My mum was an amazing cook – of everything, but mostly I remember her pastry; whether it was shortcrust for pies, tarts and flans, or any other type for every sort of deliciousness, she never had a failure. Light, crispy, no soggy bottoms (apart from the cooked and lovely soggy at the bottom of a pie, which would still have texture and ‘bite’ even though it had absorbed the juices of whatever it contained) not too thick or too thin, and tasty even when it was leftovers from the day before, or even the day before that!
She mostly used the Be-Ro cookery book, which I also use – not just the latest edition, but the actual one she used, and also, I think one which may have been my grandmother’s. However, she would also collect recipes from magazines and elsewhere, and went to cookery classes too, so we had all sorts of different pastries, as well as just her standby. I have never managed to get anywhere near the sweet flan pastry she made, with egg yolks to bind, and a little sugar if it was a sweet filling… mine isn’t bad, but it is just not quite the same or as good.
And yet, and yet, when she was first married it was a different story… it was probably in the first weeks or months of her and dad’s marriage. They lived in rented rooms, and I can’t quite remember what they told me of the arrangement, but the landlady had to walk through where they were to get from one part of her living area, to another – no doubt arranged like that to nosy into the affairs of her tenants! Mum finished work earlier than dad and when he got home they had pie for desert and he criticised her pastry! She had never made it before and had just tried to follow a recipe (maybe Mrs Beeton) My dad wouldn’t have been horrid or unkind, just a typical insensitive young man – and the Elsdens are sometimes quite blunt in talking about food. Mum was a bit cross and a bit upset, but luckily her friend Daphne arrived as they were going out together.
When mum got home after having a nice, and no doubt giggle-filled evening, she found a beautiful golden, sugar sprinkled apple pie waiting on the table, with ‘I LOVE YOU’ written in pastry. She and dad both laughed – he’d realised how unintentionally unkind he had been, and she knew he would never have deliberately said anything mean or hurtful.
I often think of that, in fact every time I make pastry I think of that and i think of both of them!