Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Cookbook diversion

There are ways in which I think I've succeeded as a mother to date; specifically really that my children are still alive and about the size they're supposed to be. That's considerably better than I've managed with any house plant over the years.
There are a few other ways in which my 7 year maternity report might read 'could do better'. One of these is in the feeding of my children. As well as North London being packed with 4 year olds apparently reading Tolkien it is also packed with toddlers apparently enthusiastically choosing between the 'moules' and the rabbit in restaurants. Not my children.
Mine aren't as bad as some. The things-they-will-eat list definitely runs into double figures. It's a shame that the Venn diagram intersection between their two lists of things-they-will-eat is so small but there you go. It gets even more complicated when they have friends round to play who also have lists. I sometimes think I should just open a canteen with hot plates as I prepare 4 different vegetable and protein options for four different people.

The thing that makes feeding your children fraught these days is this new fangled notion of a healthy and varied diet full of fruit and veg. It really complicates the business. Time was there only were about four things to eat anyway and eat them you did on a rotation. Everywhere was also freezing all the time so you could eat huge quantities of delicious fat and get away with it because you had to break the ice in the basin each morning just to brush your teeth.

I have some insight into the diet of my dad as a child in the 20s and 30s as my granny kept a little notebook where she wrote down all of the weights of her children (until they were 16! the shame!) and also notes on their baby diet. All of her babies were given dripping on a spoon as a first weaning food, and then progressed on to beef soup and bread. As far as I can tell there was no hint of a vegetable for months. Aged about 5 my father had a nasty bout of pneumonia which I guess he was lucky to survive in those pre-antibiotic days. The prescription to build him up thereafter was a pint of cream daily. Those were the days my friends, those were the days.

My 70s childhood was during the heady days of the beginnings of convenience food. I remember my mother's huge excitement when she learned a new Bejams (forerunner of Iceland) was opening round the corner and she would be able to stock the chest freezer with Findus crispy pancakes anytime she wanted. It was a strangely schizophrenic diet in that era I think- lots of old school 'proper' roasts, pies, liver casserole and hot puddings mixed with fancy new stuff like Heinz toast toppers, butterscotch Angel Delight and primula cheese spread in a tube. Pasta was spaghetti and rice an exotic treat from the Chinese take away (although occasionally we had 'riced' potatoes...)

And so to the cookbooks. One of my favourite novelty salvages from my childhood is 'The Busy Mother's Cookbook' by Patsy Kumm. Published in 1972, with chapter titles like 'Jiffy ways with food', 'Emergency action' and 'Meals from Mince', it's blissfully of its time. When I saw that the Book People were offering rather a nice discount on some new upstart cookbook called 'The Busy Mum's Cookbook' by Mary Gwynn I couldn't resist investing for comparison. Plus frankly I needed the help.

Here are the two together:
Both have their list of storecupboard essentials. Times have changed. Where Patsy places her faith in packet soup, crisps and evaporated milk, Mary goes for chorizo and butternut squash. But both are packed with similar quantities of sage advice:
Patsy: 'Over the years, I've hunted for a book like this, and not found it. I've discovered cookery books on preparing quick meals that seem to assume..that you want to live on eggs or salads...I've read books on feeding children...that are packed with ways of making rice pudding rainbow coloured or concocting Hansel and Gretel out of sponge cakes. Which wasn't what I needed to know at all.'
Mary: 'All mums work by definition- and that's before you even begin to consider taking on paid employment...what many of us lack is time and increasingly skill and confidence in the kitchen. But we share a common goal; the desire to feed our families food that is good for them and, even more important, that they will eat.'
Cookbooks have also changed, full colour spread photos are now essential where once we only got instructions. Mary Gwynn's version definitely wins the coffee table vote.
And one has to say, reading some of Patsy's 'jiffy' recipes it's probably just as well that there aren't photos...
I really like the Mary Gwynn cookbook and I can see that it will be useful to me as she cooks in a similar way to me; her recipes are both 'do-able';often one pan and a few ingredients, and tasty. The only problem will be to get my children to actually eat them. They were weaned on butternut squash (not dripping) but they'll fall to the floor and roll around as if poisoned if offered it now and they look with great suspicion on anything that has all its ingredients mixed together: What have I hidden in there? This stage will pass I know. In the meantime I think both Bill and Eddie would love to move back to the seventies and be fed this:
(minus the green pepper and with the mushrooms fished out for Bill but with broccoli on the side, no broccoli for Eddie but he'll eat Bill's mushrooms.)
but tonight perhaps we can see if they'll eat this 2012 version-
(with green beans instead of beansprouts, pepper on the side for Eddie only and NOBODY TELL Bill about the peanut butter...)sigh. 
Must do better.
'The Busy Mum's Cookbook' by Mary Gwynn, pub. Simon and Schuster, isbn 978-0--85720-353-3 a current bargain on thebookpeople.co.uk. 
Recommended for those with expandable 'lists'.


  1. Yes but The Busy Mother gets her cover designed by Quentin Blake...the really sad thing is that Patsy Kumm died of a heart attack only a few years after that book came out (I remember our Busy Mother telling me).

    1. oh that is sad. Possibly she had a few too many helpings of sausage and chicken bake?

  2. Mmmm butterscotch Angel Delight and primula cheese spread in a tube = food of the gods ;-) I can't stand squeesy cheese now though, but butterscotch Angel Delight is still yummy. I am a child of the 70's! The sausage and chicken bake sounds like something I concoct these days ;-)

    Glad to hear that having food mixed together is a general 'child' thing. MG will eat if everything is separate and not touching but I'm a lazy cook and prefer everything mixed together in one pot - which she takes one look at, says yuck, and runs back to the television. I probably ought to turn the television off as she seems to be using it as a food source...

    1. It's a long time since I've had some squeezy cheese but I'm now feeling a slight urge for just a blob of the chive flavour sort to lick off my finger...or perhaps the one with bits of ham in it?
      The only reason I donate blood is for the TUC cheese crackers at the end.
      mmm salt n fat the perfect combination mmm