Cooking is one of my favourite activities and, on the whole, I'm pretty good at it. On the whole! I do have a number of disasters to my credit. Attend any of our family functions and at some point one of my children will threaten the other with, "Do as I say or I'll get Mum to make a rice pudding!" (It's a long story.)
I went to the kind of snooty school where the head considered domestic chores to be beneath the notice of the young ladies in her care, so we didn't have any cookery lessons there. My mother was an excellent cook but, catering for a large extended family on a tight budget, she wasn't too keen on my clumsy presence in the kitchen; she couldn't afford the time or ingredients that I used to waste. I did pick up a few of her catchphrases though: for good pastry, use half fat to flour; for a good sponge cake use equal weights of dry ingredients and eggs. I hear her voice whenever I get out the mixing bowl and scales. Actually, she never used scales or recipe books; she just cooked and her cakes and pastries were perfect every time.
I have to use recipes but that's a pleasure, not a chore, since many cookery books are almost great works of literature and art nowadays and my cookery shelves are nearly as crowded as my shelves of modern novels. I mastered cake-making a long time ago but pastry has never been my forte. My Best Friend In All The World, (a regular silent reader here) once visited us at Christmas time; she picked up one of my mince pies, examined it closely and said, "I wish I had the confidence to leave my pastry so thick." So, I accepted that I had not inherited my mother's flair for pie making and discovered a great range of frozen pastry that I regularly pass off as my own!
With that history, you might wonder why I decided to make an apple pie for our dinner guest on Tuesday evening. Well, he is Irish and lives alone so I thought he would probably like an apple pie like his mother used to make! I went into the garden and picked some of the apples that were going to fall the next day. I assembled all I needed, then I lost confidence and decided I ought to follow a recipe. I chose the double crust apple pie from Tamsin Day-Lewis' Tarts With Tops On and followed the recipe to the letter. It required 12oz of flour and 8oz of butter. I heard my mother's voice, "Half fat to flour" and even I could work out that 8 was not half of 12 but I carried on regardless. When I came to roll out the pastry to line the dish, it kept falling apart. I remembered watching Tamsin on television, her pastry fell apart too and she said not to worry and just patch it up. By the time I had the pie ready for the oven it looked like one of my patchwork quilts! She was right, however, it looked perfect when it was cooked.
I carried the pie proudly to the table, wishing MBFIATW could see it, but when I tried to slice it the wretched thing remembered where all the weak seams were and it disintegrated into an apple crumble! Why didn't I listen to my mother? Why didn't I make a chocolate cake?