Siep­mann Mak­ing Mince-pies

Hazel had been so proud of her bak­ing, even if one of her par­ents was unim­pressed!

The People's Friend - - News - by Michael Turner

HAZEL never stopped say­ing how much she loved school, al­though, if the truth were told, what she re­ally liked was be­ing in the class­room.

She al­ways spent play­time stand­ing close to the school build­ing qui­etly chat­ting with her chums. Six years old, she was one of those chil­dren whose good be­hav­iour and quiet dili­gence in the class­room was ap­pre­ci­ated by teach­ers.

Her favourite les­son of the week was on Thurs­day af­ter­noons, when the girls were taught how to look after a fam­ily home in an age when elec­tric­ity was only for the rich and dishes were washed by the women of the house at an earth­en­ware sink, in wa­ter boiled in a black­ened ket­tle on a coal-fired range.

Years later Hazel would tell her grand­chil­dren that those Thurs­day af­ter­noons were the most use­ful les­sons she ever had, and that her rep­u­ta­tion as an ex­cel­lent baker of cakes was all down to the kindly pa­tience of her teacher, Miss Swal­low.

It was less than a year since Harold and Ethel, Hazel’s par­ents, had left the sti­fling streets of Lon­don for a new life amidst the leafy lanes of Hert­ford­shire, run­ning a small green­gro­cery busi­ness.

Harold plied their pro­duce around the neigh­bour­ing vil­lages with a horse and cart whilst his wife went around the vil­lage where they lived, selling veg­eta­bles and fruit from a hand­cart.

Dur­ing school hol­i­days and on Satur­days Hazel would join her fa­ther, and Rose, her el­der sis­ter, would help Ethel.

Hazel was not alone in lik­ing Thurs­days at school.

Carol Swal­low, her teacher, also loved Thurs­day af­ter­noon. Few, if any, of the chil­dren had ever felt the plea­sure that cook­ing can bring.

It was true that girls were ex­pected to help their moth­ers around the house and this in­cluded the prepa­ra­tion of meals. But, in the eyes of Carol Swal­low, in most homes pre­par­ing meals was very dif­fer­ent from her idea of how to cook.

To her, the kitchen stove was the heart of the home and a wife was the heart of the fam­ily. Putting tasty, mouth-wa­ter­ing food on the kitchen ta­ble was one of the most re­ward­ing things that life could of­fer.

She was re­al­is­tic enough to re­alise that bring­ing up a fam­ily on mea­gre wages al­lowed lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for moth­ers to teach their chil­dren to bake cakes or ex­per­i­ment with in­gre­di­ents.

For most, cook­ing in the fam­ily home was lit­tle more than a dreary drudge of peeling veg­eta­bles, boil­ing them in salted wa­ter and wash­ing up.

Carol felt it was her duty to give her young learn­ers the ed­u­ca­tion that she had been trained to de­liver, and also to show them, as best she could, a world

where cook­ing was a plea­sure.

So strong was this con­vic­tion that she had per­suaded the school gover­nors to al­low a small sum to be set aside to pur­chase sup­plies for her cook­ery les­sons so that the poorer chil­dren would not miss out be­cause they couldn’t af­ford to buy in­gre­di­ents.

She taught the girls to make bis­cuits and scones, fairy cakes and rock cakes, tarts, buns and pies, with the older girls help­ing the younger girls.

Over the years it had be­come a tra­di­tion that, ev­ery Christ­mas, she made sure that the chil­dren were able to take home a few mince-pies that they had baked them­selves.

There was only one rule in the school kitchen: no child was al­lowed to open the oven un­su­per­vised by their teacher.

Hazel, from her very first ex­pe­ri­ence of the school kitchen, was mes­merised with ev­ery as­pect of cook­ing.

She es­pe­cially loved the bak­ing classes – the sound of forks and spoons scrap­ing and clat­ter­ing in earth­en­ware mix­ing bowls, of pas­try be­ing slapped down on a pas­try board, of brass weights clank­ing on the bal­ance scales as the chil­dren weighed out the in­gre­di­ents.

The heat from the oven dur­ing the cold months be­tween Novem­ber and March and the invit­ing smell of bak­ing not only made cook­ery Hazel’s favourite les­son, but also left her with a love of bak­ing that re­mained with her for the rest of her life.

It was a few days be­fore Hazel’s first Christ­mas at the school and, su­per­vised by the car­ing hands of Carol Swal­low, the six-yearold placed into a pa­per bag four mince-pies that she had just baked.

The pies felt warm and com­fort­ing in her tiny hands as she care­fully made her way home.

It was get­ting dark and she trod cau­tiously, anx­ious not to drop the treat that she had de­voted the af­ter­noon to pre­par­ing for her par­ents and sis­ter.

She had no idea what caused her to trip. She had walked along the path be­tween home and school many times since their ar­rival in the vil­lage.

There were no real haz­ards apart from the un­even path. She had never stum­bled be­fore.

Per­haps it was be­cause she was be­ing too care­ful.

Per­haps she was too ex­cited.

Per­haps she was too care­ful and ex­cited.

What­ever the cause, it was not the stum­ble that upset her but the re­sult. She had in­stinc­tively stretched out her hands to save her fall, caus­ing the bag of mince-pies to fall to the ground.

As she hit the ground, scrap­ing her hands and knees on the gravel, the pain she felt came not from her grazed flesh but the men­tal an­guish of what might have hap­pened to her mince-pies.

She quickly got up, brushed the dirt and gravel from her hands and reached down to res­cue the bag. She was re­lieved the pies had not fallen out on to the gravel.

Her re­lief, how­ever, was mo­men­tary. As she looked into the bag her lit­tle heart sank.

She could see her pies were a man­gled mess of pas­try coated in mince­meat. In­stead of four golden pies she had a bag of sticky pieces.

She folded the bag as care­fully as she could, anx­ious not to mash them even fur­ther.

As she re­sumed her way home­ward she be­gan to cry. She went into the kitchen, still sob­bing.

Her mother looked at her quizzi­cally.

“What’s the mat­ter, ducks?”

“They’re ru­ined!” Hazel blurted out.

“Ru­ined? What’s ru­ined? What on earth has hap­pened to upset you?”

“I fell over. My pies got crushed when I fell on the bag. Look.”

Hazel showed the bag to her mother, who took it from her and, with­out look­ing at it, put it on the kitchen ta­ble.

“You should be more care­ful where you’re go­ing. I bet you were day­dream­ing. The times I’ve told you about that!”

“I wasn’t day­dream­ing, Mummy. I made them for tea. Mrs Swal­low said they looked very nice. She said well done.”

“She wants to spend her time teach­ing you how to run a home prop­erly. Peo­ple around here don’t want fancy bak­ing.

“They need proper food, not fancy tarts. Your hus­band will want a proper din­ner when he gets home.

“Don’t upset your­self about a few tarts. You can help me get your fa­ther’s din­ner ready. That’ll take your mind off it.’’

“They’re not tarts, they’re mince-pies. Every­one eats mince-pies.”

Hazel gave her mother a look of de­fi­ance that did noth­ing to lighten her mother’s mood.

“Look at your hands, and your knees. Wipe that dirt and blood off be­fore your fa­ther gets home. And when you’re done you get these pota­toes peeled.

“Bak­ing! Pity she hasn’t got any­thing bet­ter to do. Some of these teach­ers don’t know they’re born.”

Hazel looked at the bag on the kitchen ta­ble and, fear­ful of up­set­ting her mother fur­ther, went and washed her grazed hands and knees. The car­bolic soap stung.

She re­turned to the kitchen and her mother gave her some pota­toes and car­rots to peel.

She was care­fully cut­ting the car­rots when her fa­ther got home.

He smiled at her.

“I missed you to­day, Hazel.” He gen­tly ruf­fled her hair. “Could have done with a bit of com­pany. The day goes quicker when you’re sit­ting up on the cart with me.”

As he hung his cap and coat on the kitchen door he was sur­prised that she did not re­spond with her usual smile. Then his eyes wan­dered down to her legs.

“Look at your knees! What have you been do­ing? That looks painful.” “I broke my pies, Daddy.” “What pies?”

“The pies I made at school. We all made them. I fell over and they got bro­ken.”

She pointed to the bag which still lay on the kitchen ta­ble.

He crouched down be­side her, put an arm around her shoul­der and gave her a squeeze be­fore tak­ing her hands in his.

He looked at the grazed palms.

“My word, you have been in the wars, haven’t you? Who’s my brave lit­tle sol­dier? Those hands’ll heal up be­fore you know it, and the same goes for those knees.

“Now, let’s have a peek at these pork pies.”

“They’re not pork pies, Daddy.” Hazel laughed. “They’re mince-pies.”

Pleased with him­self for mak­ing his daugh­ter laugh, Harold reached over to the ta­ble and picked up the bag. He opened it slightly to see what had hap­pened to the pies.

“So your poor old daddy can’t tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween a pork pie and a mince-pie? It’d be a funny Christ­mas if you’d made pork pies in­stead of mince ones. Oink! Oink!” They both laughed. “They may look like crumbly old pies now, but I bet they still taste as good as when they were prim and proper pies,” he went on. “Shall we try a bit and see what they’re like?” Hazel nod­ded. Harold care­fully opened the bag of man­gled pas­try and mince­meat and, with ex­ag­ger­ated cu­rios­ity, peered into it.

“My, my! These pies have been in the wars.”

Harold in­spected the bro­ken pies, glad he had made Hazel laugh

He looked at Hazel and gave her an­other smile.

“Never mind, Hazel. Do you know some­thing? All pies look like that once you have popped them in your mouth and you get those gnash­ers go­ing. And they al­ways taste good.

“Let’s see now, you lit­tle ras­cals. What have you got to say for your­selves?”

Hazel’s sad­ness was ban­ished by the thought of pies be­ing ras­cals and hav­ing any­thing to say.

Harold again looked into the bag, de­lib­er­at­ing on what piece of pie to take.

“You look a tasty morsel, young man.”

He slowly put fin­ger and thumb into the bag and, eyes fixed on Hazel, with­drew a piece and slowly put it into his mouth.

Hazel’s eyes, wide open, were trans­fixed on her fa­ther’s face.

“Yum, yum, Mr Pie,” he said as he slowly chewed on the piece of pas­try. “These may not be the smartest pies I have ever seen, but I think they must be the tasti­est pies ever. Well done, Hazel!” He pat­ted her shoul­der. “You are a clever girl.”

Hazel smiled for a mo­ment, then a shadow fell across her face and her lips drooped a lit­tle.

“They looked so nice, Daddy. You didn’t see them.”

“It’s the taste that re­ally mat­ters, sweet­heart; any­way, there’ll be plenty of chances to make some more. I bet Mummy would do some bak­ing with you, wouldn’t you, Mummy?”

Ethel, who had car­ried on get­ting din­ner ready, looked over at fa­ther and daugh­ter.

“When have I got time to make mince-pies? Don’t you think I’ve got enough to do feed­ing you lot after walk­ing round the vil­lage push­ing that hand­cart? It’s bloom­ing hard work!”

“All right, Ethel, there’s no need for that kind of lan­guage. I just thought it would be nice for Hazel and Rose to help you at Christ­mas. I bet they’d love that.”

“How do you think mess­ing about with pies would be help­ing me? All I’d get is more work. I haven’t got time to stand around watch­ing kids mess about, get­ting flour and sugar all over the place.”

“Put a sock in it, Ethel. I wish I hadn’t said any­thing.”

He smiled at Hazel. “They’re the tasti­est mince-pies I’ve ever had, even if they’re not the pret­ti­est. Don’t you upset your­self about break­ing them. They were re­ally de­li­cious.”

“You never say any­thing like that about my cook­ing.” Ethel did not ap­pear to be teas­ing.

“Come off it. The girl was upset, and I was just try­ing to cheer her up.”

“You mol­ly­cod­dle her. You’re too soft, Harold. She has to learn life is not a bed of roses – there’s a lot of thorns as well.

“She’ll have to stand on her own feet one day. Life’s not about fancy bak­ing; it’s hard work for a woman, what with kids and house­work.

“It’s all right for teach­ers and their cosy jobs. They don’t know what hard work is. You’re too soft with those girls and you’re too soft with the cus­tomers.

“If you con­cen­trated more on what you should be do­ing, we wouldn’t have to strug­gle like we do.”

Harold put his cap on. It seemed a good time to see to the horse.

****

That night he lay in bed watch­ing Ethel brush­ing her hair. It was one of those sim­ple, nat­u­ral things that, by their very or­di­nar­i­ness, take away the ten­sions that build up dur­ing the day.

It also re­minded him, as he watched Ethel’s hand move the brush through her hair, how much he adored her.

He had to ad­mit she did have a point about the ef­fort she had to put in to keep­ing house and home go­ing.

He wanted to clear the air.

“Don’t you think you were a bit hard on Hazel, love?”

Ethel paused for a mo­ment and looked at Harold’s re­flec­tion in the mir­ror. She gave a slight smile and then con­tin­ued to brush her hair.

She ad­mit­ted to her­self that she had been a bit harsh, but was re­luc­tant to say as much to Harold.

After all, she thought, life in the coun­try was just as much hard work as in the city. If any­thing, it was harder.

Be­sides, she wanted to hear what else her hus­band would say.

He might have been a bit soft but, deep down, she knew it was his ten­der­ness that made her love him so much.

Harold, sens­ing that this was the right mo­ment, con­tin­ued.

“She re­ally was upset. I know it has been a bit of a strug­gle mov­ing out here, but it’s not the girls’ fault.

“At least we’ve got food on the ta­ble and a roof over our heads. We’re a lot bet­ter off than we were be­fore, even if it is hard.”

Ethel turned and looked at him. She gave a smile.

“I know. I shouldn’t have gone on like that. I don’t mean any­thing, re­ally. It’s just that it has been get­ting me down lately – we hardly make ends meet.

“I some­times won­der if we wouldn’t have been bet­ter off stay­ing in Lon­don. At least you had a steady wage.”

“You’re prob­a­bly right, Ethel. But there’s no end of folk been laid off, you know, and it could have eas­ily been me. Then where would we have been?

“At least, here, we get some kind of in­come. Peo­ple will al­ways want fruit and veg. I know it’s not easy for you, help­ing me and run­ning our home, but poor Hazel. She was upset.”

Ethel pulled back the cov­ers on her side of the bed and got in be­side Harold. She put her arm around his strong shoul­ders and leaned her head on his shoul­der.

He gave her a gen­tle squeeze.

“Sorry, love,” she whis­pered.

He kissed her on the fore­head.

“You’ll al­ways be my num­ber-one girl,” he said and leaned over to turn down the wick on the oil lamp.

****

On his last work­ing day un­til after Christ­mas, Harold’s rounds took even longer than usual.

He had to ful­fil all the Christ­mas or­ders and deal with last-minute re­quests, and nearly ev­ery call was pro­longed by in­vi­ta­tions to “share a glass” which he al­ways po­litely re­fused.

It was, there­fore, much later than usual when he got home and, as he put the horse away, he be­gan to won­der what kind of re­cep­tion he would get when he went into the house.

He opened the kitchen door, won­der­ing if Ethel would be an­noyed that he was back late. There was, to his sur­prise, no-one in the kitchen, but on the ta­ble was a plate of de­li­cious-look­ing, golden pies.

He took off his coat and cap and hung them on the back of the kitchen door.

The door from the hall burst open and Hazel and her sis­ter rushed up to their fa­ther and threw their arms around his legs.

He bent down and, putting his strong arms around them, gave them both a tight hug.

“Who’s been busy mak­ing mince-pies?”

“We have!” Hazel shouted.

“You have? Well, I must say I have got two very clever daugh­ters.”

“Mummy helped as well!” Rose shouted.

Ethel was stand­ing in the door­way, watch­ing them. He smiled at her.

Al­though she was stand­ing in the shadow, he could see there was a smile on her face and, he felt sure, a tear in her eye.

She looked at him with that kind smile of hers that al­ways re­minded him of the joy­ful day when he first saw her.

He knew it was go­ing to be a lovely Christ­mas. ■

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