Sunday, 8 April 2012

Over on "The History Girls"

Adele Geras is talking about kitchen equipment. I thought she might be talking about kitchen equipment from mediaeval times - you know "real history" as we often think of it.  I know I was fascinated to find a reference to a "pressure cooker" in one of Cynthia Harnett's novels.  Pressure cookers were an early Italian invention. Goodness' knows what they were like, how effective they were - and how many times they blew up!
But Adele Geras is talking about the kitchen equipment of her own past and of my childhood. She mentions "the mincer", the Tala measure and the Pyrex jug.
My grandmothers had "mincers". They also gave one to my mother. They were very sturdy affairs. I do not know what they were made from but they were metal - and I remember them as being heavy. You put pieces of food in the top and poked them with the next piece while turning the handle. It was a job which was often given to "responsible" children - which usually meant myself or my brother.  We were not actually responsible but my mother no doubt thought that this was a way of ensuring the job was done. A great deal of cheap, tough cuts of meat went through our mincer.
My grandmothers had old fashioned scales too - with brass weights. I rarely saw them used. My paternal grandmother cooked largely without reference to such things. She would "weigh" flour by the cup. When she taught me to cook she showed me how to weigh and measure but I suspect it was largely foreign to her. My maternal grandmother was more inclined to weigh and measure. She used recipes. When television came in she used to watch "Cooking with Gas" demonstrated by a lady called "Lillian Newman". The ABC would send you the recipes being used if you sent in a stamped, self addressed envelope. I came across one of those recipes recently in a pile of old knitting patterns someone donated to our Guild library.  It was duplicated on a Gestetner - another piece of history.
I have the Tala measuring cup belonging to my mother. I think you may still be able to buy them. My mother used it on the rare occasions she made cake. She was not particularly interested in baking. As children we were always surprised if she made cake of any sort. She did not buy it either. Cake was "special occasion". I can only once remember having a birthday cake. My birthday is too close to Christmas. There was always Christmas cake to be eaten.  One year however there was, for some reason, no Christmas cake. My maternal grandmother made a "Dolly Vardon" cake - a cake with a doll in the centre of it. I suspect it was something she really wanted for herself. She kept the doll.
Several years ago I inherited some cake pans from an elderly friend whose cake making skills were the stuff of legend. These cake pans are shaped. There is a cottage, a castle, a train and a pan with six little houses. There is also a rectangular one with flowers on top and a "muffin" pan.  She used them all.
I use the rectangular one occasionally. I use the muffin pan. The Whirlwind has had a birthday cake shaped like a train and, last year, made her own cake in the castle pan.
My elderly friend made her grandchildren magnificent birthday cakes. None of them bake. They buy birthday cakes for their own children, birthday cakes of too sweet sponge, ersatz cream and brilliant blue icing with a brown football in the middle. It seems rather sad they never have the train. 
Should I ever make myself a cake it will probably be in the tin with the flowers - although I think the train might be fun. Do I have to be grown up?


the fly in the web said...

For the first time since childhood
I have been given birthday cakes here in Costa Rica.
True descendants of the post rationing cakes of sponge, jam and ersatz cream...

Luckily the donors came mob handed to eat most of the offerings but I was still left with a fair bit.

Sponge recycled, jam and ersatz cream making the dogs very happy.

I bake Christmas cakes, what is locally called Turkish cake from a British friend in Turkey and banana cake, using a silicone kugelhof mould.

Anonymous said...

No Cat, have the train - much more fun! Chris

Miriam said...

I still have a metal mincer, which someone gave me when I couldn't find one to buy. It's very useful when I want to mince something quickly. I don't put meat in it.

jeanfromcornwall said...

Shaped cake tins are all the rage here just now, at great expense. If you have got an old one of any sort , use it in a kind of throwaway, oh, that old thing way. Be superior!
I remember the Tala measure, and still have and use a set of the old fashioned balance scales - my Mother's went to my older daughter. I can also remember the Tala icing set, in its pretty box. We have "Lakeland", who specialise in kitchen wares, and they are selling all these things at great expense. The theory is that in these times of economic stringency, people want to do more of their own cooking. Well, I never stopped!

Jan said...

I have a very old pudding steamer which is dated, from memory, 1911. It makes wonderful golden syrup steamed puddings. I also have a few old cookery books. One is interesting , put out by the Electricity Commission in NSW in WW II. Very authoritative and it lays down the law about cooking. Of course not really laying down the law, but I can feel the disapproval if the method is changed when I read it. An old Commonsense Cookery book which talks about clear fires and coals. Lots of handy (not) home remedies included. The prize is one compiled by Dame Mary Gilmore the poet. Her preface states that she has left out a lot of information often included in such books. She said that Australian women could adjust and adapt and had commonsense. They didn't need their hand held, in other words.

catdownunder said...

Fly in the Web you let your dogs eat raspberry jam? They don't get pips between their teeth? :-)
Chris, I might just do that one day.
Ah, but you keep a kosher kitchen I assume Miriam?
Jean, I think these probably were quite expensive - although I know she had them second hand. They were used just once by someone else for their children and then passed to her. I suspect that each tin has only been used a handful of times. I wish I could justify making cake more often. Yes, I remember the Tala icing set too with the sort of squeezing tube?
Interestingly, I believe "how to" and "craft" books sell well in times of recession!