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.