IT is probably not something you like to talk about too much, but it seems wise to decide what you would like to leave your offspring before you fall off your perch. Apart from anything else it saves a lot of inter-family fighting. So I asked my three children what they would like me to do. Oh! they exclaimed with joy and excitement, get us a kitchen maid!
Well, I thought in a great panic, where on earth will you get a kitchen maid in Australia? I know that in Africa you will find a plethora of people willing to serve so their children won’t starve, but not here. There certainly weren’t any maids available when I arrived permanently in this country. I will never forget kneeling on the kitchen floor, scrubbing away like mad and hyperventilating, wondering what on earth my old friends would think had become of me. No doubt they’d be rolling around on the floor screeching that it would serve me right for abandoning the country of my birth.
In the marked absence of hot-and-cold running servants I had to force my children to do minor chores such as setting the table before I got home from the office, making their own beds and ironing school uniforms. Perhaps that’s why they were asking now for the maids.
‘‘ Now look, mother,’’ they added, ‘‘ you have to get us all three the same thing; we would be terribly jealous if one of the others had a better one. We’d kill each other.’’ I’d have to find triplets!
Of course I’d, as usual, got the wrong end of the stick. They hadn’t asked for a kitchen maid; no, no, no. They wanted a Kitchenaid, which is a food mixer like our grandmothers had. And I say grandmothers because those were the good old days when men hadn’t even contemplated doing the cooking. They expected a meal to be on the table, the washing hung out to dry and the good wife to have tidied her hair, changed her clothes and be daubing on lipstick before they drove into the garage.
When I grew up we had a coaled stove in the scullery and on top of this stove was the pressure cooker, which exploded every now and then; the stew would hit the ceiling and the kitchen maid would be responsible for cleaning up the mess.
Men only came into the cooking arena when one of them invented the barbecue. That meant they could stand around the fire, turn the meat over every now and then, and spiv it up with a squirt of beer. They wanted the space to themselves and women were left out of the equation. That was about when women started to think of starting a revolution, and not before time.
I can see another revolution has happened in the shape of the Kitchenaid, so off I went, like an obedient woman, to buy three of them. Talk about heavy; you need six hands to carry one. Which brings men back into the picture. They have taken to the Kitchenaid with alacrity and are cooking like mad; even making their own cakes.
Most women have their favourite recipe books, which are used like a dictionary. Men are perhaps more experimental. I have two books I peruse on a day-to-day basis, including Joan Campbell’s Bloody Delicious. I think of her a lot when I walk past a house that was once hers, where we would sit around on easy chairs, learning from the doyenne of cooking.
I used to think this was as good as it gets, but then we went to Sicily. The food there was excellent, the wine even better and the crowd we went with was more than jolly. On my return I bought a book titled Spring in Sicily and have never looked back. It was an exercise in passion, written by Manuela Darling-gansser. She has been in love with Sicily for most of her life, finding it a place of mystery and fascination, and her book is the result of a long-held ambition to travel the island and thoroughly explore its food and traditions.
I have a soft spot for traditions, and was pleased recently to hear, if I may digress, of a lovely old thing brought back into use to take care of a very modern problem. A reader wrote to say he and his wife bought a stainless-steel cordless electric jug of exquisite design. It even came with an attached strainer. Then one day they discovered a huntsman spider in the jug: a slot above the strainer is hard to see without turning the thing upside down — not recommended when full of hot water. My correspondent isn’t sure how many cafe au spiders he had before the discovery. So they’ve resurrected a beaded net.
But for the ultra-contemporary, the Kitchenaid is all the rage. They may be heavy as lead but they do last for ages — more than a hundred years they say.
How nice to leave in your will something that can be used to feed the family.