My Mum, an excellent cook!

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Pauline, Russell and Jean celebrate a combined 240 years!

Bennie and his father have just returned from a quickie four-day visit to New Zealand –  to New Plymouth in the North Island region of Taranaki, to be precise.

The ostensible reason for the visit was to help Bennie’s Grandma, Pauline Ethel Weir, celebrate her 80th birthday.

But it was more than that, as it was a triple-banger 80th birthday party taking in also the milestone’s of Pauline’s brother-in-law Russell (Kenny’s uncle), and his partner Jean.

And it was far more than that again, as relatives and friends flew or bussed in from all over New Zealand and Australia.

It was a family reunion of the likes never before experienced by myself, let alone Bennie!

Over three organised events on the Saturday and the Sunday and more informal get-togethers, tales and family lore were exchanged and rolled out.

Relatives and neighbours only dimly remembered were introduced and much laughter and tears flowed.

How magnificent it all was.

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I revelled in digging back in to the family history.

And found, too, that I am more than old enough to have completely forgotten some events and quite starkly mis-remembered others.

In particular, my sister Judith (Bennie’s aunty) took umbrage at the suggestion that our Mum may have been a crash-hot baker but was a less than impressive all-round cook.

Her point being that while the food traditions and resources available to us in the Dunedin of the 1960s and ’70s may have been lacking by contemporary standards, within that context Pauline was pretty much at the pinnacle of cooking prowess.

You know what?

Judith is dead right – and my belief in that judgment was only enhanced as, over the course of our stay in New Zealand, I picked Pauline’s brains about what and how we ate as a growing family.

Mum’s baking was extraordinary – cakes, slices, cookies and more, all superb.

But while we may have gone without olive oil, garlic and ciabatta, there was plenty more that was terrific.

And in that regard we did way better than most families in similar situations – and that was thanks to she.

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Roast dinners and lunches were a regular, of course, but what I recall with particular sharpness is Mum’s homemade mint sauce. It was a far cry from the gloopy concoctions mostly served up these days. It was runny, awash with minced mint and quite vinegary.

Mum’s vegetable soup, made with beef bones, and beef stew were likewise dynamite. They, too, were runny at the outset but gained body and texture in consequent days.

We had heaps of fish – both fresh water and sea varieties, almost all of it caught by ourselves.

According to Mum, there was never any suggestion that fish be cooked any other way than pan-fried.

Baking seafood or putting in a stew or soup was unthinkable, and while Pauline was very partial to white sauce, the same could not be said for her husband or children.

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Uncle Russell, sister Judith, her partner Tim, cousin Susan and her Mum, Aunty Faye.

Another high point in Pauline’s bag of tricks – a very high point – was a dazzling array of preserves and pickles.

Bottled tomatoes were a reliable, lovely staple in a time and place in which canned toms were unknown.

Pauline’s pickled onions were to die for, as were various chutneys and relishes – all made from local Dunedin or Otago produce.

Jams! OMG!

These were, likewise, made from Otago berries and stonefruit, some of which was picked by us.

I have particularly fond memories of the peach jam.

Another regular was a superb plum sauce – a prized alternative to store-bought tomato sauce.

Any and all of these preserves and pickles were of such high quality that any “gourmet” producer would today be ultra-proud to claim them as their own. And they’d be winning gold medals, for sure.

According to Mum, chicken was something we had only on special occasions. Rabbit was far more common in our household, invariably prepared following pretty much the same recipe as the beef stew, with the bunny pieces sometime browned at the start.

Our home was divided on the issues of mushrooms and oysters.

Dad loved both, as – eventually – did son and daughter.

But Pauline has never cracked her dislike of both.

Mushrooms – always gathered by us, never bought – were only ever pan-fried in butter and had on toast.

Oysters meant only Bluff oysters – bought already shucked in containers and eaten raw. Or obtained deep-fried from the same places and at the same times as our regular fish and chip feeds.

And yes, I can fully recall when those items really were wrapped in newspaper.

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Other Weir home favourites are familiar to this day around New Zealand, Australia and the world, but I have no doubt the quality has dropped.

Mum’s shepherds’ pie, just for instance, was made with hand-minced leftover lamb roast.

As it should be …

Likewise, the meat loaves we buy locally are humdrum by comparison with those of our childhood.

Now there’s a challenge for the new kitchen of Bennie and Kenny – making homemade meat loaf and regular!

Thanks Mum – we love you!

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Pauline and Milly.

9 thoughts on “My Mum, an excellent cook!

  1. What a beautiful post Kenny. Happy birthday to all. It is so lovely that you and Bennie, and many other friends and relatives, were able to get together to celebrate and reminisce.

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  2. Ha! There are always hilariously misremembered and conflicting stories when my mum and her sisters get together.

    My mum is a great cook within the kind of parameters you describe (… though as my dad tells it she was a complete novice when they first married). I should make an effort to get hold of more family recipes when I visit her.

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  3. Thanks for a delightful post, Kenny. I remember that sort of home-made mint sauce, to be had with the Sunday roast lamb, too. Dad used to make it, and in my mind I can still hear what Mum called the “loud stirs” as he did so. Mum would also make a wonderful dessert called a lemon cheese pudding, from the Edmond’s cook book, of course. I still use an Edmond’s book for traditional NZ/English fare. Recently I’ve been back to the condensed milk, salt & vinegar salad dressing, for example.

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  4. Reblogged this on The Crayon Files and commented:
    My friend Kenny wrote this excellent, nostalgic piece about his mum’s cooking, which made me also remember what it was like growing up in NZ in the 1970s. Like Kenny, I’m from Dunedin originally and so is my mum, though I was brought up in Auckland from the ages of 7-9 and 12-17.

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  5. This is wonderful to read Kenny. It is a marvellous tribute to your mother, her cooking and her care. That final photograph of Pauline and Milly is precious. It sounds as though you guys had a great time over this way. There is by the way no comparison to Bluff oysters, or stone fruit from Otago.

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  6. Sounds like my idealic Tasmanian childhood. I so remember helping to pick the raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, greengages and plums. And having to interrupt our summer holidays at the beach to flit home to pick the peaches, nectarines, apricots and tomatoes which mum would then preserve in Fowlers bottles or turn into jams, chutneys and sauces under difficult conditions in a beach shack. Beans would be salted and ice-cream was made with pure cream from my grandfather’s hobby farm.

    My grandfather set great store by the family Sunday drive. We invariably ended up at the farm, where we scoured the paddocks for mushrooms, which as Kenny says were pan-fried in butter and served on toast. The eggs from my grandfather’s hens (he lived two doors from us and the chooks shared a back block with Jacko, the friendly drafthorse) would be rubbed with a preserving cream. My grandmother kept up a supply of quince jelly and blackcurrant cordial.

    I felt deprived that we four kids were not permitted store-bought tomato sauce or a neopolitan Family Brick. Such “treats” were reserved for a family birthday when we would also enjoy a bottle of bought fizzy cordial. When short of pocket money, us kids would bundle up the plentiful spare rhubarb and carry it to the greengrocer. He paid us in cash and invariable such loot would be used for a Family Brick, eaten outside the shop from its cardboard packing. Alternatively, we bought chips wrapped in newspaper from the neighbouring fish shop. Wandering home on a cold day hugging the warm chip packet is a comforting thought to this day.

    My grandfather employed a former slaughterman as his farm manager. Old Bob (his son Young Bob ran another of my grandfather’s properties) would gut a dead sheep found in a paddock and tell my brother and I about the uses for the various organs. The memory of him squeezing the green-tinged splodge from the small intestine and advising that the curly mass of “tubing” formed the casing for sausages had to be blocked out at dinner time. It was similarly important to be able to erase from the mind the horrendous cries of pigs being boiled alive (the skin came away more cleanly) in a 44 gallon drum near the woolshed. But I digress …

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