With a Runcible Spoon

From Ngaire’s Journal, 17th April 1959
Tonight we went to a family party to meet Laughton’s new bride Lela.’

Tonight we have all gone our separate ways – one to the football, one to a party, another to the couch. And one to the kitchen, to deal with the quinces that have been lurking in a basket under Myrtle’s tea trolley for the best part of a week. They came from my lovely friend Jennifer’s garden. Jen has the good fortune to live in Port Fairy, and has a very abundant garden.

CCMM - Quince TartI generally either poach quinces for breakfast fruit, or make jelly (or both), but this evening I was in the mood for baking, and so made a tart.
A quince and rhubarb tart with almond crumble topping.
No effort spared.

The rhubarb gives this tart its tang – necessary, I think, to offset the sweetness of the quinces and of the crumble.
Serve it warm with loads of cream, with or without a runcible spoon.

Recipe: Quince & rhubarb tart with almond crumble topping

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;   
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
             The moon,
             The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.”
From The Owl & the Pussycat, by Edward Lear

Pears Go With…

From Ngaire’s Journal
1st March, 1956
Made pear ginger and pear sauce and bottled 10 quart jars of pears. Carol went to Phyllis’ millinery class this evening.’
2nd March, 1964

Bottled pears (Bon Chretien), made plum jam, baked.’
4th March 1951
Bottled pears. This evening went to the Annual Meeting of the Young Marrieds Group.’

Cooking with pearsInspired by a new season (I love Autumn – beautiful days, crisp evenings, the promise of boots and scarves…), and spurred on by my friend Sas’s return to blogging (you’ll find her at oneequalstwo), I have decided it is time for my first post of 2105.

The crate of pears in the laundry prompted me too. Dad delivered them the other day, picked from the trees my partner and I planted along the corrugated iron wall of the shearing shed. We’ve been surprised at how well they’ve done – the ground is stoney and the iron gets very hot in summer, but they’ve thrived. Dad’s kept a close eye on them of course, and kept up the water all summer, so we’ve had a fabulous crop.

Old Delhi marketsI was going to bottle them, but I waited a day too long and they were a bit ripe, so instead I stewed some for breakfasts and turned the rest into sweet treats for the long weekend.

Pears go with chocolate like a Young Marrieds Group goes with 1951, so I made an old favourite that we call Capricious Pear Pudding (a name I’ll explain in another post – it’s a long story) and a Chocolate Pear Tart. The subtle sweetness of pears seems to call for spices – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamon all work well. We’ve recently returned from a trip to India, and in Delhi, where we stayed at the  lovely Devna B & B, our host David took us into the old town, including to Paranthe Wali Gali (yum!) and the spice markets. This afternoon I cooked my pears with some of the saffron and cinnamon we bought there. They’ll make a perfect Autumn breakfast – porridge with stewed fruit, toasted almonds and a dollop of Greek yoghurt.

PS Banana Paranthe would make a perfect breakfast too  – I’m on the hunt for a recipe, though it will never taste as good as in Delhi.



A Very Hot Day

From Ngaire’s journal, 9th February 1949
‘Another very hot day. There was a sharp earthquake at 5.30 am and Mt Ngauruhoe is in eruption. I bottled plums and made jam, and went to choir practice in the evening.’

Mt Ngauruhoe postcardI must say that my first inclination on a very hot day – and we’ve had more than our fair share lately – is not to crank up the bottling or make jam. Not that bottling is something that can generally wait. I remember as a teenager (not desperate to help) that cases of fruit always seemed to appear on the hottest days. Mum had the Vacola set up in the laundry, which was outside, but I’m not sure how much difference that made. Warracknabeal in February is hot, and before we had air-conditioning installed in the late 1970s we relied on a portable evaporative cooler, sometimes with a huge block of ice perched on a stool in front. Of course, in 1949 Ngaire wouldn’t have had anything remotely advanced in the way of cooling, especially in Christchurch where the summers are generally much milder. I don’t imagine she would have lowered her dress standards too much either, no matter what the temperature.

While I’m keen to walk in Ngaire’s footsteps, I really couldn’t be bothered bottling today and since I didn’t have any fruit waiting to be dealt with I made a pudding involving plum jam instead. Homemade jam of course, though not by me. Thanks Andrea Webster!

Baked Cinnamon Crumb Pudding

Cinnamon Crumb PuddingBase: 2 oz (60 g) butter, ¾  cup sugar,  1 egg, 1 ¾  cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tbsp cinnamon,  ½  tsp salt, ¾ cup milk, ½ tsp lemon essence

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat well.
Sift in flour and other dry ingredients.
Add milk and lemon essence and mix well.
Turn into well-buttered and floured baking dish then make topping.

Cinnamon Crumb Pudding 2Topping: Rub 1 tbsp butter into 1 tbsp cinnamon and ½ cup sugar. Sprinkle over the cake mixture.
Bake at 180° for approx. 30 mins.

Sauce: Combine 6 good tbsp jam with 1 cup of water and heat. Allow to reduce until thickened but still easy to pour.
Pour the sauce over the warm cake, reserving some for serving.
Serve with cream or ice cream then have a nice lie down and congratulate yourself on having cooked anything at all on such a hot day.

Postcard found at Skufan Postcards.

A January Wedding

From Ngaire’s journal, 9th January, 1965
A January Wedding‘We went to Hawarden, arriving at the little Methodist Church at 2.30pm. It was a lovely wedding. The bride looked beautiful in an embroidered white satin dress and the bridesmaids wore pale pink, rose-pink and mahogany pink.
The weather was perfect. Fruit punch and savouries were served on the lawn in front of Mr Wright’s home and at 5pm the guests adjourned to the marquee in an adjoining field. It was a delicious wedding breakfast: ham, salmon and potato salad, curry and rice, stuffed eggs, cucumber, lettuce and tomatoes. The sweets were fruit salad, piles of strawberries and cream.
There were 40 telegrams, including a cable from Warwick and several from Melbourne. Speeches were made and items were given – two humorous recitations, a violin solo, two vocals solos (one by an uncle, aged 83, which was excellent) and a vocal duet by the mother and an uncle of the bride. Hubert (the bridegroom) made an excellent speech of thanks. The telegrams were read by the best man and two groomsmen alternately, which was a very good idea.
Herbert and Ruth left on their honeymoon at about 8.30 pm. The bride wore a beautiful outfit of peacock-blue, with black accessories.’

What better way to start the new year than with an elegant wedding and piles of food — Ngaire’s two favourite things. As it happens, stuffed eggs are high on my list of favourite things. Happily, they’re practically carb free and are packed with protein so no New Year’s resolutions need be broken. Just don’t think about the fat.

A good stuffed egg must include just the right quantity of excellent mayonnaise (for flavour and for texture) and, in my opinion, must be presented simply and without any attempts at modernisation.

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled; 2 tbsp very good whole egg mayonnaise;1 tbsp sour cream; few chives and a little dill, finely chopped; good pinch dry mustard, salt and pepper
Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and scoop the yolks into bowl. Set whites aside.
Mash the yolks with a fork, gradually adding the mayonnaise and sour cream. The mixture should be creamy but not too moist — it should hold its shape. Add the seasonings then gently stir through the chopped dill and about half of the chives.
Fill the whites with the yolk stuffing. You can use an icing bag to do this or just spoon it in. Sprinkle with remaining chives and garnish with some flat leaf parsley.
Tip: If the eggs are a week or so old the shell will come away easily, leaving the white smooth.

By the way, Ruth and Herb now live in Auckland and, amongst other things, conduct tours of the WWI battlefields in France. Ruth is as elegant as ever.

Eating Like a Bird

From Ngaire’s journal, 23rd April 1958
Carol had the day off school as she is to make her debut this evening.We had our hair set, did some shopping and returned home. We cleaned the house and prepared the dinner – baked ham, roast vegetables and greens, trifle and fruit salad.
Fortunately Mrs Shasky came in and helped Carol and me to dress, otherwise we should have been late.”

Caroline as a debutante

Caroline as a debutante

She certainly doesn’t look as though she’s just done some shopping, cleaned the house and eaten a good square meal – baked ham no less – followed by trifle and fruit salad.

I have a mental image of Mrs Shasky (the next door neighbour of tomato sauce fame) with her foot in the small of Mum’s back trying to get the zip done up. It’s all very ‘Gone With The Wind’.

“I wish to Heaven I was married,” she said resentfully as she attacked the yams with loathing… “I’m tired of acting like I don’t eat more than a bird…”  Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind.


From Ngaire’s journal, 8th December, 1950
I iced two Christmas cakes today, one for ourselves and one for the carollers who are to have supper with us on Christmas Eve.”

Bottling apricotsAnd, not to be outdone, I have:

put the marzipan on my (one) Christmas cake

bottled 16 jars of apricots

made 6kg of apricot jam

organised the Christmas tree (but not the decorations)


made the Christmas pudding and put it on to boil.

It’s going to be a late night.

The Good Women of Durham Street (and an Unappealing Pudding)

From Ngaire’s diary, 6th September 1950
Women’s Guild this afternoon when Mrs. W. G. Jenkins spoke on foot health. She was careful not to give away any trade secrets.”

The Women’s Guild must have been a riot, not to mention Young Marrieds, who are frequently mentioned in Ngaire’s journals – not always happily.

9th August 1949
“Young Marrieds tonight. The subject “Sex education of children” was rather controversial. Personally I object to the public discussion of such topics, but some people seem to revel in it.”

All this vaguely medical talk had me thinking about recipes for convalescents so, since I am committed to cooking everything in Granny’s book (no matter how unappealing) today I gave Breadcrumb Pudding a go.

I’m not certain whether this recipe was devised for easy digestion or simple economics. Either way, it really has nothing to recommend it. I can only imagine that one of the ladies from the Durham Street Methodist Church Women’s Guild gave Ngaire the recipe and she was too polite not to add it to her collection. The texture is awful and, except for the jam on top, it doesn’t have much flavour. Unlike a proper bread and butter pudding, it doesn’t have any butter which certainly doesn’t help. As a consequence, you have to smother it in cream,  possibly defeating the purpose if you’re on an invalid diet.

Breadcrumb Pudding

1 level cup breadcrumbs, 1 1/2 pints boiled milk (ughh)
Soak crumbs for 5 minutes then beat in 1 good tablespoon sugar, yolks of 2 eggs and flavouring (vanilla)
Cook in moderate oven until firm (about 1/2 hour). Spread with jam and beaten whites of eggs mixed with 2 tablespoons sugar.
Cook for about 1/2 hour.

Somewhere my Love (is Another Pudding)

From Ngaire’s journal 1 st July 1961
This evening we went to a drive-in cinema which was a novelty for us. Gerald heated bricks in the oven and wrapped them in newspaper and these together with hot-water bottles and rugs kept us warm.”

Ngaire wrote this here in Melbourne.  She and Gerald came to visit my parents who had just bought their first home, in Hilton Street Mount Waverley. I imagine that Christchurch didn’t do drive-ins due to the weather, too cold, so it would have been a novelty,  though if the 1st July 1961 in Melbourne was anything like today it would have been absolutely freezing.

I saw Dr Zhivago at the drive-in as a child. Well, some of it anyway. My brother and I were meant to be sleeping in the back of the family station wagon, but of course we weren’t. Every  time Dad realised we were watching he’d reach back and try to whack us. Never even took his eyes off the screen. The drive-in was in Horsham but it might as well have been the Urals it was so cold, and I don’t remember any warm bricks. It did create a sense of atmosphere though, the cold and Dad behaving like a KGB lieutenant. I can’t remember, but Mum may even have been wearing a fur hat. She certainly had one – it’s in the kid’s dress-up box now.

Anyway, the point is that here in Melbourne we’re having a proper winter. It’s very cold (especially for those of us who spend a lot of time sitting at a desk) and very wet, and except for the obvious sartorial benefits (coats, scarves and gloves), it’s really a bit miserable. Given that it’s Sunday night, another pudding seems the best idea, and is certainly what Ngaire would have suggested. This one’s baked in the oven, so you can pop a couple of bricks in at the same time and save on your heating bills.

Plantation Pudding

Peel, core and slice 4 large apples. Place in saucepan with 2 tbspns water, cover and cook until just soft. Put aside.
(Ngaire’s recipe doesn’t include the apples, but I think it needs fruit. Pears would work well too.)

Sift 230 gms flour, ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp ground ginger and ¼  tsp ground cloves into mixing bowl. Add ¾ cup sugar.
Mix or rub in 90 gms softened butter until the mixture is crumbly.

Put a third of the mixture in greased baking dish. Pat out evenly.
Mix ¾ cup hot water with ¾ cup golden syrup and 1 level tspn baking soda.
Pour half the liquid over the mixture in the dish. Add a layer of cooked apples then cover with remaining crumbs. Spoon over the rest of the liquid.
Bake 45 minutes in moderate oven (170 C).

Serve with cream or ice cream and remind yourself that putting on a winter pelt is just plain sensible.

Putting on a Winter Pelt

From Ngaire’s journal 11th June 1950
Butter and petrol rationing ended last Monday (on the King’s Birthday). Butter is now 2/- per lb  but I do not mind, as I shall now be able to do all my own baking. For the past 8 years I have bought a tremendous amount of cake for morning and afternoon tea for the men, which has been expensive.’

Family group at Arthur's Pass (1949)

I am rapidly coming to realise that butter (rivalled only by salt) is the secret to everything.  At this rate, we’ll all be hospitalised before the year’s out. In fact, this might be an appropriate time to mention that my great-grandmother Emily, my grandmother Ngaire, my great-aunt Phyllis and my mother Caroline all had their gall bladders removed before they turned 25.

My organs are all still intact (and, I think, in reasonable working order) and it’s been freezing today, so I’ve decided to cook a proper pudding. That is, a sweet, sticky, cooked pudding. (Everything served after the main meal was called ‘pudding’ when I was a child, even stewed fruit and ice cream, but a real pudding is baked or steamed, served warm and packed with butter.)

The only small problem is that I’m really meant to be on a bit of a diet at the moment — what Granny used to call ‘slimming’. Ngaire was a bit ambivalent about diets. She was always on one herself but, as a dedicated cook, was very irritated by anyone else wanting to lose weight. I remember her telling me as a teenager that I should be very careful about trying to be too slim, as it was scientifically proven that people need a reserve of fat for the winter. That may have been the case in Christchurch (though I doubt it) but honestly, I think I was pretty safe in Warracknabeal.

Anyway, it strikes me that there are a few ways to tackle  slimming, one of which is to feed everybody else so much pudding that you start to look slim in comparison. The other option is moderation — I’ll just have a spoonful.

Ngaire’s recipe book is so full of puddings it’s hard to choose, but this seems like a steamed pudding sort of evening, so it’s Agatha Pudding. I only wish I knew who Agatha was.

Agatha Pudding

115 gms butter (melted), 80 gms sugar, ¼ tspn bicarb soda
1 egg (lightly beaten), 170 gms flour, 2 good tbsp jam

Grease a medium-sized pudding bowl with butter. Mix sugar and soda into melted butter. Add egg and whisk in well. Fold in sifted flour then stir through jam gently (you want to see lines of jam – not combine it too much).
Put mixture into bowl and cover with two layers of grease-proof paper. Tie securely with string. Put in a saucepan with water coming no more than half way up the bowl. Put lid on saucepan and steam gently until skewer comes away cleanly. Mine took 40 minutes (Ngaire’s recipe says 2 hours – she must have cooked it on a very low heat).
Tip: Be sure to check the saucepan from time to time so it doesn’t boil dry (you might need to top up the water).

The secret, aside from butter, is to use delicious home-made jam. I used quince, but any type will work just as well. Servings need only be small but cream is essential!

P.S. Dear Mum. I don’t know how you managed to put pudding on the table every night — even when it was ‘just’ stewed fruit and ice cream. x

Mother’s Day Staples

From Ngaire’s journal 9th May, 1965 (Mother’s Day)
‘Carol, Stan, Michelle and Nigel presented me with a very useful stapling machine and some chocolates. Gerald has given me a new hat.’

I’m a practical sort of girl, but I don’t hold with gifts like irons, saucepans or staplers for Mother’s Day. Or birthdays. My mother tried for years to give me a wheelie laundry basket for my birthday, but finally gave in and now gives me beautiful scarves, fat books and lovely bits of bone china (suitable only for leisurely cups of tea).

Making apple shortcake seems suitably Mother’s Dayish, if a little clichéd, particularly since I have several crates of apples from the farm on the front veranda. They’re covered with old sheets to discourage the possums. The Golden Delicious are especially good for cooking  — very sweet but not cloying.

It’s more traditional to make the shortcake in a square tin, then slice it in to squares. That’s what Ngaire always did for the men’s morning and afternoon teas on the orchard. Whatever the shape, the combination of tart, soft apple and short, sweet cake is delicious — especially with a great dollop of cream.

Apple Shortcake

6 Golden Delicious apples, ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ cup hot water
Peel, core and slice the apples. Put in a saucepan, sprinkle with cinnamon and pour over the hot water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir very gently to combine the ingredients. The apples should be soft but not mushy (and a word of warning: if the pieces are too firm, they may shoot across the room when the cake is cut…)

6 oz (180 gm) butter, 2 ½ cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 2 tsp baking powder
Cream the butter and sugar, beat in the egg and then fold in sifted flour and baking powder. Press the mixture into two greased and lined 20cm cake tins and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. They should be golden. Cool on a cake rack.
Assemble when cool. Put one short cake on a plate and top with apple. Use a slotted spoon to do this as you don’t want any of the juice. I like a generous layer of apple. Pop the other cake on top and dust with icing sugar or ice with lemon icing.