Friday Fictioneers: Slices of love

PHOTO PROMPT © Valerie J. Barrett

Nan didn’t have a fire in the kitchen.

If it was cold, she’d turn on the gas oven, leaning inside with the ticking lighter, me listening for the whoomf of the burner, watching for the sapphire flame.

I’d sit on the step with the musty scent of linoleum and coconut matting, the plastic tang of cyclamen growing in the lean-to, impatient for slices of thick white toast slathered in butter, a cup of Cadbury’s hot chocolate.

She’d peer into the grill, owl eyes made large by pebble glasses, hands on hips as the toast crisped.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

When I saw the old range and kettle, I instantly thought of my Nanny Cuthbert – or Lou as she was called – my dad’s mum. We’d regularly visit her in her terraced house in Uxbridge on the outskirts of London and she showed her love with food: toast cut straight from the loaf; hot chocolate; beef suet pudding cooked in an enamel dish.

Her kitchen had changed very little since the war (bear in mind I was a child in the 1970s and 80s) and to some extent resembled the kitchen below from the Imperial War Museum – though Nan did have the ‘mod-con’ of a water heater above the sink.

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32 thoughts on “Friday Fictioneers: Slices of love

  1. What an immersive slice of life you’ve painted for us here! I really feel like I’m there. Thanks for sharing the video too, how interesting! The timing is especially perfect for me. My mother recently bequeathed to me her mother’s cookbook from 1935 (complete with all the extra recipes Grandma cut out of Better Homes and Gardens magazines in the 1940s and 1950s). For my birthday party, I set myself the fun challenge to only cook dishes found in that cookbook. So the realities of a 1930s and 1940s housewife was very much on my mind for a couple weeks! (Also, the realities of trying to follow pretty vague instructions, oh my.)

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    1. Thank you, Joy. What a fantastic present your Grandma’s cookbook sounds – a window into her daily life a generation or two ago. I find the war and post war eras interesting. Those days when – at least here – rationing was in full swing (rationing didn’t stop completely until 1954, so you can imagine how in debt the country was). They would have eaten such delights as dried egg, ‘the national loaf’ (revolting apparently) and used carrots in everything sweet as there was very little sugar around. We were the healthiest we’ve ever been as a nation, though. Thanks for your kind comments, Joy

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      1. There was rationing here too, although it ended soon after the war did. Last year as part of my dad’s birthday celebration, we went to a military history museum, based in a factory that made planes for WWII (and had “Rosie the Riveter” women working there). My dad is a big history buff and LOVED it. They had a whole display on ration cards and what people ate (or rather, did eat), along with other things that were rationed, like women’s hose. I don’t remember if it talked about specific dishes though — the idea of the “national loaf” being dried egg is… interesting? My father’s parents were very influenced by being young during the Depression, and then going through the war too, and Grandma Pixley held tight to her frugal cooking ways, so I experienced it second hand. The bonus is that I learned to love their watermelon rind pickles (never let anything go to waste) — which I made and were a big hit at my birthday party!

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  2. I cannot add to what’s been said, except to thank you a memory stirred. I stayed with my grandma a lot. And although she did have an electric kettle, and a regular-style cooker, she would always heat water on the living room fire.

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    1. So glad I stirred a nice memory. My nan’s house – those smells, the furniture, the little garden with its stone frogs and runner beans – is gone now. The only place it lives is in the memory of me and my older brother. Nice to reminisce sometimes

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      1. Yea. My grandma’s house too. Not built over, just a piece of wasteland. Such a shame since the house had dated to C18th. But it suffered severe flood damage.

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      2. My nan’s house is still there, but everything that made it her’s is gone – quite rightly too I suppose. There aren’t many who’s want a 1940’s gas cooker or not central heating or a funny water heater instead of a combi-boiler!

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      3. I’m not sure how safe a 1940s gas cooker would be. Though I’m sure the one I had when I first left home was around that age. Or older. And a geyser over a free-standing cast-iron bath. It was a s/c flat in the landlord’s house, and the landlord was ancient. I think everything in it he’d had as wedding presents.
        I seem to be fated to experience domestic arrangements from way-way back! Lo, my place dates to 1603, but was built over the remains of a monastery that dates to C13th. I think it was the granary. Four foot thick flint walls. Even in the height of summer, there’s a distinct chill in the air.

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  3. Lovely to remember these sights and sounds and smells from childhood. I was particularly delighted to be reminded of those old gas lighters, with their heavy cylindrical batteries – and the sapphire flames – exactly the right colour. But I enjoyed even more the interaction between the two characters. I can just hear your nan telling you not to be impatient because the toast would be ready soon!

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  4. What a wonderful memory, lovingly and expertly told. It puts me right back to childhood and I want hot cocoa and white bread with butter now, my grandma stuffed me with that, too (just not the toast and the oven, we had coal and a monstrous electric stove/oven).

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  5. I love this re-creation of your grandma’s presence, and her love through making delicious food for the young you. I can smell the thick slices of toast ! Fabulous descriptions. The War Museum clip is so complementary, & reminds me of the austerity of rationing. Like Churchill said, a week’s worth of food looks like food for one day. Good writing.

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    1. Thank you so much. Yes, that is a wonderful quote from Churchil, isn’t it? The man must have had some appetite – he was on the large side! The nation was supposed to have been much healthier back then and of course, people were encouraged to be imaginative, to supplement the rations with veg from the garden. Not sure many of us would be prepared to live on this now.

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