Virginia Barton

13 April 2018: Kitchen Chatter


13 April 2018


Is it okay to give a bride a “Keep Your Favorite Recipes” book for a wedding present these days? You know the sort I mean. It’s obligingly divided into sections marked Soups (“Starters” were unknown when I was a girl), Entrées etc. Perhaps such a gift should be given to the groom — or both to be on the safe side?

My own slim, pale green buckram-bound version is long gone. It had recipes for my mother’s jaw-breaking rock buns and baked eggs, viz

Butter a ramekin, into which break a fresh egg. Add more butter on top of the egg, season and cook until firm in a moderate oven.”

Delicious, actually. Also chocolate rice krispy clusters in paper cases, and junket.

Considering BH was 5’10” and weighed in at a generous 13 stone these culinary treats couldn’t be classed as nourishing or body-building. Fortunately not only did he have a slap-up lunch in the office every day, but my sister gave me Tante Marie’s French bi-lingual cookery book. Eschewing the French, I made cheese soufflés until I had the dish to perfection; and revolting gnocchi, the sort guests hide under their knives and push to one side of the plate.


Things changed when my mother-in-law came to stay. Fragrant continental scents filled the flat and BH lapped up great platefuls of delicious food. So did I, and tried to pick up some tips. The pale green recipe book was soon boasting recipes for kotlety and buraczki; to be served with mounds of feathery mashed potatoes with never a lump, and lashings of mushroom sos.

BH loved it when his mother came for the weekend. My mother, who rarely came, brought bottles of wine, packets of cigarettes and piles of books. Between the two of them there was food for body and soul.


In Hong Kong, where we went to live within a year of our marriage, I had a superb cook. Ah Sung of blessed memory combined the duties of Cook and Nanny. She met us at the airport when we arrived as neat and spotless as she was every day for the seven years she was with us.

Even when we saddled her with two babes to take care of – well, I did help a bit when I was at home — she never let me down.

Like all Cooks and all Nannies she was a tyrant and had complete control over me. BH being male could do no wrong. When desperate I would make him instruct Ah Sung to do this or that and “For goodness’ sake don’t upset Missie” he would say (who was probably pregnant again). Even that was due to Ah Sung who decided that two children were hardly worth her while.

“What’s the matter you Master? You only two children!”

She started to conceal slender shards of ginger in BH’s food – guaranteed, she opined, to work wonders.


Our Cook made fabulous dishes in simple Cantonese style. Friends and even distant acquaintances “stop’d over” in Hong Kong to enjoy her cuisine, making sure of an invitation to dinner well in advance by stipulating “your Cook’s wonderful Chinese food.”

Flattered to bits but modest with it, Ah Sung would disappear at dawn to the market returning with several newspaper packages tied with raffia dangling from her hands. (None of your horrid plastic bags in those days – bet that’s changed…) It seemed to me there were never enough of these packages; but after a day’s preparation a feast for kings was put on the table, in a myriad little bowls, for no matter how many guests. Wash Amah, and other people’s Amahs, would appear to help, all squashed into the tiny kitchen with the children. The noise, always a sign of Chinese happiness, was terrific.


Ah Sung; talk about a Master Chef. And I haven’t a single recipe for Chinese food in my cook book. I wouldn’t dare.





  • Giuseppe says on: April 13, 2018 at 12:22 am


    Buon compleanno, Virginia!

    • Ginny says on: April 15, 2018 at 9:58 pm


      Thank you – or should that be grazie? Gin

  • Mary says on: April 15, 2018 at 2:22 pm


    I love the idea of the recipe book holding all the culinary flourishes and trademarks of different generations, different cultures. Mine is a scrap book – a mish mash of any old recipes I find that look mouth watering in the paper on my daily commute into London or in a magazine that I discreetly tear out at the hairdressers.

    Habits and tastes certainly change! When I started out, thirty odd years ago, it was all cannelloni in rich three cheese sauce and strawberry cheesecake, now it’ll be quinoa, kale and couscous with goji berry and chia seed topping and you’d be lucky to get a chocolate mousse made from avocado (oh yes) for pudding.

    • Ginny says on: April 15, 2018 at 9:59 pm


      Oh my Mary, hang on to your cookbook and publish it when you’re my age! It’s historic!

      Half the things you mention I’ve never heard of, and goodness knows a] what they taste like and b] what they look like yet alone smell of!

      And how many air miles they have travelled to get to your plate? Bet that makes you feel guilty! Or maybe you grow them yourself? Londoners are so eco these days.

      I might write a cookbook for the aged digestive system, beginning:

      “Do not eat anything after 5pm other than salt-free rice cakes if you want an undisturbed night’s sleep.”

      Sad, isn’t it? Ginny

  • Mary says on: April 18, 2018 at 8:03 am



    …or recipes for the brand new digestive system (my friend’s toddler): “no chocolate, sweeties or cakes after 5pm” if you want an undisturbed night!

    • Ginny says on: April 18, 2018 at 2:47 pm


      I like that Mary! Probably applies to all ages; and Mr Dentist says, “Not at any age.” Killjoy! G

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


(c) All Rights Reserved. Site Designed by Magtype CR