coming!), and after we had brushed our teeth, and asked us the now-mythical question: “what colour, the jelly baby?” (I suppose his bag was sufficiently lit by the opened door): we told him, and he popped it in our mouths! I bet he didn't tell mum in those days!
For fun: here’s some quizzes about “Classic British sweets”!
To finish with sweets, I’m sure you were all wondering: “Is he going to mention Monsieur Père cake”?? Certainly everyone knows what we used to call like that, but perhaps under a different name? It’s the rich fruit cake that he baked, and which Grandma took over making when he died. I don't know whether it wasn't his version of Christmas pudding? But had it at other periods of the year too, I believe. She used to put rather too much of the thick icing though, and I think the last times when we had it (Mum brought it back with her when she went to London every November, and so it was ready for Christmas), I was a little choked by it. But the inside was gorgeous, a thick mix of fruit, nuts and – from what I heard, fat, which had cooked for hours… We ate it religiously, and this time even my dad considered which expression of appreciation he would use.
The big pan was used to make the Monsieur Père cake. Cath inherited from these and would use it for the same purpose. She used the two flat ones to make some hard rock toffees.
Today I have the reputation of a die-hard supporter of English food, when really I am just thankful for Grandma’s adaptative skills to our tastes – I know she would serve us what we liked – and the genuine quality of some of the simple but very good dishes we had at her table. A good deal came from her garden, so it had to be good anyway. Okay, I’m partial, I know, because Grandma’s food was mixed with the pleasure of holidays, and perhaps if I’d lived there on a regular basis, such things as breakfast Rice Krispies would have started tasting the same as their continental equivalent (but they weren’t, I swear, they had a crispiness and a flavour of their own!) I’m known for my love of (and supposedly masterful skill at making) custard, of jelly, of PG tips tea and Marmite (among other things). All of which are looked down upon by Frédérique who even if she’s long been a sedate observer of these whims of mine, cannot really comprehend what they mean. There’s one food obsession of mine which doesn’t come from 9DR, and that’s Weetabix. At Grandma’s I would always have Rice Krispies (sometimes Corn Flakes) and Monsieur Père would make me listen to the crackling noises inside the pile of crispies as soon as he had poured the milk. The liking for Weetabix started during my Youth hostels tours of Great Britain, in my twenties.
There are some 9DR foods which I never really managed to adopt, one such being porridge, which I saw the two grandparents eat at breakfast (and which I think Grandma had as a replacement dinner some days). I would marvel at the solidification process of the oats in Monsieur Père’s plate, with the brown sugar he would sprinkle over them, and his way of eating from the sides, because they were colder. I think it’s because I never really enjoyed warm milk. And that’s also, perhaps, why I rather quickly switched from white to black tea. Today I almost never have milk in my tea, unless I’m with some people who served it to me without asking, or if it’s Indian chai ! But one thing is sure: it’s got to be PG tips! There are many types of tea which I certainly would like, but none that I have adopted to replace it. I store those big 240 teabag boxes when we come back from England (once there were 8 in our Morrison’s trolley), and recently I took advantage of going to Paris to sneak into an Indian food shop near Gare du Nord, to get my ration (you can’t buy PG tips in ordinary supermarkets in France)!
Grandma would make us tea all the time, very much in the English fashion: “would you like a cuppitee?” she would chime, and that tea of hers wasn’t what the French like in it – an experience into a rarity of exotic tastes – no, it was feeling good together and anticipating a need which was assumed to be always there. And for that you don’t need (nay you mustn’t) be diverted by: “what sort of tea will you have?” You’re given tea (and maybe biscuits) as a matter of course. It’s part of the home.
To finish off, a few pictures of utensils which I might not have posted before:
some tea-caddies, or flour?
Grandpa's scales, I remember him weighing his potatoes on this (there would have been a little aluminium saucer on top)
here's another one, perhaps for letters, I think, not food.
A tea tin, I think.
Some cutlery which belonged to Auntie Olive, perhaps (photo sent by Hélène)
How many cuppas were drunk in this one??
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