I have always enjoyed cooking. I don’t just mean knocking up the odd meal of fish fingers and chips (although the time I did do that I was accused of burning the fish fingers). No, I mean the real thing.
The reason I probably enjoyed it can be pinned down to two things – I enjoyed the creativity of trying new recipes and I didn’t do it often enough to get bored.
It began with baking when I was about 10 or 11. I tried my hand at a sponge cake – you really can’t go wrong with a sponge cake.
It comes down to equal portions, whether you use one egg, for a single sponge cake to be iced, or two or three, depending on size, for a Victoria sandwich.
Flour to the weight of the eggs, same with butter or margarine and caster sugar. A dash of vanilla essence and Bob’s your uncle.
Once cooled, ice it and sprinkle on the sugar strands or vermicelli.
From there it led to butterfly cakes and then ginger biscuits.
Oddly enough I’m not keen on spicy foods, hot chilli and all that gubbins. I do like ginger in my biscuits though. Making my own meant I could up the ante on the ginger. I used to use two teaspoons instead of one, the ones I made last week had five teaspoons and I reckon one more for good measure wouldn’t do any harm.
It wasn’t long before I was trying out different recipes and getting quite daring.
Like most men I preferred cooking fancy meals rather than the daily dinners. I think it’s that male ego thing.
I did do a couple of weeks of proper cooking though. That was Christmas week 1978. My son was born on the 19th and Marion wasn’t allowed to do much more than get out of bed in the morning and rest on the sofa all day.
We were actually on strike at the time (now that definitely is another story) but my mother-in-law was there for when I had to be on picket duty and, as FoC, at strike HQ at the local Labour Club.
It was during that week I was accused of burning the fish fingers – my accusers were my daughters, aged six and four.
They certainly didn’t complain about any other meals that week, including a full-on Christmas dinner, my parents had helped out with food parcels.
Apart from that I did occasionally do a full meal but, as my wife has always pointed out, I tended to use enough pans to feed a battalion and spent hours with the preparation.
Some years later, when the children were grown up, I cooked a proper spaghetti with meat balls and my own reduced tomato sauce for it made from fresh tomatoes.
It was all done from scratch including making the meat balls and the sauce. They all agreed it tasted great but said there wasn’t enough sauce and asked for tomato ketchup.
I don’t know about prophets being without honour in their own land (John 4.44) but this chef was left without honour in his own kitchen.
Once we settled back into the UK in the late 80s I tailed off the cooking but did stick with the baking. For the last 30 years or so it has become a family tradition that I make and ice the Christmas cake and make the Christmas puddings.
For the last 20 years I have baked my own bread, although now I need a stand mixer with a dough hook for most of the kneading as my hands aren’t up to 20 minutes of kneading.
I tend to use the best ingredients from the flour to the sea salt and a good hemp oil in place of butter and bake at least once a week.
What I still cannot understand is why, within days of the lockdown, strong white bread flour was almost impossible to purchase.
Did all these people told to stay home suddenly take up baking bread? Or was it the mass impulse to stock up anything that might run out, even if you don’t need it.
Luckily I always keep in enough flour to last a couple of months and had stocked up just two weeks before the lockdown began.
One of my daughters was getting a weekly shop for us and every week I would put bread flour on the list and every week my daughter told me she couldn’t find any, no matter where she looked.
Have we turned into a nation of bakers? I doubt it.
I wonder how much of that flour will be pushed to the back of the cupboard and turn up in a few years’ time wriggling with weevils. They don’t add anything to the flavour you know.
Let’s hope we can get back to normal soon and those of us who have always enjoyed baking can buy the right ingredients.
I can’t even get chocolate drops in plain, milk and white, for my fabled triple chocolate chunk cookies.
White chocolate and milk chocolate buttons just don’t do the business.