Friday, February 06, 2009

The way we were

In a TV schedule awash with things I don't want to watch, I have been heartened by BBC2's Victorian Farm.

In the second episode, the lady of the house boiled and peeled a whole cow's tongue. Being a fan of the sliced stuff you can buy from butchers and delis, I have sourced a full, skin-and-all one from the butcher and am going to have a bash.

The TV lady simply said she had boiled the tongue but didn't say how long for, so I set out on a mission to find some instructions. My mum has a shelf jam packed with cookery books and recipes, including a sheaf of handwritten ones that belonged to my great-great grandmother.

Eventually, I found what I was looking for in the most wonderful old brown-paged volume called Economy Success Cookery.
Over the decades, the book has lost its front cover and starts immediately at the first recipe so there is no way of telling when it was published. Mum is unsure if it belonged to my grandmother or great-grandmother.

I discovered that an ox's tongue - as it is properly called - should be boiled for two and a half hours or 'up to four if it is tough'. The recipe was amidst instructions for boiling the heads of cows, pigs and sheep, cooking the brains of those unfortunate creatures and how to use them. It was enough to give the Food Standards Agency a fit.

There were also a vast array of ice creams made with custard bases, a recipe for melon jam and a sweet 'vinegar pudding'. I am tempted to try the tangerine marmalade but don't think I'll be bothering with the brawn.

At the back, the book contains hints and tips on starching, use of a meat safe, preserving uncooked eggs by smearing them with vaseline and waterproofing your boots with boiled mutton fat, a la Victorian Farm. There are also potions to get rid of wrinkles, freckles and housewives' reddened hands, plus a 'non-injurious' tooth-whitening solution. If I knew what borax was or where to get it, I might give some of them a go - in these credit crunched times, it's got to be cheaper than Boots!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

No snow

To those who have kindly asked where I am, I am pleased to report that I am not stuck, neck deep in a drift of snow.

In fact, the deepest I have been this week is probably half an inch in Newcastle on Monday morning. Here on my wee stretch of the coast, we have so far been denied the white stuff that has enveloped much of the country.

I felt slightly cheated. I set my alarm half an hour earlier on Monday morning and swaddled myself in myriad layers for work, topped off with my great aunt's long, very thick (and very real looking) fake fur coat. "You want to hope the sun doesn't come out," said the man in the garage as I paid for fuel. "That looks as warm as a duvet!"

The snow began to whirl and hurl itself at the windscreen as I drove south towards Newcastle. The fields along the A1 were swathed in white. But by afternoon, the road was totally clear and I arrived home to find our familiar mud brown scenery had not received its own sprinkle of snowy fairy dust.

I felt slightly resentful at missing the joy of purified winter fields, the all-pervading mud glossed over and sparkling back at a china blue sky; I was jealous of those who enjoyed a guilty snow holiday from work and I missed out on the opportunity to take dozens of pictures of the Grey Mare looking like a Christmas card horse.

Having not experienced the worst snow for 18 years as the London-centric TV news never seemed to tire of telling us, I began to find the weather slightly tedious. As the week wore on, I started to consider it slightly ridiculous that the country ground to a halt because of a few inches of the white stuff.

But then I heard about a teenage girl killed while sledging with friends and walkers who died in the Cumbrian snow. Now I don't feel cheated; I just feel grateful.