Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Grandmotherly wisdom

Over on Bread and Roses, Dulce domum writes about the sound advice our grandmothers gave about food and nutrition. The wisdom that was passed from one generation to the next became a victim of modern living. Who wants to spend time preparing fresh vegetables when they can buy cheap processed food? Who lives close enough to their granny nowadays to listen to advice in the first place? However, as DD demonstrates, scientists keep proving that the old wisdom was sound and we would do very well to heed it.

A few weeks ago I decided to try to live on the wartime fare that my parents had to endure. I have been keeping to it for 4 or 5 days each week. Now that I have got into the habit of soaking beans overnight and preparing very large vegetable stews so that I don't have to spend hours in the kitchen every day, I am getting on quite well. Not only is it very economical but I am steadily losing weight without ever feeling hungry!

A recent study showed that half of the women prescribed the life-saving breast cancer drug Ta
moxifen fail to take it. From my own experience and from talking to fellow patients, I think one of the main reasons for this is the associated weight gain. My oncologist used to say, 'It's only a pound' when I complained to him each month. 'Only a pound' a month for five years is an awful lot of weight. I did take my medication for the full 5 years - to the day - and it has been much more difficult to lose the weight than it was to put it on. But my wartime diet is helping and I am hoping to get back to my pre-Tamoxifen weight before too long.

I was asked for some grandmotherly advice myself today: Millie's Mum asked me for some fish recipes suitable for the baby, who is now 8 months old and happily eating everything she is offered. I made a simple fish pie with cod, mashed potato and steamed vegetables for her when I was visiting and froze lots of tiny portions, but I think they are running out. If anyone has any other suggestions, I'm sure Millie and her Mum would be grateful. My wisdom is a bit limited, I can't remember when I introduced other varieties of fish into my children's diet and the wartime book mentions only salt cod, not only hard to find these days but probably not suitable for babies.


  1. Why do you soak the beans? The directions on the packages we get, say it isn't necessary.

    Granny to granny (this one a very lazy cook) do you have a simple soup recipe?

    I do lentils, dried green peas and great northern white beans (not all in one pot!). Simply canned no fat chicken, beef or vegetable broth, onions, garlic, carrots, parsley and whatever else in the fridge looks on the way out. I go easy on the herbs and spices.

  2. M - this is a very good site:
    and they have fish recipes here:
    which includes baby versions of yummy things like fish and spinach bake and fish chowder. They also have a blog and an e-newsletter.

  3. I haven't been thinking so much about it - but realize how fortunate I am not to have to relearn these things about cooking from scratch as we've always done that in our family.
    I soak one package of beans, cook it in the pressure cooker and freeze the beans in small packages.
    We don't eat any animals so I can't help you with fish recipes.
    Glad you found a way to lose weight! I didn't have to take Tamoxifen but my mother did - without gaining weight.

  4. I'm surprised by the tamoxifen statistics. I suppose it just shows how important weight is to women. I'm really interested in your war-time diet, I have a few war-time and post-war recipe books and they're fascinating. One extols the benefits of raw food...very chi-chi!

  5. e, I cannellini beans, haricot, kidney and pinto beans and I soak all of them according to the instructions on the packs. I do sometimes cheat and use canned beans for a quick meal.

    I like the sound of the soup. Thanks, I'll try it.

  6. D, thanks for the links, I'll let Tanith know that they are on here. I'll have a look, too, in readiness for their visit at Christmas.

  7. Margaretha, I have always cooked lots of vegetables and made stews and soups but not so many beans and pulses. I keep a few cans in the store cupboard for the days I forget to soak the dried beans and they work quite well in lots of recipes. I don't have a pressure cooker but i will follow your tip about freezing beans that I have cooked on the Aga.

    I am glad that your mother didn't have the weight problem with Tamoxifen, I think she was one of the lucky group who do not have that side-effect.

  8. Dulce domum, yes, I was shocked at those figures. I don't think it was weight-gain alone that was blamed, although it is a significant factor; there are a lot of unpleasant side-effects and after surgery, chemo and radiotherapy it can be just too much for some people to face five years of miserable hot flushes etc

    The food I'm eating is mostly vegetable casseroles and stews bulked up with pulses, beans or grains. I rarely eat meat so I haven't used that part of my 'ration' but I do use a little grated cheese and the occasional egg. What has surprised me is that each recipe calls for 'a little onion or leek if it can be had' so they must have been in short supply during the war. I haven't been able to find out why that was. Perhaps one of your books mentions it?

  9. Hello there
    Came over from Dulce's blog and am enjoying what I have read.
    No more fish recipes tho - I used to just poach in milk for mine when they were little tho haven't done that for years. Might try again one day.
    Take care

  10. Hello and welcome, Cathy. Scrabbling around in my imperfect memory, I'm sure poaching fish was something i did. I've looked at the recipes recommended by D (60 going on 16) and the fish and spinach bake and the chowder look like dishes I would enjoy myself. I shall cook a small unseasoned portion separately for baby Millie.

  11. Not in my recipe books, no, but I have read a few Mass Observations diaries from that time and yes, in some parts of the country an onion was a rare and wonderful thing!! Oh, the book is called "Private Battles" and is edited by Simon Garfield, I can highly recommend it.

  12. I just told Dulce Domum about book I thought she'd like, and I'll pass the title on to you, too. Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. It full of old time wisdom, anecdotes, and lots of recipes. I'm quite sure you'd love it.

    I'm a big fan of grains and beans. Cannellini beans are one of my favorites. If you look under main meals on my sidebar, there are a couple stews offered that you might like.

  13. Dulce domum and Nan, thanks for the book recommendations. I'll look them up. And I'll be over for the stew recipes, Nan.

  14. Rose Elliot's Cookbooks are great for lots of recipes (and her Mother and Baby book for relaxing common sense advice)but as she is a vegetarian they are great on beans, lentils and veggies but not so hot on fish :0)
    My Mum bought me a wartime recipe book that is fascinating..and you're right very healthy
    As I've got to follow the Tamoxifan route I think I would be wise to follow your example and start now

  15. Val, I like Rose Elliot's books but I didn't know she had done one on baby food. My daughter and her husband are vegetarian but they will give the baby fish to ensure she has a balanced diet. (That is probably because I nag!) Anyhow, I'll look out for a copy of that book for them.

    As Margaretha has pointed out, not everyone reacts in the same way to Tamoxifen, so I hope you are one of the lucky ones!

  16. Thanks, I'll keep my fingers crossed!
    The Book is called "Rose Elliot's Mother,Baby and Toddler Book"
    and the hb isbn number is

  17. Many thanks, Val. Isn't blogging wonderful for passing on all kinds of wisdom and knowledge?

  18. It's lovely isn't it! you can find nice neighbours and friends and it doesn't matter where you live!


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