While it’s true that my Nans were probably the first and greatest influences on my culinary know-how and fascination by all things food, looking back, my Granddads were equally at home in the kitchen. For if my Nans taught me the art of food, my Granddads showed me the science.
As I said in my first piece about my cooking inspiration, I visited my Nanna and Poppa’s house every Tuesday and Thursday until I was about 15. Poppa was the ultimate sous chef, happy to prepare everything and wash it all up afterwards, and when my Nanna was less mobile, cook too. I hate to think how many potatoes (spuds as he would say) his coarse, dexterous hands washed, peeled and sliced over the years.
While we (me, my brother and our cousin) played outside or sang songs using the settee as a piano with Nanna, or set up shop in the living room window seat, Poppa would be quietly (apart from a cheery chirruping whistle – think Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah-type whistle) making us tea and toast. I still don’t think I’ve tasted a cuppa quite like it or ever will. Poppa spread the toast thickly with margarine and cut it into triangles – something I still do today, it tastes better somehow.
If it weren’t toast, it was most definitely beans and chip (for me) and chips and beans (for my brother) that he was rustling up. In fact, chips cooked in lard always seemed to be cooking ready to feed whoever came through the door. My Nanna and Poppa’s house was never empty and a chip sarnie was always welcomed by any visiting family members. For afters, Poppa would carefully place a dome-like scoop of Walls’ vanilla ice cream on top of a tankard of lemonade (lemonade that got delivered in glass bottles and lived on the cold doorstep behind the curtain in the dining room). It tasted like the best sort of cream soda.
The fateful day of the pancake batter that I alluded to in the post about Nanna, is also one that gives me a great memory of Poppa. He was out buying Jif Lemon to put on the pancakes and as he walked back in through the front door, I leaned on the bowl and the batter went all over me (a big deal to a four-year old). And as I was on the brink of tears, Poppa came through to the kitchen, proclaimed, “How do? What’s going on here then?” before picking me up and standing me straight in the kitchen sink, and ruffling my hair – the only part of me not covered in batter. Nanna recalls that I looked up and said, “Well, accidents do happen”. After a quick change of clothes, Poppa cleaning off my shoes and Nanna whipping up another lot of pancake batter, we ate the pancakes. The chair I was standing on to reach the worktop got taken into the garden and deftly and swiftly cleaned with a bucket of soapy water.
As Poppa would always say, ”Very salubrious!”.
My other granddad, Ganka, always did the food shop. He’d take my brother and me to Kwik Save and get a trolley (or chariot as he called it) and we would walk around (Ganka half-singing Fly Me to the Moon) and pick up all the bits Nannie had requested, except the meat, that came from the butchers, The meat for Sunday lunch was always cooked by Ganka. The only exception I can think of is chicken, which Nannie seemed to cook. I can see him carving it ready for the plates on Sunday morning, tasting bits that fell off as he went.
I don’t know what Nan had against batter (the infamous pancake incident had been nowhere near her kitchen) but for whatever reason Ganka always made the pancakes in their house, and the Yorkshire puddings too. We would help of course, measuring the ingredients, watching as the whitish lard went into the oven to heat, coming back out hot and clear, and ready for the batter. I can hear the hiss as the cold mix would drop in. Yorkshire puddings still amaze me even now, how they puff up seemingly from nothing. Any spare ones, Ganka would eat spread with jam.
Nannie cooked with such an ease and seemed never to really measure anything, but Ganka liked to be precise, even marking the mixing just jug with a line to fill up to when making jelly (always lemon). It ensured the ideal “set” every time, not too much that you could bounce it off the floor and not runny, but with a good jelly wobble. Talking of jelly, custard was also in Ganka’s remit – Nan’s always turned out lumpy. We’d watch as the milk began to boil and just before it boiled over, Ganka would whip it off the heat, lift the pan and tip it into the well-mixed Bird’s Custard powder, sugar and milk paste, creating a wonderfully yellow, creamy custard to pour over Nan’s fresh apple tart.
Ganka was also great at frying anything. Perhaps it was his army days but from homemade chip fritters to corned beef fritters, fatty pork sausages that popped and jumped, and of course pancakes (I swear we never ate them that much). He’d cook them all in the same heavy cast-iron pan. The fat (lard) would spit and he would shout and jump as it caught his hand and then laugh making a bigger deal of it for our (me and my brother) amusement. I always remember him melting sugar in that pan too (not with lard) to make crunchy caramel brittle and whenever I smell treacle, or sugar cooking, I’m back at Nannie and Ganka’s house waiting intently to try whatever was coming out of the pan with a glint in the eye and a knowing, comforting smile from Ganka.
I also have Ganka to thank for my Welsh cakes. He made the bakestone that I use to cook them on. If you want to know how to make them yourself (Welsh cakes that is), click here. The featured image is me on the front doorstep of my Nanna and Poppa’s house, no doubt happy from being fed salubrious beans and chips.