Wednesday 11 March 2009

I capture the kitchen

I can cook because my mother can’t. Really can’t. To her, the kitchen is hostile territory where pans commit scorching hara-kiri, ovens spontaneously combust and meat comes in two different cuts: stringy or tough. So as kids, if my brother and I wanted to eat something vaguely more thrilling than toast, we made it ourselves.

Don’t pity me – it was wonderful. Mum was always engrossed in a book, either reading one or writing one, so she never cared what we did in the kitchen so long as we were QUIET, there was no BLOOD and any flames were intentional. In a childhood of happily anarchic gastronomy, there was no toy cooker for me - the whole kitchen was my playground. I had no idea it was weird for a 10 year old to spend Sunday afternoon boning a duck or icing petits fours. I spent hours pouring over the pages of the Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook, marvelling at the 70s gorgeousness of the ruby-red maraschino cherries and emerald-green angelica which seemed to adorn every perfectly-iced cake. Marguerite Patten was my heroine.

If I loved cookbooks, I loved my dictionary more. In a world of potato waffles, crispy pancakes and fish fingers, quenelles, purées and gratins were strange poetry indeed. When other girls were arguing about Starsky or Hutch, Donny or Jimmy, I was wondering where in the wilds of County Durham I might be able to find truffles or foie gras.

My parents threw lots of parties, the kind where women sat around in floaty dresses and love beads and bearded men played guitars. And there I was, like a mini Margo Leadbetter, passing around the (tinned) tuna pâté and extolling the virtues of my apple charlotte or gingernut log. Any conversations about gender stereotyping probably took place when I was out of earshot in the kitchen, checking the progress of my devils on horseback.

When others rhapsodise about their Mum’s special shepherd’s pie or apple crumble I have nothing to offer but toast toppers or baked beans (with cheese on a fancy day). But I’m not sorry. In the true spirit of 70s self-reliance, I made my own memories. And then I ate them.


  1. Hullo from the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York (egad, I nearly typed the "finger licks" region!!).

    I'm thrilled to be the first to set down in print just how wonderful your blog is...welcome to your soon-to-be-adoring public, Debora!

    Please do soon post recipes for devils-on-horseback or at the very least, tell us how to properly poach an egg, that foremost culinary mystery.

    Many warm wishes on your fledgling, dear lady, and I cannot wait to read more!

    Warmly, The Lanky Yankee, Karen

  2. I love your last comment! I will bookmark you for a certainty.

  3. As the above mentioned mother I have only one thing to say.

    Haven't I done well?

    Oh! And I really enjoyed the delicious lettuce soup you once made me for my birthday at a time when I thought lettuce was a kind of edible plate for sliced tomatoes.


  4. Greetings from across the pond!

    This is a great start. I am anxious to read more!

    Best regards,


  5. Great beginnings - I've subscribed to your blog and anticipate some lovely posts, if your first is indicative. And I love the Leadbetter reference - the DVDs I have of the series are real treasures :)

    Di in western Canada

  6. Thank you so much for all of your lovely comments. I do hope you all come back often and share your own stories.

    Love and a licked spoon,


  7. Hey lovely lady- any ideas for Millers64 most welcome, love it!

  8. that worktop looks familiar! I am starving now and there is only some mouldy bread in the fridge. damn!

    lovely to read and evokes memories of my youth and dishes my own mother used to cook. She was v good at 'baking' (there were always biscuits, cakes etc in the larder) but not really adept at cooking meals . i remember a lot of 'boil in bag' curry things that if i recall correctly were sweet, a funny colour and had raisins in them. could this be right?

    love your approachable style of writing and of course will give most recipies a go asI love your food. yum yum. ali

  9. Well, Louise, if the many reports of delicious breakfasts at Millers64 - complete with your homemade muffins and jams - are to be believed, you need no advice from me! Would be lovely to see you - and Edinburgh - soon.

    Ali - I remember those sickly, yellow 'boil in the bay' curries, too. And school curries, which were really yesterday's stew, with a heap of mild curry powder and a handful of raisins thrown in to complete the transformation. I was 20 before I understood what real curry was!

    Love and licked spoon,


  10. Great to read your words - as always you write so well and even I am enthused to do a bit of cooking!

    I'll look forward to regular updates!


  11. Yeah, go going to try ginger nut log with the brood this wkend.

  12. As long as you feed me there's a free gardening service offered to tend to your allotment full of fresh herbs, fruit n veg etc if you get one!

    Brilliant! Love it! Cook on...

  13. Hello Nash,

    When are you going to come and build my raised beds for my fruit bushes? The sooner you come, the sooner there will be jam - maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life!

    Come on you Gunners!


  14. Hi Nash

    I knew you were a winner when I saw you neat and handsome and making the garden gorgeous. I'm looking forward the eating those fruit pies - this year, next year...
    How about a picture here of the garden, Debora? And those gorgeous cakes on the table when you opened it for charity. Yum.

  15. I really enjoyed your introduction. You are warm and witty.


  16. Hello Sheree and thank you so much for your kind comment. Of course, my lovely mum is now certain that everyone will think that I had a terrible childhood, when the opposite is true! She pursued her dreams and passions and by her example, I learned to follow my own. All the way to the dining table and beyond.


  17. Great to read your blog Debora. Looking forward to trying out some of your recipes.

    Keeep cooking!


  18. Debora, I love it! I love the way we as parents can never predict how our children will react to our idiosyncracies. I think it is great you had access to the kitchen. My darling mama would never let us cook (this is my memory anyway). She was Kitchen-Queen and it is only in recent years we have managed to persuade her to relinquish control of her Territories, and finally reap the benefits of being cooked-for....

  19. realfoodlover,
    Thanks so much Elizabeth. I was truly lucky to have parents who always supported me, gave me the freedom to make my own discoveries, find my own passions. Some of my friends had mums who were marvellous cooks, but came out in a cold sweat at the suggestion that we might make anything more adventurous than rice crispie cakes in their kitchens. Of course, my parents reap the rewards now - they are the most enthusiastic of guests and I love having them at my table.


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