Cooking Adventures with Mrs Gram: Part Three
In my incarnation as ‘Mrs Gram’ I have been lucky enough to have been invited to numerous events involving food and wine. As husband 2 used to say, I would go to the ‘Grand Opening of an envelope’ if it involved “grub and booze”. A culinary tour in Robertson a few years ago resulted in disasters entirely unconnected with the actual food: “Mrs Gram goes Travelling” and an absolutely fantastic day at Jan Harmsgat was the inspiration for Cooking Adventures with Mrs Gram Part 2.
But my cooking adventures have recently taken a different and more personal journey. Less about the eating and writing about it – and more about actually having to cook!
After many years of being spoiled by 2 (consecutive!) husbands who took the role of chef in the household, plus years of institutional eating at first *boarding school, (see footnote below about how I basically traumatised myself and everybody else in my class at my one and only cooking foray) then Uni, followed by school lunches at the schools where I taught – cooking is something I have never attempted seriously. Until now, when circumstances (recently widowed) find me, at the age of ahem, the only being in my household who is able to undertake the role. (The cat is no help whatsoever, preferring her meat with hair and tail, freshly killed and raw, eaten very noisily and crunchily under my bed at 4:00 am)
Also I have no oven in my house. Just a stove top and a microwave. Initially that was my excuse for buying ready made dinners from the supermarket, but honestly, they are very boring and bland and after 4 weeks I had worked my way through the repertoire several times. So bravely I started to try out recipes – and even more bravely, my little team of Zimbabweans who help me on Sundays with the house and garden, tried them out! And I discovered that the best thing about cooking is watching people actively enjoying food that you have prepared…… (even if they are actually just too polite to say otherwise) .
I looked up some Zimbabwean recipes after trying a delicious Chicken Dovi from Mez in Barrydale, and was pretty proud of my efforts to recreate it – especially when the guys actually recognised what it was supposed to be. The recipe I used made it very easy for a beginner. If you like peanuts and spinach this is one amazing (and healthy) meal.
I earned much derision with my presentation skills. You apparently do not use cutlery – the pap is the vehicle by which the food is transferred to the mouth.
I couldn’t quite cope with cooking the pap – so passed the cooking of that over to one of the guys. Pap – 1 Saucepan – 0 – oh well, time for some new kitchen utensils anyway.
On another occasion more derision and much hilarity was earned when after hours of delicate shaping and colouring, my attempt at creating a Christmas Cake ‘with character’ ended up looking like the reindeer who had witnessed things no reindeer should have ever seen . I proudly sent a photo to my daughter who posted it all over her social media platforms with many laughing emojis and kept sending me messages like “Still Laughing” days later. Deflated but also recognising there could be some limits to my skills in my new found hobby, I decided to stick to a less ambitious programme.
I was so delighted when, at a special function at Grace + Merci for newbies to Swellendam ,a recent newcomer to the town, Carolyn Singer, approached me to tell me about her regular cooking demonstrations and how she would love me to attend the next one (Mexican!) How much do you admit to someone how completely inexperienced you are and how you will probably never actually make use of the lessons? Also – the year has been tough – and the pandemic plus the loss of my husband had given me a new fear of knowing how to ‘be’ in a social situation, But sheer greed and a love of Mexican food won the battle. So, praying that I would not be asked to actually help in any sort of practical way, I went.
And it was brilliant. A feast supplemented with tequila, laughter, friendship – my soul had been craving this more than I had recognised. Inspired, I went shopping the next day to buy ingredients and bumped into some of the other attendees also filling their trolleys. But cooking for one…. it’s really not much fun. Those poor Zimbabweans are going to have to step up again -get your ponchos and sombreros out, chaps!
I was so happy to be invited to return to the next one – Italian. Carolyn and her husband Anacreon are wonderful hosts. They have plans to eventually run functions at their beautiful home, but first there are renovations to be done – and in the meantime they do these evenings for small groups of invitees for the sheer joy of sharing the cooking experience.
And you know what, I think I am truly beginning to get it. Masterchef, Come Dine with me, Bake Off, My Kitchen Rules – watch out – I’m coming for you!
*Boarding School: I probably shouldn’t admit this, and even though the probability of being punished for the crime is infinitesimal now, I am still a little guilt ridden (not really)….. Being in the ‘academic’ stream at my rather posh girls’ boarding school in England in the 60’s – Cookery, (or Domestic Science, or Home Economics, or Food and Nutrition, or Food Technology, as the subject’s name was evolved by educationalists into an ‘ology’ to make it more respectable and academic) – was not on our list of options. We, the brainy ones, were supposed to go to University, meet and marry a rich husband, and employ someone to cook for us forever. The less academic were allowed to study ‘Cookery’, because, poor lambs, they were going to have to stick their aprons on and get in that kitchen…
So it wasn’t until I reached the 6th form that I actually had a go at cooking for the first time. Grandly named ‘Leisure Cookery’ an evening session in the shiny new Cookery Room (later, obviously, re-named the Food Technology Laboratory) became an option. We could choose our recipes, the ingredients would magically appear (we weren’t allowed to actually go shopping ourselves) and we could have a jolly hour or so in the evening cooking up a storm together. Pork Chops in Cider sauce was my choice. I liked pork chops, the recipe looked easy, and wouldn’t it be funny if the person doing the shopping actually bought cider, tee-hee (so let me order extra just in case!) The thing was – against all expectations they actually did buy it. I think it might have been one of the hapless overworked young foreign Finnish students who worked for a pittance as helpers to improve their English who had been sent to do the shopping, and maybe she didn’t know – but I like to think she did, and it was an act of vengeance.
And vengeance was wrought.
Largely unsupervised – (as we were 6th form students after all and from the academic stream and therefore nerds – (though that wasn’t a thing then) so there was really no need to keep an eye on us,) we got stuck in to the cider. Which was plentiful. My memories of the actual event are, as you can imagine, very blurred. I think we had fun?
What I do remember is the next morning, when I, encumbered with the worst headache I had ever encountered in my life, was marched with my other cooking compatriots into the Cookery Room, where the remnants of charred food, burned kitchen towels, vomit and other unrecognisable items had to be scraped off the ovens, floor and windows. It wasn’t long before I was identified and ‘dobbed in’ as the ring leader by the rest of the group (many nerds don’t understand the concept of girl code) and brought to justice.
My punishment? Never again to step foot in the vicinity of the Cookery Room. Did I care? Not one tiny bit – I was off to Uni next year to find my rich husband!PS I didn’t find my rich husband, but at least I found one who liked to cook…..