The unexpected gooseberry

I suppose many people bring up their children the way they were brought up – oh I know there are always new ways of doing things and new ideas about the amount of sleep, when and what to feed, how to teach skills, but the essence of everyday life must echo some aspects of the parents’ own childhoods. I know that people do have sad and unhappy early lives and would seek to give their own offspring something more settled and positive, and I know some people find having their own children isn’t as easy and straightforward as they expect.

Thinking back to my own childhood there were things we did which I somehow expected my children would do too and remember from their childhoods. Being in the kitchen with my mum, my sister and I helped make cakes and pastry, probably not doing much more than giving things a stir and licking a spoon! We would shell peas and beans, we would prepare fruit, hulling strawberries and raspberries, topping and tailing gooseberries,  While my children were small they too helped me in the kitchen. I was aware i was doing the same as my mum had, but I hadn’t decided I should, it just sort of happened – it was a pattern of life that seemed to repeat itself!

When I left home I’d never done very much cooking at home once I’d grown out of being a small child, I was amazed at what I remembered how to do. I once decided to make a coffee and walnut cake; we were living in a vile flat – one main room, a microscopic bedroom and I slept on the floor, and a shared bathroom. The food was kept in a unit which thinking back might have been designed as a sort of bureau. It had a cupboard on the top with narrow shelves behind doors, a board which slid out which you could put things on – as a bureau it would have been where you would write,. Beneath this sliding board were drawers and beneath them cupboards with room for larger items. We kept our food in the top cupboard, and our pots, pans, dishes and plates in the larger cupboard.

There was no fridge which was fortunate because when I mixed the ingredients for the cake the butter (actually it was probably the cheapest block margarine) was soft. I must have had a recipe, but no scales, so no doubt I measured out equal quantities using a  cup or a spoon. I beat the mixture with a fork, and as I did so, I realised I actually knew what I was doing – I knew I had to cream the butter and sugar, and what it would look like when it was creamed. I knew how to mix in the eggs and fold in the flour – I remembered it without realising I remembered mum doing it! Even though I thought my children grew up in a similar way, they don’t remember these basic skills – although they are very quick to learn now and are both great cooks!

The reason I was thinking about this was that I was in the garden, our much neglected garden, and wondered if our much neglected raspberry canes had any fruit. I was sadly disappointed but to my great surprise, I found that the miserable and prickly gooseberry bush, which has been with us for over ten years without bothering to give us any fruit and defying pruning by its vicious spikes, has suddenly decided to change its habits. To my great surprise, there were some enormous gooseberries. I collected a handful and then found more, and then more! I haven’t properly searched the bush but just in those few minutes I picked nearly a pound.

Back in the kitchen, I had a vivid memory of topping and tailing gooseberries for mum to make into a pie or a crumble. If I asked my daughter to do it, would she know how? Would she get a knife and chopping board out instead of just using her thumb nail? I must ask her!

PS I showed my daughter my bowl of gooseberries. She looked at them for a minute and then asked what they were?!!

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