Big Cook, Little Cook.

Recently my 9 yr old Jake has developed a keen interest in helping out in the kitchen and has shown a burgeoning passion for cookery.  When I say a ‘passion for cookery’ I actually mean he has a passion specifically for chopping things but he’s getting very into it. I’m very aware that one dads use of the phrase ‘keen interest’ is another dads use of the phrase ‘he’s a precocious little bugger’ but lets give his enthusiasm the benefit of the doubt even if he does get under my feet more than my socks do. It got me thinking about how Jake got to this point of interest, and a spin down memory lane going back to the early 1980’s to mid 1990’s in Bolton…

My gran lived through two world wars, she was born in October 1914 after her dad had gone away to war and she only met him when she was four on his return from being a wheelwright in the Lancashire Artillery.  Any suggestion that my great-great grandad on hearing that my great grandad had put my great grandma in the ‘family way’ outside of wedlock and sent him off to be shot at by Germans whilst earning a living is broadly denied in the family even if entirely true.

Gran worked in the mills from being about 13, married my grandad a railway stores man, was widowed in her 50’s and until a couple of years before she passed away aged 93 she would still cook meat and three veg at least 3 times a week for herself and fish at least twice.  I never saw a ready-meal at my grans and all my memories of visiting her in her warden controlled flat when I was a child are of her always having a pan of something cooking.  Sometime she would cook ‘finny haddock’ and on those occasions the flat would smell like Billingsgate Fish Market for a period of days, perhaps weeks.

Gran would make pot boiled brisket (always on white baps, thick with butter and with home made pickled onion), beef stew with pot herbs, grilled melted cheese with an egg broken onto the top, potato hash with a suet crust and all sorts of other traditional lancashire home cooking.  Egg custard, pancakes, pies, jam suet sponge and more.  Gran didn’t see cooking as a hobby or something to do to relax as I do, it was just what you did.  One of Britain’s first ASDA supermarkets, ASDA in Astley Bridge, Bolton only opened when she was in her 50’s and was met with derision.  Today I can pick from 4 supermarkets within a 2 mile radius of my house and get excited when they stock a new kind of melon.  Grans generation had nothing but home cooking to survive on.

As a child I knew that Gran would only ever shop at either Marks and Spencer’s or Bolton Market for her food, and Greenhalgh’s for cakes. In her later years when my mum or I were shopping for her we realised that this wasn’t just gran shopping, this was M&S gran shopping.  My mum was pulled up for buying broccoli that was ‘too green’ and I was reminded by Gran when she was about 85 that if I was buying fish for her it should ‘look like it’s alive’ (hard when it was gutted and lying on ice).

Gran was a good cook, a good role model in many ways not least culinary.

So, how with half of Gran’s genes my mum turned out so bereft of culinary skill or interest would confound any geneticist or parenting expert.  My uncle once said to me that my mum could burn water.  Honestly, her cooking ability is the sort of thing that blues singers could make a career out of singing about.  They’d never run out of material so long as she kept feeding them.

You may read this and think ‘how can he be so cruel about his own mum’ but whilst my mum’s lack of culinary virtues is acute she has never suffered from delusions of grandeur. My mum just isn’t that interested in cooking. The school report wouldn’t be one of those sad ones where you see an ‘A’ for effort but a ‘D’ for attainment.  Cooking for me and her when I was growing up was undoubtedly a pain on top of working full time and stretching a single parent budget.  Ahhh, my mind and taste buds reminisce for my mum’s cooking; pork chops that I would still be chewing now 30 odd years later had I not just swallowed chunks whole, liver that could stop bullets, broth with barley giving it the consistency of emulsion paint. Growing up with just my mum’s cooking I probably ingested enough carbon that if I ever have a gall-stone it will actually be a diamond.

I don’t know what my dad is / was like as a cook seen as he buggered off when I was tiny – for all I know he may be an executive chef but I doubt it.  I doubt that many people who left school in the 60s and took a job as a coffin maker harboured dreams of Michelin stars.  Perhaps I’m wrong and he sits there in his retirement now making macaroons, champagne foams, clafoutis and artisan breads…I dunno but I really, really doubt it.

Anyhow, by some weird proof-that-parenting-has-bugger-all-to-do-with-it process I love cooking.  I love trying to make things and improving bit by bit until i’m happy with it.  Curries, breads, roasts, anything really.  No pretence or masterchef ambitions I just like it, a few hours in the kitchen is a bit of an oasis from the 100mph life outside the kitchen.  At least it was, until the offspring decided to taken an interest…now it’s ‘can I chop’, ‘can I stir that’, ‘I’ll do that’ from the 9 yr old sous chef.  My only ambition is to get him to adulthood with the same number of fingers he was born with, suffice to say his knife skills are a bit suspect as yet.

I keep thinking that the interest Jake shows will pass but no sign of it yet. His great gran would be proud, his gran absolutely effing astounded.

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