Bit of a Pickle

Grandma never wasted anything.  She turned fruits and vegetables into jams, jellies, chutneys, and latterly wines.  We foraged for brambles together; and friends and neighbours were quick to give her their extra harvest of anything in return for whatever she turned it into.  Even Mr Hoare, who owned a mobile grocery van which visited once a week, was known to return at the end of the evening to ask her if she wanted a tray of this or that which wouldn’t last to be sold the next morning.  But what I hated most about chutney season was the smell of boiling vinegar which permeated the whole house.  Even Papa was known to join in and I remember him pickling walnuts.  They tasted good, but that smell was disgusting. This gene of Grandma’s escaped me somewhat.  We don’t eat much jam, and nor do we eat much chutney.  Usually whatever chutneys we are given at Christmas last until the following year.  I have made lemon curd in the past, and during a particular Earth Mother phase bottled vegetables in oil, home-made cheeses in oil, prunes in brandy, and made lemon curd.  They were all successful, but inevitably a jar got forgotten and that is why there is a large Kilner jar with killer prunes in it, sitting in one of the cupboards.  Those prunes have been sitting in the brandy for ten years and only one will knock you out for the rest of the evening! I do enjoy making elderflower cordial and fruit alcohols – they’re easy and they taste good.  The basic recipe for fruit alcohol is 1 pint (20 fl oz) of vodka or gin, plus one pound of fruit (if using plums or sloes, prick the skins so that the juice can escape.  Tradition says that they should be pricked with the thorn of their tree), plus 1lb of sugar (I sometimes use less, say 12 oz, if the fruit is very sweet).  Mix them all together in a container with a lid.  Shake over several days until all the sugar has dissolved.  Put in a dark place for at least three months.  Strain and bottle.  If you look in the garden, on the left hand side, halfway down, there is a damson tree.  The fruit from that tree makes a lovely gin. The reason I’m a bit stumped with this blog though is that George and Jess have started making chutneys and he wanted some recipes, and I don’t have any!  I looked through Auntie Chrissie’s recipe book and she has several, one of which seems to be an Indian recipe.  It’s quite difficult to read, because it’s been written on air mail paper (google it, ye children of the email!).


However, here we go with Cauliflower Pickle – I have transcribed exactly what Auntie Chrissie wrote, so any ambiguities are hers.  George, please let me know how it tastes.

Cauliflower Pickle


  • 1 small garlic
  • 2 tablespoonsful olive oil
  • 1 dessert spoonful ground ginger
  • 3 ozs preserved ginger
  • 1 medium sized cauliflower
  • Cayenne to taste
  • 2 tablespoonsful sugar
  • 2 tablespoonsful curry powder

Method Steam the cauliflower after removing the outer leaves, till fairly soft.  Then break up into pieces on a dish and add sufficient salt to taste.  Leave for one night.  Heat the olive oil with the cloves of garlic till the garlic is brown.  Add all of the other ingredients, cover with vinegar and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Enjoy!

Girls in Their Summer Clothes

New York is heaving with visitors at the moment.  The students have left and have been replaced by summer school students and the first wave of the summer tourists.  A couple of days ago, the weather was sunny and people were dressed accordingly – colours had replaced the NYC working woman’s all black uniform, and it was all rather lovely.  This last couple of days have been less summery but the temperatures are due to rise again tomorrow.

Our family summer holidays were always spent in Scotland.  Grandma and Papa wanted to go home, and they wanted to see their families.  So every summer until 1972 (when Gran and Pop moved to Northallerton), the car was packed and we drove up.  There were no radios in cars then, the roads were slow, and the journey was long.  It was the only time we were officially allowed to chew gum.  And chew we did as we tried to look at registrations and every year we would try to spot all the year identifiers issued up to then.  Each year Papa warned us as we drove north that the first letter (A, of course) had been issued mainly in the south and that we’d been jolly lucky to see one.  Every year we found one and duly considered ourselves exceedingly fortunate.  As a result of this game I am still more likely to notice a registration plate than notice even the colour of a car.

I can just remember having to time the trip to catch the car ferry from Queensferry to Fife.  Papa didn’t want to get there too late and so get caught with the people commuting from Edinburgh.  I remember very clearly being poked in the arm by Grandma and told to look up.  Above me was the almost completed Forth Road Bridge.  “Next time, we come up, we’ll be going over the bridge”, I was told.  I have never lost the excitement of going over that bridge.  When there was still a toll (2/6d), Papa tried very hard not to actually stop the car when he was paying the toll.  Generally he succeeded.

I don’t remember Gran and Pop’s first home, Craiglyn, where Uncle Johnnie, Grandma, Vi, Suzy, Alastair, Kenneth and Alan were born.  Kenneth and Alan are two of my cousins.  Gran and Pop sold it when they returned from New Zealand in 1961 after being away for a year.  Craiglyn and its gardens had become too much for Pop.  I do remember the first trip to 24 Spencer Place, their new home.  I loved visiting that house.  The back garden had a lawn, and then sloped sharply downwards to the Dysart road.  Alan and I made dens down there and spent ages playing amongst the trees.  We even created a burglar trap which I’m sure would have been hugely successful if any burglar had decided to climb the slope by that route.


Alan and I in the garden of 24 Spencer Place, before we were old enough to build traps for burglars

Spencer Place was very near to the Ravenscraig Park, and Grandma used to wake up early, wake me up and we would walk through the park, past the mynah bird who yelled “aye” in a broad Fife accent or whistled the opening notes to Laurel and Hardy, and onto the beach.  It wasn’t a beautiful beach, but there was a lot of sea coal which is great for skimming.   Skimming stones is one of those pastimes which is absolutely absorbing and, even if you’re not that good, you might be, and so you continue.  Back to Spencer Place and breakfast.  Afternoons, if the weather was good, were spent on nicer beaches, generally Lower Largo where the main dangers were the cold of the sea (and no it doesn’t get warmer when you get your shoulders under the water), and the rocks which I always seemed to tread on.


Playing on the beach at St Andrews

But what I most looked forward to when staying with Gran and Pop was Gran’s baking.  Gran baked the best gingerbread I have ever tasted.  It was a moist, dark, rich cake which really was neither a cake nor gingerbread, but it was so delicious.  I have a passion for ginger in all its forms – fresh, powdered, preserved, pickled – it doesn’t matter to me.  My mouth is watering at the thought of a slab of Gran’s gingerbread spread with unsalted butter.  After Gran died, we all wanted the gingerbread recipe from her recipe book.  You have no idea how sad we were to discover that she used cups mixed with imperial measures.  No-one knew which cup she had used.  My cousin, Carole, thinks that she has worked it out, but I haven’t tasted her gingerbread yet.  So you might have an idea of how delighted I was to find in Edinburgh a recipe for gingerbread written in Gran’s handwriting, and totally in imperial – no untraceable cups!   So here it is.  I haven’t converted to metric.  Gran used lard, according to this recipe, but I will probably substitute butter.

Gran’s Gingerbread


  • 6 ozs plain flour
  • 2 ozs sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 level tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbp treacle *
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ozs lard
  • fruit and nuts


Melt treacle and lard slowly.  Sieve dry ingredients and beat eggs.  Stir eggs and treacle into dry mixture.  Bake in greased and lined tin in moderate oven** for 1-1.25 hours.

* Treacle = Black treacle in England or molasses

** A moderate oven is 180-190 C / 350-375 F