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A Journey around the Kitchen Stove – Margaret Walker
“Secret Cook’s Business”
Anyone fortunate enough to have a mental pantry full of happy memories from a grandmother’s kitchen has a rich inheritance indeed.  My Grandmother Agnes Amelia’s kitchen wafted smells of freshly baked foods through her back wire door and her pantry shelves (located in the laundry) emanated enticing aromas of pickled onions and preserves through brown-papered tops. 
As a child  in the 1940’s, I was intrigued by the jewel colours of carrot jam, tomato jam and preserved peaches in tall clear glass jars, together with the spicy smell of pickling onions in their earthenware jars and the sharp smell of cauliflower mustard pickles.
Grandma must have adored perfume.  Not that for a minute, she was ever fortunate enough to have owned a bottle; scent, yes, perfume, no. She surrounded herself with naturally occurring sweet aromas.  A lemony perfume rose off the lemon verbena shrub at the side of the house each time one brushed against its foliage, she had sweet daphne growing at the front verandah, aromatic honeysuckle at the back and purple Lantana climbing over a fence by the outdoor toilet.  Then there is my memory of the smoky incense-like perfume of rosemary and lavender when placed on hot coals in a metal dustpan used to deodorise the bedrooms each day.  The homes of today with modern plumbing are a far cry from having a ‘Melbourne Cup’ sitting coyly underneath each frilled floral bedspread and in place of an ensuite the main bedroom of those days enjoyed the luxury of a commode chair. 
Grandma’s home on Adelaide Road at Murray Bridge was always full of good smells, good honest smells; pasties cooking in the wood oven, freshly made tea, the spiced smell of ginger-nuts just released from the metal biscuit tin, freshly made lemon tart or Sunday roast spitting away in the wood oven, circled by crisp roasting potatoes.
There is an inbuilt desire in most of us to recreate some of the better aspects of our past, which is why I have had Lemon Verbena, Rosemary and Lavender in a number of my gardens, though I’ve never managed to keep a Daphne alive.
Grandma’s shining wood-stove burned constantly except in the extremes of summer.  There was a shiny copper water fountain on one side of the stove, with its own little tap, a forerunner to a hot water service, and a kettle singing at the side, always ready for a cup of tea. Her tea leaves, stored in a square metal tea caddy, in a colourful Chinese design, sat on top of the kitchen dresser. 
I can still hear Grandma singing or humming to herself as she worked, and could always tell if she was at home when I knocked at the back door.  She could be heard singing softly or whistling somewhere in the house or out in the garden.  Grandma and her sister Aunty Myrt were like two peas in a pod.  They looked like twins and their homes were alike, spotless, not a thing out of place and both possessed that homely kitchen smell.  Myrtle lived on McHenry Street, on my way home from school.  I was in trouble more than once for being late; but you see Aunty Myrt kept ginger-nut biscuits in a barrel on top of her kitchen dresser and I just loved those biscuits.  Not that my parents didn’t have ginger-nut biscuits.  They had tins full of them at the shop, but Aunty Myrt was welcoming, loving and ready for a little chat with a lonely school child.
In her tiny kitchen on Adelaide Road at Murray Bridge, Grandma managed a staggering repertoire of foods such as preserves for the pantry, sour lemon tart, dumplings in stew and roast lamb and melt-in-the-mouth pasties, jam tarts and fruit pies.  Her hand-written recipe book attests to the collection of recipes that she tried and tested.  My memory of her pantry is coloured red, orange and scented with spicy pickles.  Sunday tea usually consisted of cold roast lamb accompanied by an egg and lettuce salad dressed with her special home-made boiled mayonnaise, tomatoes and beetroot and served with brown bread and butter and cups of freshly brewed tea, followed by a multi-coloured and layered Trifle for dessert.
In the summer time if soft drinks were had at all, and then, only on special occasions, the bath became her cooler, filled with ice and tall brown bottles.   On important family occasions such as weddings the bath was called into service, as were Grandma’s cooking abilities.  I still remember her anger and frustration when she accidentally burned the sponges for Auntie Bet’s wedding.  Although Aunty Bet tried to console her, by saying it was not the end of the world, Grandma would not be pacified.  Uncle John and his friend Reg Nitschke, on leave from the Air Force for the occasion, thought they were wonderful. They simply cut off the burnt pieces and, sitting on a couple of upturned boxes outside the back door, cleaned up the lot.  Of course it was the loss of the ingredients which upset Grandma, especially things such as sugar which was rationed at that time, and eggs which were always precious. 
When we arrived at Grandma’s back door we could tell that it was pasty day.  Aromas of chopped onion, grated carrot and diced potato wafted through the wire door of the kitchen.  Sometimes however, I was invited to help.
So this is how it usually went………………………..
“Do you know what we’re going to do today?”
“Are we going to bake?”
“That’s right, and if you are a good girl you can have your own piece of pastry for a jam tart.”
“Can I rub the dripping into the flour Grandma?”
“No, you just wait a little while.  Your hands are too warm and you’ll make the dripping melt; that’s not good for the pastry.”
“Just wait a minute, there’s the girl, until I’ve got everything ready.  Can you pass me a knife from the drawer in the dresser, please?”
“Can I get the vegetables from the pantry then?”
“Yes, go and fetch me four really big potatoes, and I’ll have the enamel bowl from the top of the copper too.  Now let me put some water into the bowl and you can wash the potatoes really well.”
“They have to be really clean, and then you can peel them for me as long as you don’t peel your fingers too.”
“Because; come on now – this is a really good job for a little girl – while you do that I’ll weigh out the flour.  You’ve done a really good job.  How much skin did you peel off your fingers?  Show me.  None! Good, now you can peel me two carrots.  You’ll find them in the vegie rack behind the door.”
“Grandma, can I put the vegetables through the mincer?”
“First you can help me mince some meat.  Pass me that large basin will you, the big china basin.  Now when I tell you, push a chunk of meat into the top of the mincer and I’ll turn the handle.  Now push one piece in and don’t push down too far; we don’t want any fingers coming out the other end do we?”
“Because your Mum and Dad wouldn’t want their little girl back minus a finger or two would they?”
“What does minus mean?”
“It means without.  That’s what it means.  Come on now; put a piece of onion in and push down hard, then another piece of meat and then pumpkin and a couple of pieces of potato too.  That’s really good it’s all mincing up nicely.  See how fine it is; it will be really easy to mix.  What are you crying for?  Did you hurt yourself?  Haven’t lost a finger have we?” 
“Grandma, it’s the onions; they make me cry.  Can I turn the handle now and you can push the onions into the mincer?”
“Come along and blow your nose, then you call Grandpa.  It’s cup-of-tea time; and after that we’ll put the pasties together.  Ask him to bring a couple of pieces of wood for the stove when he comes in please.”
…….“Grandma, can I have a ginger-nut with my cup of tea, please?”
“Alright then, sit up close now; we don’t want you spilling tea all down your dress.”
“Ah, here’s Grandpa with the wood.  Thanks Grandpa.  Just put it in the box please.”
 “Clear Grandpa’s cup away now dear?  Just put it onto the bench, and hurry up and drink your tea.”
“I’ll mix all of the meat and vegetables together and you can pass me a teaspoon of salt from the salt box and one teaspoon of pepper as well.” 
“Now for the pastry; let me show you how I mix the dripping and the flour together.  See how I am just using the tips of my fingers to do it.  Now you have a little try.  Gently mind, don’t pick up too much at once or it gets too warm, just like I told you.  Good girl, that’s enough now, it’s time for me to add the water.  Wait just a while and you can help me to roll up the pasty tops.”
  “Now, can you see how thin Grandma rolls out the pastry?  You can’t have it too thick or you end up with nothing inside each one and if you roll it out too thin the filling pops through while it’s cooking.  Pass me that soup bowl will you please dear, and the knife, so that I can cut out the rounds of pastry.  There we are, if I hold the bowl you can carefully run the knife around the edge.  Good.  Well done.  Now we’ll put some filling into the pasties.  Take a good tablespoon of filling and place it in the middle of the pastry.  Do that with each one and then we’ll brush the edges with milk.  You can get me a little bit of milk in a jug and the pastry brush from the drawer.  Can you see it?   Yes that’s the one. Good girl, bring it over here.”
“Grandma, can I brush the milk onto the edges of the pasties?”
“Alright then, if you are very careful, and don’t brush on too much.”
“Why not?”
“It makes the pastry too sloppy and you can’t do the twist on the top.”
“Can I have a piece to make a tart, please?”
“Wait until we get to the end.  You can help me twist the pasties closed.  See how I pinch the pastry together carefully.  I don’t squeeze it too tight.  Now I take hold of the end and twist it over, then move my fingers along the pastry and fold over the next little piece.  See the nice neat twist right across the top.  Can you do that?”
“Grandma, mine doesn’t look the same as yours.”
“Let me have a look.  There; I think that this will be alright.  This can be your special pasty and you can have it with tomato sauce for lunch.”
“Don’t you want pasty then?”
“Yes; but why that one?”
“Well it’s your special one isn’t it.  Here you are now, I’ve rolled up all the pastry again and these are the left-over’s so you can have a little ball to make a jam tart with.  Can you roll it out quite thin?  Then you can lay it onto this saucer.  I’ll just get some apricot jam from the pantry and you can make a rose for the middle and a couple of leaves.”
“Well, it makes it pretty, and you like to eat the pastry rose don’t you?”
“Would Grandpa like to eat my jam tart?”
“I’m sure he would love to eat some of the jam tart.  He’ll probably pour some milk over it and eat it while it’s still hot.”
“Because he likes it that way; come on now, help me to clean up.  I’ll just scrape down the table top and then we can do the washing up.  Would you get the wash-up bowl from under the bench please and also the tray?  Here’s the tea towel.  You can dry the cutlery and the enamel bowl then you can leave the china one to me.”
Making pastry had an element of magic to it.  The combining of flour, fat and water had the potential for wondrous creations – pasties, jam tarts both large and small and pie tops.  I revelled in being able to have the scraps of pastry to make a small jam tart all my own.  When I grew older she taught me to fold over the pasty tops with her famous twist, and I had to remember which pasty was mine; so that when they were cooked I could eat my own.  Not that it took much remembering, as my pasty had that well-handled, streaky kind of appearance.   Grandma had a special, light handed knack of putting a twist over the top of each pasty.  Her pastry smelt good even before it was cooked, which was nothing to the blessed aroma as they came fresh from the oven.  We children were sometimes allowed to eat the scraps of pastry, although she always said it would give us a stomach ache.  Where have I heard that one before I wonder? 
Agnes passed her cooking skills on to her daughters for Aunty Clytie, Auntie Bet and my Mum – Coral were all very good cooks. 
My favourite memory of being at the home of Aunty Clytie and Uncle Dave Watts at Native Valley was when she made raisin bran muffins.  The children, (my cousins Beverley, Valerie, Stephahie, together with my brother Robert and I) would be sent to the chook-shed for couple of cups of bran from the “Bran & Pollard” bins.  The smell of the bran as the lid lifted was really deliciously nutty.  Aunty Clytie’s pantry also contained wonderful smells; pickled onions, pickled figs and pickled eggs stored in huge stone jars, survival skills she had obviously inherited from Grandma. 
My other Aunt Betty Pym was a very proficient cook, and could whip up a lighter-than-air sponge, classic cream puffs and my favourite: a pudding that was made by mixing all ingredients together in one dish.  This recipe created a fruity pudding with caramel sauce underneath, the recipe being from a ‘CWA Year of Puddings Calendar’.  My bookshelf boasts a kitchen-stained 1959 edition, purchased from a second-hand bookshop years ago.  Aunty Bet also gave me the recipe for a fish pie, which my family have enjoyed for years in one version or another.  It is made with tuna, a can of peas, a can of corn and a packet of chicken noodle soup, together with some milk, egg and breadcrumbs, and is so simple to make, but delicious and economical.  It makes a meal for quite a number of people if served with a salad and a good scoop of mashed potato. 
My mother Coral, although she possessed some good recipe books such as “The Barossa Cookery Book”, “The Green & Gold Cookery Book” among others, didn’t make many cakes except fairy cakes and a delicious sultana cake, that came from the oven golden brown and smelling absolutely delicious in its large slab tin.  Mum worked long hours in our shop on Mannum Road, Murray Bridge, from the time that I was about seven years of age and as a result most of her cooking, in readiness for our evening meals, was done on the little primus stove, on the cupboard in the back of the shop.  She had an interesting repertoire of curried sausages, lamb stew, steak and kidney, large pots of soup that lasted for more than one meal and many others.  When I was about eleven years of age I began experimenting with those recipe books, and using the skills that I had adopted from Grandma, began creating desserts and cakes in our old Metters wood stove.  I became quite practised, even at that age, at making bread and butter pudding, roly-poly pudding and jam tarts.  One of the latter was to be my downfall and call a temporary halt to my creative cookery skills.  I had at least four things baking in the oven of the woodstove and when checking their readiness, the oven tray slipped allowing a fig jam tart to land upside down on my foot.  I can vouch for the fact that boiling jam and the tender skin of twelve year old feet are not a good mixture.  As well as being rather shocked at the mess that I had accidentally created, along with the loss of the food, I was in intense pain as the resulting blister became larger and larger.  The old remedy was to rub burns with butter.  You can imagine that this only kept the heat in instead of reducing the swelling and for some days I was forced to wear, on my bandaged foot, one of my father’s checked felt slippers.  Not a good fashion statement at all!

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