Letters to my food heroes #1: Mum

I’m starting this new series, which in no way whatsoever complements my existing Favourite Ingredient series (check out halloumi and butternut squash as my number one and number two because that’s all I’ve done so far).  This new ‘Food Heroes’ series will feature letters from me to the people who inspired me and who were (and still are) most influential in shaping my interest in food and the cook I am today.  And I’ll include a recipe, which is relevant to my food journey.  Anyway, I’m starting off with my mum.  It really couldn’t be anyone else.  Mum: my ultimate food hero.  She’s in the picture with my sister and me.  I’m the one who couldn’t wait for the photo to be taken before tucking into my ice lolly.

Hello Mum,

I may have mentioned to you, perhaps once or twice, that I’ve started writing a food blog?  Well, anyway I’ve started this new series called ‘Food Heroes’ and I’m starting with you as my number one ultimate food hero.  You probably wouldn’t call yourself that exactly but it’s because of you that I’ve got a goodly stockpile of very fond food memories.  Plus, you made me what I am today with every meal you lovingly prepared and literally, because you made me.  So, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate all that you’ve done for me and all the love you gave me over the years in the form of food.

Well, were to start; there’s so much to choose from!  I loved it when you made pork and tarragon pie with its thick pastry.  And I know I’m not alone in this sentiment.  Dad keeps talking about it too.  Saturday night crispy chicken with it’s cornflake coating, dripping fat all over my fingers was a memorable highlight.  It was a special treat.  Except the time I thought I’d eaten a kidney with one of the chicken pieces.  You told me it couldn’t have been a kidney but I was adamant.  I now know, after cooking a fair few chickens myself, that it couldn’t possibly have been a kidney.  It will remain a mystery.

The lentil and bacon soup served in teeny tiny bowls so we always had to go back for seconds which was so much fun.  Made me feel like a grown up serving my own soup.  It was so tasty.  Do you remember I asked you for the recipe and you couldn’t remember where you got it from? And then I got myself a copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course and lo and behold! there it was all the time in plain sight.  I love making that soup.  It reminds me of home. I’m transported right back to your kitchen clutching my tiny bowl of soup.

You always baked wholemeal bread rolls because they were better for us.  But you stopped making them because they took time to make and they were gone in a flash.  Well, I appreciate the time and effort you put in to make them.  And into making sure we had plenty of home cooked food in the house.

One Easter Bank Holiday we had a cold and wet day out to Clitheroe Castle.  We sat on a bench eating homemade hot cross buns, huddled together with our collars pulled up, freezing in the biting wind.  The magnificent feasts you always prepared at Christmas.  Roast dinner every Sunday without fail.  The chocolate birthday cakes decorated with silver balls and lashings of buttercream.  And not forgetting the vegetarian meals you made when I showed no interest in the slightest in feeding myself.  Not just the meals but my own special vegetarian gravy that didn’t have little bits of chicken floating around in it.

Crikey, there’s so much! Homemade pizza with capers, which I loved. I still love capers.  Do you remember the watercress soup?  We had a few mouthfuls then resorted to a takeaway.  I remember the soup was watery and the silence was deafening.  Corned beef and onion sandwiches for school.  You cut the onion so thin that it slipped through the gaps in my teeth.  My dinnertime sandwich was usually accompanied by chimes of ‘Urgh, Andrea’s eating worms!’.

Digestive biscuits sandwiched together with butter and jam.  Whenever I have a digestive it takes me right back to my primary school self.  Canned sardine sandwiches which I hated.  The crunchy bones were not pleasant at all.  Why would you give a child sardine sandwiches?  Were you punishing us for something?!  Fish cakes with kale from the allotment on a Friday which were delicious.  I asked you for the recipe for these too but I don’t think you could remember where you got it from.  If you find it please send it to me.  Spaghetti bolognese with parmesan, the kind that comes in a plastic container.  It kind of smelled like feet but we ate it anyway.  I make spaghetti bolognese regularly.  It’s one of my favourite meals.

You taught me the importance of exercising self-restraint in the presence of chocolate.  It was with dismay that I watched you portion up my Easter eggs (which moments ago I’d rolled down the stairs to break open) into individual bags to be rationed over the following weeks.  It taught me a valuable lesson on being treat-wise.  Except now that I’m a grown up I can (and often do) chose to ignore it if I want……

Anyway, thank you for nourishing me with food and with love.  I don’t think I can properly express how grateful I am but I hope this goes someway to do that.  Thanks for starting me off on the right track.  You are my ultimate food hero.

Lots of love and hugs

Andrea xxxx

P.S. say ‘hi’ to dad for me.  And tell him I’ll get some pies up on the blog soon because I know he likes pies. Xx

P.P.S. Dad, can you please show this to mum otherwise she won’t see it. Thanks! Xx

Bacon and lentil soup with kale

(Adapted from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course)

Serves 4 generously

Lentil and bacon soup with kale

6 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped

180g whole green or brown lentils washed, drained and checked for stones!

1 tbsp olive oil

2 onions chopped

2 carrots chopped

2 celery stalks chopped

1 can of chopped tomatoes

2 garlic cloves finely chopped

1.75 litres chicken or vegetable stock

200g chopped kale, thick stalks removed

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

In a large lidded stock pot or pan fry the bacon in the oil.  When the bacon fat starts to run add the carrots, celery and onion.  Turn the heat up and fry till starting to soften, stirring occasionally.  Add the lentils, garlic, tomatoes and stock.  When the soup comes to the boil turn the heat down and simmer very gently until the lentils are cooked through.  This will take about 45 minutes to an hour depending on how old your lentils are.  Check the soup and stir occasionally.  When the lentils are almost cooked add the chopped kale and continue until the kale is cooked, 5 to 10 minutes.  Check the seasoning and serve with crusty bread.

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