Stew and Dumplings in June

Flaming June and we had stew and dumplings for dinner! As I was waiting for the dumplings to cook I thought to myself “We should be sitting outside enjoying strawberries and cream”. Stew and Dumplings is very much comfort food though isn’t it? and I got to thinking how we associate memories with food and my mind went through a historical rush of memories.
My first one must have been when I was 3 as it involves my Mam and she passed 2 weeks before my 4th birthday. We had gone for a walk to Staincross Park and we had called in the shop on Wakefield Road and she bought me a Golden Cup and she had some Munchies. I ate mine on the way to the park and when we were walking back home she handed me one of her Munchies. I recall thinking how sweet and kind she was.
My next step on Memory Lane puts me at 4 years old going to the Post Office with my Grandad to collect his pension. He would buy me a pack of Cherry Lips. I can’t say they were my favourite because they were hard and not half as tasty as Sports Mixtures but I treasured them because they were a gift of love.
Moving on has to be Aunty Sally’s Sliced Taties and Onions, cooked in the coal oven until the sliced potatoes on top were golden brown and the onions caramelised. Yum lol.
I think we all have my Gramma’s recipe for Coconut Cake as well and I had to smile a few weeks ago. Laura, my daughter, works at Barnsley Building Society and they had colluded to produce a recipe book to raise funds for charity. Laura’s contribution was the Coconut Cake and I said how pleased I was that Gramma’s recipe was the one she had thought to include. It turns out she wasn’t aware that’s how far back it went in the family so I am glad we had the chat about it as such roots are important aren’t they?
I started doing my family tree back in 1999 and it is in serious need of an update – quite a few to add the closing brackets to and some beautiful new twigs to add too.
My memories of food are not all so positive and I have hesitated here whether to include this next bit. But if this blog is to help and uplift others, then it’s important you know where I came from and the adversity which I overcame. Between the age of 10 and 16 my life was one of abuse, neglect and deprivation. There were times in this part of my life when I was so weak with hunger I could barely stand and food was rationed or withheld as punishment. Exactly what our crime was was never that clear or rational. For example I recall there being dust underneath a cupboard after we had supposed to have cleaned up and we had to explain why it was there. The big BUT was the answer could not be “We forgot to do under the cupboard”. Me, our Mick and Julie were standing in the cold kitchen, in the dark trying to invent some answer which would be acceptable. I had just been doing all about Brownian Movement in Physics at school and asked our Mick could we say it had something to do with that. (You can see Brownian Movement in action when you see the dust dance in beams of sunlight). Of course, the task was an impossible one, so the punishment was a beating and hunger, followed by rations. In my mind’s eye I can still see the 3 cups on the worktop, each containing our allocation of tea, with 2 slices of bread per cup. The Echo margarine would be in the fridge next to the Anchor butter which they had. Once we threw a wrapper of Echo in the dustbin which still had smears of marg left on it – it was duly recovered from the bin and we had to scrape the last bits off and use it.
I spent many years trying to understand why and how such things occur and why did they happen to me and never found an answer. But one day a friend said “Chris, if you can’t get an answer try another question”. I thought about this long and hard and wondered how can you rephrase it? I then thought “Well why not me? and as I sought to answer that one I began to realise that all those experiences are what made and shaped me. For sure I would never want to repeat them but I take great pride in being me and would never want to be anyone else 🙂
My Gramma Esther Brown was born in Barnsley on 13 September in the 1890s and married my Grandad, Harry Hutchinson on 9 June 1919 in St Johns Church, Duke Street, Barnsley. This is her recipe for Coconut Cake

5oz Margarine
3 eggs
4oz Coconut
8oz Self Raisin Flour
3 tablespoons of Milk
Cream together the margarine and sugar
Add the eggs
Add the coconut and flour
Add milk
Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven 160-180C Gas Mark 3 for 45-50 minutes
Serve with love and enjoy