Writer Philip Whiteland, of Doveridge, shares some more amusing tales from his childhood in Burton in the 1950s.
THIS month’s musings were triggered by my wife endeavouring to bake some cup cakes with the assistance (or otherwise) of our 18-month-old grandson, all of which took me back to my own childhood culinary efforts.
Mum didn’t do a great deal of baking, largely because she rarely had the time or the inclination but also because she was cursed throughout her married life with a succession of unreliable, second-hand ovens.
Our first oven, a positively Victorian-looking Flavel, surely could not possibly have been at the cutting edge of food technology, even in the early 1950s when my parents married.
It had a temperamental nature and would often take it into its head to burn one side (not necessarily the same side) of anything placed in its innards for baking.
Thus, my favourite chocolate fairy cakes, which formed a much appreciated part of my “packing up” for playground consumption at school, were usually somewhat blackened on one side.
My protestations that I actually liked the burnt bits (which I did and still do) fell on deaf ears as mum sighed and collected the latest batch of burnt offerings.
Mum had one signature dish of which she was justly proud, and that was Madeira cake.
She had, apparently, won a competition with one way back, when I was just a glint in my father’s eye and a look of fear in my mother’s.
However, for every version that she managed to bake that came out exactly as she hoped, there would be at least one more that was either charred along an edge or had a sad and sorry depression somewhere which rather ruined the overall appearance.
Baking for Mum had a flavour of the casino, with everyone waiting to see what fate might serve up next.
Of course, in common with most children, I adored recovering the remains of the cake mixture from the mixing bowl, particularly when we had been making chocolate cakes.
I sometimes had the opportunity to do this, and more, when I stayed for the weekend at Auntie Vera and Uncle Jim’s in Branston.
Auntie Vera was an excellent cook and had a relatively modern kitchen with an electric oven. “Helping” Auntie Vera with her baking was a regular Sunday morning treat from when I was old enough to stand on a chair and reach the work surface.
I particularly enjoyed mixing and rolling pastry. I was usually allowed a portion to work on myself so that Auntie Vera could get on with the serious business of making jam or lemon curd tarts, mince pies, or whatever was on the menu that weekend.
I was justly proud of the rather grey and malformed pastry shapes that I produced and which were then entrusted to Auntie Vera to bake.
I rather suspect, with the benefit of hindsight, that a lot of these distinctly unhygienic offerings never made it to the oven and, instead, were probably responsible for keeping the local birds grounded for hours afterwards.
The one member of the family who probably did the most baking was Auntie Mabel, at Holbrook. With three growing daughters and a husband to feed, this may have been largely a matter of simple economics.
Auntie Mabel produced bread, in the days when this was by no means an easy feat, and cakes to die for.
Of course, home-made bread is absolutely wonderful when it is first baked but does have a tendency to become a little turgid as the week progresses, as I discovered on my annual summer holiday stays in Holbrook.
These were usually prompted by my being urged to “go and stay with your Auntie Mabel and get some fresh air into your lungs”, an outburst which was often a consequence of me moping around at home, moaning about having nothing to do but not wanting to go outside and find anything.
The particular incentive for going to Auntie Mabel’s was the possibility of getting my hands on her chocolate Victoria sandwich with plum jam filling, about which more next month.
Both collections of Philip’s stories, Steady Past Your Granny’s and Crutches for Ducks, are available as Kindle e-books at www.amazon.co.uk. His first foray into fiction, Jambalaya, will be published on August 30.