As a nation, why did people suddenly panic-buy pasta and pizza? I remember reading that some people think these are the key ingredients for the famously healthy “Mediterranean diet” – so perhaps that explains the empty supermarket shelves? But if the aim was to boost our immune systems, why haven’t we heard more about the benefits of eating fresh vegetables, fruit, grains and pulses? Surely, during the global coronavirus pandemic lockdown this is exactly what we should be eating – and these ingredients are still in plentiful supply on the supermarket shelves.
My grandma was a Yorkshire cook and housekeeper during the Edwardian era – she was born in 1886 and died in 1977. She spent a lifetime baking simple, traditional meals. As I was growing up, I watched her bake and cook, and acquired some of her expertise and definitely her passion for baking. For nearly 10 years, I’ve been writing a blog about her and collecting traditional recipes: Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking. I’ve been privileged to travel up and down Yorkshire (and beyond) delivering themed talks about the history of baking in the times she lived through and researching further back into history to see what has shaped our baking today.
I’ve also been fortunate to study, work and travel in Europe for nearly 60 years – so my repertoire is now what I’d call “eclectic”. I remember the first time I tasted yoghurt, French bread and a salad dressing other than salad cream! Though the experience of discovering new things was not always good – my introduction to chickpeas (garbanzos) came from my landlady, Dolores, in Valencia in spring 1970. She served them with nearly every meal and they were the texture of hard bullets (it took me years to discover how delicious they can be in the right recipe)! I’ve now built up a collection of treasured recipe books from my favourite chefs – alongside multiple colour-coded ring-binders stuffed full of recipe clippings from magazines and newspapers.
Meryl and Patrick
My son Patrick, who lives in London, shares my passion for cooking and has his own collection of favourite recipes and cookbooks. As the country approached lockdown, he and I realised that cooking (and keeping our spirits up) was going to be a challenge. So we decided to cook together each night and, throwing caution to the wind, we launched our venture on Instagram as @Potsaway. “Pots away” was in honour of the “chocks away” signal that pilots in WW2 would give to their ground crew when they were ready to take off; in our case, it’s the signal to get out our pots and pans and be ready to chop, fry, stir, simmer and cook for our lives.
One of the lessons about WW2 cooking in time of rationing was to produce good healthy meals on a restricted diet. By the end of rationing in 1954, it was reputed that the nation was at its healthiest; but the downside was that the meals could often be quite boring. We are fortunate today that despite shortages in some areas, and some access difficulties, we still have plenty of produce to make tasty meals. Patrick and I have enjoyed the challenge of cooking tasty meals each night, often using substitute ingredients alongside some culinary creativity. Our first effort on 18 March was Ribollita (see picture above), a thick Tuscan stew with beans or chickpeas, not a million miles from minestrone.
More importantly, this has provided a lovely excuse to get in touch every day and to share this with whoever cares to follow us.
Editor’s note: We’ll hear more from Meryl and Patrick with their recipe suggestions – but in the meantime, you can follow their culinary efforts on Instagram @Grandmaabson and join in the fun!