Plainly

Jane

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jane Fraser

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.

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