Simplicity

princess-margaret-weddingFrom Ngaire’s journal, 6th May 1960
Princess Margaret’s wedding day. When we passed through the Square this evening the Cathedral bells were pealing merrily. Gerald and I went in to the Student’s Revue which we thoroughly enjoyed. We arrived home in time to hear Princess Margaret and her husband Antony Armstrong Jones leaving Westminster Abby.

Princess Margaret’s beautiful dress, described by Life as ‘the simplest royal wedding gown in history’ and by Vogue as ‘stunningly tailored’ caused quite a stir. It was designed by Norman Hartnell, who clearly knew all that is worth knowing about necklines.

Any brides contemplating a dress that requires the use of adhesive tape take note. Do I sound like Ngaire?

PS The Student’s Revue seems to have been less lavatorial than usual, perhaps in deference to the Royal Wedding.

 

The Empire Line

Princess AlexandraFrom Ngaire’s journal, 24th April 1963
‘Listened in to Princess Alexandra’s wedding
from 11.30 pm to 12.15 am.’

If you have a moment, there’s a newsreel of the wedding here. Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby’s commentary is fabulous, and I can imagine Ngaire leaning in and agreeing that  ‘cars are not always easy to get out of‘.  As for ‘the congregation too are uplifted by the mystical union’. Priceless.

Image: Flickr – Mig_R

Royal Family’s Favourite

Christmas 1952 - Warwick

Warwick (my uncle) with Christmas presents, 1952

From Ngaire’s journal, 22nd January, 1954 (holidaying in Akaroa)
‘I brought my typewriter with me so have written a number of letters and have finished entering
recipes into my loose-leaf recipe book, which Warwick gave me for Christmas 1952.

Royal Family's Favourite - Egg & Tomato Pancakes

Royal Family’s Favourite – Egg & Tomato Pancakes

Given that WE SAW THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND only a few days ago, it’s seemed fitting to cook the ‘Royal Family’s Favourite’ from Ngaire’s recipe book.

A correspondent recently asked me what Ngaire would have made of contemporary attitudes to the royals, and sent an irreverent clip of the Windsors on the couch.
Well John, Ngaire would have been appalled, but these Egg and Tomato Pancakes do make an excellent TV dinner.

I followed the recipe exactly but was fairly liberal with the salt and served the pancakes with a salsa of diced tomato and basil.  Another time a bay leaf in the bechamel wouldn’t hurt.

Royal Family's Favourite

Today we Saw the Queen of England

From Ngaire’s journal, 19th January, 1954

TODAY WE SAW THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND
Queen visits ChCh 1954“We arose at 5am, breakfasted and left Akaroa at 6.45am arriving in Christchurch at 8.30am. I had packed sandwiches and pies on Monday evening and filled Thermos flasks with hot tea tea this morning so we were well prepared…
At 11.45 we all had lunch and settled down to wait. Carol and I did a lot of knitting. I am afraid the men folk were very bored.
At 2.45pm everyone became excited, and 5 minutes later, preceded by police and other cars, the Queen and the Duke passed by in their black Daimler car. It was all so sudden, they went by in a moment, that we were rather disappointed and settled down to wait for another 1 ½ hours.
At 4.10 pm cheers were heard again and along came the Queen and the Duke again, this time more slowly so that we had a better look. The Queen was beautiful and the Duke handsome. They were followed by cinema cars taking movies.  It was all over and we had seen Royalty.
We had some “Thermos” tea and sandwiches on some lawn beside the footpath and then journeyed 53 miles back to Akaroa. Carol and Warwick had bacon, eggs and tomatoes as they were hungry.
We all retired to bed, extremely tired but very happy, because for about 1 ½ minutes we had set our eyes on the Queen and the Duke.”

Letters From the Front

Benjamin Ralph Mottram aged 20

Benjamin Ralph Mottram aged 20

Letters from  Ben Mottram
Ben was one of my grandfather Gerald’s two elder brothers.  He and Ron both fought in World War I, in the Middle East and in France.  Both returned to New Zealand, but Ben, a school teacher, died at the age of 39 – his illness possibly caused by leg wounds sustained during the war.
Ron was a surveyor and worked for the New Zealand Lands and Survey Department. I believe he surveyed Mottram Peaks.

Rangiotu Camp, North Island NZ, September 26th, 1915

We’re nearing the end of our drill now for we have had a few ceremonial parades with the whole regiment, practicing for a review and inspection by Lord Liverpool, I suppose. The colonel has told us that as far as he knows we will embark on the 9th and sail the next day.   He has received no official announcement but I expect he is right.
Love to Dad and yourself and tell Gerald I”ll write to him when I get a little more time.
From your loving son,  Ben.

Omaida, Egypt, 29th November, 1915

To-day we are experiencing a sand-storm.   The whole surface of the ground seems to be shifting, other fine sand drifts everywhere, it fills my eyes, covers our clothes, drifts into our tea and colours everything in the tent a light yellow.   Even writing on this paper feels like writing on sand-paper.   If we shake any of our clothes in the tent we can’t see the other side.

Ben Mottram Alexandria Camp

Camp at Alexandria

El Omayed, Egypt, 25th December, 1915

The parcels seem to be delayed somewhat, very few come up the line at a time, but I’ve managed to secure one of the parcels you have sent – the one with the cake and pudding in it – so Xmas won’t pass by without a little feasting.   Yesterday we were given a present from Australia, jam, toffee & cigarettes, and to-day we are getting for our Xmas dinner tinned fruit & meat & potatoes which will be as much a treat for us as turkey will be for you.
We had a service here a day or two ago, the Pres. chaplain, the Rev. MacKenzie, it seems odd but he found out my name & asked if I came from Akaroa. I didn’t know what to make of it, till he told me that he had been at Akaroa from ’94 to ’95.   He knew Ron too, for he had sat next to him at mess in Trentham;  of course I had to tell him of all the people at Akaroa;  who was married etc.

Ben Mottram Alexandria MenuIsmailia, Egypt 23rd January  1916

Dear Mother & Dad,
I was very sorry to leave Alexandria for it was such a simple matter to get into the town any time you wanted & make use of the cafes there and exercise a little of my French.
Ben Mottram Alexandria Menu0001I’ll send you a menu of our favourite place &  you’ll see what a ‘choice’ time we had there.   I’ve managed to get a couple of photos of our camp there:  they’re pretty clear so you’ll be able to see what it is like.
I believe they are making this place the base for NZ troops so maybe Ron will be sent here soon.I saw B. Bunny last night too.  He left with the 6th so had about 5 weeks at the Dardanelles.
With love to you all at home,  From your Loving Son, Ben

Ismailia, Egypt 1st March 1916
Dear Gerald,
Tell Mother that I’ve just received another parcel in remarkably good condition;  the cake this time having no whiskers on was soon lost to sight & the other goods received a very severe thrashing at our hands.
Your affectionate brother,  Ben

Somewhere in France, 17th May, 1916
…the country is just perfectly lovely now, all the spring flowers are out, even to the wild violets lining the lanes, everything so calm & peaceful that one would never have thought that there was a war on, were it not for the dull boom of the guns…The front line of trenches whither we are destined to go in a few day’s time, cannot be more than two miles from here.   Judging from all reports it is very quiet there & you are safer there than in the rear lines for you don’t get the shell fire.   “Safe as a church” the captain says so long as you don’t poke your head over the parapet for then it’s an invitation to the snipers across the way.
Your loving son, Ben

France, 29 July 1916
I have just received a NZ mail dated June 7th so I’ll just drop you a few lines to let you know I am still keeping well…Ron is keeping very well too.   I saw him fair frequently last week when we duly exchanged news & I learnt that he also was the recipient of a parcel which he pronounced to be “tres bon” (very good).
I have not seem many of the Peninsula boys just lately but I met one of the Giddens a short time ago;  from whom I heard that B. Bunny had been killed by a shell;  an instantaneous death – that’s the only consolation.
Your loving son, Ben

France, 10 August 1916

I mustn’t forget to mention that we have seen the king, we lined the roadside while on the march here, while he drove past in a motor then we were taken by the cinema having lunch by the way.   We can’t have presented a very prepossessing appearance for we were all dusty &  grimy with the march.

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

Coronation Conscious

From Ngaire’s journal 22nd May 1953
‘Carol and I went shopping this afternoon. Everyone is Coronation conscious and the shop windows are a treat.’

I’m getting a little coronation conscious myself, what with the flurry of jubilee specials and ‘Downton Abbey’ making me come over all King and Country. Ngaire was never anything else; she breathlessly followed every move even the most minor member of the royal family made. Imagine the thrill of discovering a cake that the Queen not only liked, but had actually made with her own hands.

I’m not sure where Ngaire found this recipe, but I’d be willing to bet it was the New Zealand Women’s Weekly. They quite like a royal story, or at least they did in the 70s. I know this because Ngaire used to post them to my mother — four or five issues would arrive each month bundled up in brown paper with rows of stamps.  I remember Mum teaching my brother and me how to soak the stamps off the paper and dry them flat so we could add them to our collections. Ngaire was always posting us things: newspaper cuttings, fruit cakes, first day covers, hand-knitted jumpers, commemorative coins, honey, dress lengths of fabric… She even sent me a poster of Princess Anne’s wedding.

Which brings me back very neatly to the Queen and her quite delicious cake.

 

The Queen’s Cake
(Made by Queen Elizabeth 2nd, and by me)

Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 cup chopped dates and 1 tsp bicarb. soda. Allow to stand for at  least 20 minutes.

Cream 110 gms butter with 1 cup sugar. Beat in  1 egg. Add 1½ cups plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp vanilla, pinch salt and ½ cup chopped nuts (I used slivered almonds and walnuts) and beat gently. Stir in the dates (including the water). Pour into a greased and lined slice tray (around 30 x 20 cm) and bake in a moderate oven for 35 minutes.

While the cake is cooking, make the topping. Put 5 tbsp brown sugar, 5 tbsp butter and 5 tbsp cream in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil gently for 5 minutes. Pour into mixing bowl and put in the fridge to cool.

Turn the cake onto a wire rack to cool.

When the cake is completely cool, beat the topping mixture until it turns pale and fluffy. Spread on the cake and top with coconut or nuts. I used toasted coconut flakes and chopped almonds and walnuts.

Enjoy with a little pomp and ceremony.