I come from a long line of people living on the edge of poverty, from factory workers in the “dark Satanic mills” of Paisley, to displaced agricultural labourers trying to scrape by in the big city, to Highlanders cleared from their fertile traditional holding to tiny barren plots, to convicts arriving in a foreign land with nothing but the rotting, filthy clothes on their backs.
There aren’t many heirlooms in my family. Nobody had the money to spend on expensive items and any goods that were acquired were then divided amongst the large numbers of will beneficiaries in the large families which were common in days gone by.
Here are a couple of non-material things which were handed down the generations.
A love of growing things and the green thumb to go with it
Pictures below show my mother’s courtyard when she moved into her new home just over six months ago and what the courtyard looks like now. She always has fresh flowers in her house and usually has some greens for dinner and some tomatoes ripening on the kitchen bench.
One of my aunts was known for her garden and when I think of her I think of dahlias and oranges – the best oranges I’ve ever eaten. Through two winter pregnancies, her oranges supplied me and my babies with Vitamin C. The bounty of another aunt’s garden kept us supplied with rosella jam.
But my mother and her sisters didn’t come from a long line of farmers. They came from a short line of farmers who learned to grow things as a matter of necessity.
My recipe file includes many recipes from aunts and cousins and even great-aunts (Aunty Ivy’s Stingy Pudding). I wouldn’t actually recommend the Stingy Pudding. It’s a recipe for hard times when there’s not much in the pantry but you still have a lot of mouths to feed.
My grandmother, Ettie, made a pudding (or delegated the task to a daughter) every day and her sister Ivy probably did the same for her family. In Ettie’s case it was ususally a milk pudding of some sort. They were dairy farmers in the time when her children were young so there was plenty of milk available.
When Ettie was older (probably in her seventies), she started to make a lemon meringue pie. It was really a cross between a cheesecake and a lemon meringue. It was very popular amongst the family and Ettie readily shared the recipe with her daughters but every time they made up the recipe, what was produced was definitely a cheesecake.
It remained a mystery for some time how it was that Ettie was the only one who could make this dish the right way until one of her daughters watched her making it and realised that Ettie was not using the amount of cream cheese which was written in the recipe. Ettie was unwittingly using a smaller packet than the recipe called for which was why her version was less cheesecakey and more lemony (enhanced of course by her beautiful homegrown bush lemons). Here’s the recipe:
1/2 lb plain sweet biscuits
4 oz butter
Melt butter, stir into crushed biscuits and press into an 8″ tin, lining the base and bringing the crumb mixture halfway up the side of the tin.
2 oz cream cheese (not 4 oz!)
1 tin condensed milk
2 eggs, separated
Rind and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup castor sugar
Beat cheese in electric mixer, beat in condensed milk, lemon rind and juice and egg yolks. Pour into prepared crumb crust.
Whip egg whites. Gradually beat in half the sugar. Beat until stiff. Fold remainder of sugar and spread evenly over filling.
Bake in hot oven for 10 minutes to brown.