JA: As the last few days of my vacation draw to a close, I asked guest blogger Rachel Cree-Lowe to keep you all entertained in my absence. I was absolutely swept away by this beautiful, nostalgic journey.
A little sisterly love in London
RCL: On the street I grew up on there were some things you could count on. You could count on at least one of the neighbors being home if you forgot your key or needed an extra egg or someone to report to your parents they saw you singing and dancing in the middle of the mall on your lunch hour from school (when you weren’t supposed to be going to the mall). Above everything else, you could count on tea being served at Mrs Noble’s house every weekday afternoon. In my mind’s eye, I can see them. The certain group of neighbors … wives, mothers, ladies of an earlier generation would all gather on her large porch mid afternoon and take their break. Each lady had their usual lawn chair they sat in – same spot each time – each lady had their cup or mug they used each time and each lady would bring something different to the conversation.
As a child, the odd time I’d join my mother and the ladies and sit listening… my legs swinging off the edge of the chair, holding a dainty cup of milky tea, trying to pick up any bits of stray gossip or interesting tid bits as the spoke. I never got much because anything good was always spoken in code that only adults know. It was nice to feel like a grown up for a little while even if you weren’t getting in on any neighbourhood dirt.
Mrs Noble had lived in the house since it was built. She raised her family there and it saw grandchildren and great grandchildren. It saw a lot of laughter, some tears and along the passage of time, many recipes. Mrs Noble was quite the foodie for her day. She always had her eye on health and the bottom line: how much is it going to cost? She took cake decorating in the mid 1960s so when I started my first class in 1997, she was eager to share ideas and try her hand at new techniques.
The wheel of time kept spinning and it became apparent that after the death of her husband, her 90th birthday and a few nasty falls, it was time for Mrs Noble to move into a retirement home. She was in hospital when her adult kids got together and quickly got the ball rolling of finding a home, putting the house on the market and cleaning out the house. She was of the generation that threw very little away. There were tons of donations, a good amount for the garbage man and things were divided. Then the call came that she wanted me to have a few things and go over for a look at what I might want. I put it off as long as I could because it felt like I was helping push her out the door. She insisted and as I knew too well… you do what Mrs Noble says!
I stood in the once pristine living room which once was home to a beautiful old piano and a bevy of Royal Doulton ladies looking at your every move but was now full of boxes of packed books, breakables and photos. Thinking of the number of times I’d stood there before, the wedding shower she had hosted for me, my little girls exploring it (she was telling them to look at whatever they wanted, I was freaking out thinking they’d break something) getting a bandaid put on my knee as a little girl… and each time had taken for granted it would always be there. That she would always be there. To say “never take anything for granted” is easy enough but it’s almost impossible to keep that in mind every moment for the most mundane things but this made me want to try harder.
She had set aside all her cake decorating equipment, baking tools, a beautiful yellow ware bowl and two boxes of cookbooks and newspaper clippings of recipes. Jackpot. It took a few days, but I went through each one. They dated back to the 1940s and went right up to recent days. I found the recipe for the casserole she made when my father died (after a week of not eating, it had been the first thing I’d taken a few bites of), the ancient cookie cutters we had used each Christmas for the gingerbread houses, little toys her granddaughter and I had played with. . There was the recipe for the cookies she always made at Christmas… recipes for things I had tasted so many times yet could attach a memory for each one. True comfort food. Nothing overley complicated, nothing flaming or eaten raw… just comfort.
This is what I find with PCA recipes. They are tasty, easy to prepare meals and they have become such staples in our home that they are the new comfort foods. My family are eating well, eating economically and enjoying it. With a cheeky 5 year old and 7 year old non stop talker we are well entertained and have many many laughs over meals which are on the table in ten minutes at most. Mrs Noble approves.