The present needs the past


I began sorting through drawer loads of recipes collected since the early sixties. I’ve dragged them around more twenty- six homes and three countries, and frequently can’t find the one I want; and though I try to keep my favourites altogether, they still stray into other collections of ‘intending to try’, and ‘must try’. After hours spent sorting them into piles, and several rubbish bags filled with the unwanted trimmings of yellowing newsprint and magazine borders, I realised that this truly was what is called a back-breaking job. I hadn’t even handled a quarter of the clippings.

Method: sort through the whole lot, putting them into cake, pudding, pasta, rice, chicken, fish piles, soups, salads, suppers, savouries, sauces and so on. Then sort the piles, throw out the duplicates, and trim yet again, to fit into scrapbooks, and stick them in. The cake book was huge, almond, fruit, lemon, plum, rhubarb, apple, madeira, chocolate, coffee, the whole nine yards. It has taken me days to get this far.

The interesting thing is that I recognise most of the recipes, know where we were living then, and even remember with many of them, how and when I tore or cut them out, right back to 1964, when we were living in a country house called  Newney Hall in the hidden country-side of Essex.

I can remember many of the dinner parties and the people who were there and the menus. Crocenbouche in the height of a Hongkong summer, with no air-conditioning in the kitchen, dripping with sweat, as I baked choux pastry balls, whipped up cream with cointreau, and made the caramel to dribble over the pyramid of puff pastry balls. Biskotten torte, a Danish coffee and walnut confection which could be made a week beforehand, given to me when I was engaged, by my stepmother’s best friend, staying with them in Shrewsbury; vol-au-vent, one of my father’s favourites, and mint and orange salad, a Robert Carrier special from the then new Sunday Times colour supplement.

Then there were the handwritten ones, salmon slice from Jenny, fruit cake from some people who read my columns, and who delivered a cake personally – then a recipe which the children still hanker after – a vegetarian meat loaf, made principally from pea-nuts, garlic, carrots and herbs, this sent by a reader in Tauranga, after a column on vegetarianism – Marianne’s beetroot relish, Frances’s apple cake, Evelyn’s strawberry jam. So the whole exercise raked over old memories, stretching back for fifty years. Many of the favourites had greasy or jammy finger-marks all over them, splotches of grease, or wine-stains!

I now have three thick scrapbooks catalogued into easily discovered sections, and decorated with beautiful pictures of food, fruit or vegetables cut out from magazines, and when I need a new idea for a meal, I go to leaf through them, and find something to inspire me.

In another day and age, I would have bequeathed them to my daughter, and they would have become family heirlooms like the treasured notebooks in browning spidery hand-writing of previous generations. But alas, already, even I now go to the internet for a quick fix on how to cook asparagus in the micro wave, and when I asked my daughter for a recipe for hot cheese scones we’d had for lunch, she sent me the internet reference.

I have shelves of cookbooks I used to love reading, but which I rarely ever open these days… apart from Elizabeth Luard’s book on family life which includes a number of my favourite recipes, and I can’t cut them out and ruin the book, so there they stay.

So it seems to me that my recipe scrapbooks are as obsolete as the family photograph albums. As with cookbooks, I have a shelf groaning with photograph albums. Not many from my early years, I have to admit – not much photographing went on in our family during the war, with my father overseas for seven years at the war, and my mother gone. But some from schooldays as a teenager, a precious few of previous generations – when taking a photo was serious stuff – and dozens and dozens of pictures of my children and grand- children. They and I used to pore over them when they were little, and reminisce about their childhoods. Maybe one day they would have been interested, not just in the records of their childhoods, but in the older family photos too, the records as it were, of their ancestors.

But it’s been many years since I received any up to date physical photos of my family to insert into an album. Lots yes, on the internet, but will they still be there in twenty years? Will this generation and succeeding ones have any of the family records that we, and previous generations have had since the camera was invented by Frenchman Louis Daguerre in1838 and Englishman William Fox- Talbot in 1839? Even before then, portraits, miniatures, sketches, silhouettes provided some family records.

But today, we seem to have lost something precious, something perhaps that we only appreciate as we get older. Young people are too busy taking their selfies, and posting on Facebook and all the other social media outlets to realise that the impermanence of this new technology has its drawbacks.

Then, I think to myself, is it just me that sees it this way? And then another inner voice stoutly proclaims that honouring the past, recognising the lives and achievements of our ancestors matters; knowing where we come from gives us a standard to live by, a knowledge that our forbears have faced and overcome great challenges in their lives, and therefore, so can we.

Even the trivial recognitions as we peer at good-looking Great-Aunt Jessie and recognise our nose, our eyes, and realise that we are part of a long chain of lives and family, gives us a sense of rootedness, and a feeling of permanence. Seeing faded pictures of poor Great – Uncle Arthur and remembering that he died on HMS Vanguard which un-explainedly exploded in Scapa Flow in 1917 taking him and another 799 sailors to the bottom, puts us in touch with history; learning about valiant Great-Aunt Violet who overcame childhood polio, lived with painful irons on her legs all her life with no complaint, and brought up a happy family, can inspire us to believe that we too have profound inner strengths with which to face the challenges of our own lives.

So yes, in some ways, as I look at my proud achievement of those gathered recipes into thick scrapbooks, I feel sad, as they symbolize so many other facets of life absent in this brave new world of convenience and technology. And yes, I know too, that there is no turning back, so that like my ancestors I must make the best of it, suspecting that my descendants have no idea of what they might have lost!

As wave is driven by wave
And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,
So time flies on and follows, flies, and follows,
Always, for ever and new. What was before
Is left behind; what never was is now;
And every passing moment is renewed.”
Ovid wrote this sometime before the birth of Christ… he also wrote that everything changes and nothing perishes – his words are my conundrum, my lesson and my answer.


Food for threadbare gourmets

My daughter gave me delicious hot cheese and bacon scones when I dropped in at lunch time. “Only three ingredients,” she boasted, “apart from the bacon which I added”.  I couldn’t wait to try them myself! Annabel Langbein, a NZ  cookery writer invented them: two  and a half cups of SR flour, two and a half cups  of grated cheddar cheese, and two cups of Greek yogurt, plus salt and pepper. Mix them all together, drop spoon-fuls onto a greased tray, and cook in a moderate oven for ten to fifteen minutes. Mine took a bit longer than the stated time to cook because I simply put the whole lot on the tray in one piece and cut it into triangular segments. But they were good. Next time I’ll add some chopped cooked bacon, and might add some Parmesan too.

PS I experimented with last week’s recipe for broad beans etc, and found that by leaving out the garlic, and using nutmeg instead, it was subtler and to my taste, more delicious…

Food for thought

The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is happening outside. And only she who listens can speak.

Dag Hammarskjold Swedish Secretary-General of the UN for eight years. He died in a mysterious plane crash in Africa in 1961 at the age of forty-seven, and JFK described him as one of the greatest statesmen of our time.





Filed under cookery/recipes, family, history, life and death, life/style, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized, world war one, world war two

35 responses to “The present needs the past

  1. I have two little red recipe books with hand written recipes from my mother, other family and friends – some in their writing, some in my own. The books are falling to bits now but I still use many of the recipes.

    However, when I get recipes now, I put them in clearfiles – much easier to find, and easier to keep clean.

    When I make cheese scones I roll the mixture out, cover it with slices of camembert cheese and fold misture in half before slicing and cooking. It gives a delicious gooey centre.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I started printing and putting recipes from the internet into a folder but soon gave it up, unless they’re really, really good. Nowadays I just google the ingredients I have – including fresh in the garden these days, ha ha – and see what recipes come up.

    We still have lots of cookbooks, but they’re a bit akin to comfort food: pick them up and look through over a bottle of wine, then stumble off to a winery 🙂


    • Good to hear from you Mark… hope all is well down your end of the world … loved your way of enjoying a cookbook…
      My daughter has just e-mailed me that I got the recipe wrong ( didn’t know she even read my blog!), so will be posting a revision !!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. For her genealogical researches, Much Better Half does NOT trust electronic storage. Piles of papers, neatly sorted, give her far greater comfort. Recipes from the Ark also jump out of odd cupboards to bite the unwary.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations on compiling your recipe scrapbooks. A formidable undertaking. And I suspect they will be treasured heirlooms for someone. Old ways which are good,old ways often seem to survive; they may fade away for a while but eventually they reappear, and we learn to love them once again.


  5. Dear Valerie,

    This post has dredged up more memories for me than I can say. Alas, I have lost my mother’s sacred recipe box somewhere amid raising children and moving. One of the recipes I’ve never been able to find nor duplicate was one for cheese blintzes. There are plenty of recipes available on the internet and in cookbooks, but none compare with hers.

    Some of my most precious childhood memories revolve around these delicious cheese-filled crepes. If mom was going to make any she would make enough for weeks and freeze them ahead. Because they were labor intensive and my mother worked a full-time job outside the home, her blintzes were a rare treat. Usually she would make them on a Sunday. A wonderful mother-daughter activity. The crepes were the first part…made with plenty of eggs, butter, and flour. Old fashion flour sack towels would be spread over both kitchen and dining room tables. The crepes would be lined up and a dollop of cheese filling (farmer’s cheese with a bit of cinnamon and butter, salt and pepper to taste) would be placed on each. Then we folded them like envelopes. Mom lightly fried some of them (just enough so they wouldn’t be gummy) and wrapped them in waxed paper to freeze, the remaining she would brown in butter and served with sour cream.

    See what you did? 😉 My comment is nearly as long as your post. Terrible blog etiquette. I guess I said all of that to say that your post gave me food for thought. My mother had meticulously constructed that recipe by watching her mother make them with a pinch of this and a handful of that. Now, what should be an heirloom to hand down to my daughters in law, is a memory.
    Please forgive this long-winded post, my friend. Perhaps I will post this as a blog in the future. You’ve inspired me.




    • Hello Rochelle,
      Well, what a magnificent response to my meanderings in print !
      If you hadn’t said you couldn’t find your mother’s recipe, I’d be asking you for it … lovely memories, and lovely story…maybe you will blog it for your other fans,
      Love Valerie


  6. Angela

    Oh dear….reading your words has given me ‘recipe guilt’… know where you pull out the huge folder of old tatty bits of paper & vow to get them sorted this time…..then half an hour later you’re shoving them back in the cupboard!!….but you persevered so hopefully you’ve inspired me to higher standards this time! And talk about synchronicity….recently found Elizabeth Luard’s Family Life at a book fair…loved it & just got My life as a Wife from the library ….very interesting!!


    • Angela, how lovely to hear from you, and what an intriguing comment…fancy you knowing Elizabeth Luard’s books… I’ve followed her for years.. love her stuff, including her recipes which used to run in the English mag Country Living… I always cry my eyes out over the death of her daughter, no matter how many times I read it… I think I’ll be strong enough now to read it without dissolving, but I never am !!!
      PS Don’t let me make you feel guilty about your recipe mayhem.. the right moment will come, as it did for me !!


      • Angela

        I’ve really enjoyed both books and yes her daughter’s death was tragic…so sad. In the ‘Wife’ book she mentioned Henrietta Partridge so then I had to bring out Frances Partridge’s Diaries & revisit Burgo’s early death …again very sad…so now I’m juggling both books!! …..there’s no wonder I don’t get on with recipe sorting is there!!


      • Dear Angela, I was so intrigued to read your reply…I have all Frances Partridge’s diaries too !!!
        I also have FP’s authorised biography by Anne Chisholm,in which she reveals that Ralph was a bully and a serial philanderer…diaries don’t always tell the whole story !
        From another random source I also discovered that the person who was talking to Burgo when the phone suddenly went silent, so he contacted Frances was Simon Jenkins, now very grand, and Lord Jenkins, who married Gayle Hunnicutt.
        I was investigating Benjamin Britten, and stumbled on the fact that Simon Jenkins was a protegee of Britten’s when he was a choir boy… love all those intertwining threads…
        We would have a lot to discuss, I feel !!!


  7. Food and memories are wonderfully intertwined! I do have recipes on cards, in notebooks, and on my laptop. I’ve given each of our girls a fancy recipe notebook with favorite recipes and may add some more this year, now that I’m thinking of it. I like cooking magazines, even though most of the recipes can be found online. I find recipes online and I love cookbooks. I own many and get many from the library. Hmmm, seems that it’s time for lunch, so off I go. Yummy post in so many ways, Valerie.



  8. I do believe we are twin souls so often have I struggled with my mass of saved recipes….I’ve finally got them down to a drawful…maybe in January when the weather is nasty….maybe.
    Love you


  9. How do we measure happiness? We may have individual definitions, but one thing we have in common is breaking bread together. Your thoughts brought back many many wonderful memories as well as a thoughtful recognition that, in our existence, time moves ever forward, that the present becomes a memory even as we live in the moment. What was, will never be again. What will be, is for the present to unfold without the safety net of certainty. One of my favourite quotes by Dah Hammarskjold: “It is not we who seek the Way, but the Way which seeks us. That is why you are faithful to it, even while you stand waiting, so long as you are prepared, and act the moment you are confronted by its demands.” Many thanks and much love coming your way, Valerie.


    • Dear Rebecca, what simply beautiful multi-layered words , which said so much on so many levels… I felt so privileged to receive such a subtle, sensitive deeply-thought comment, and read it aloud to my love.
      Thank you especially for the Hammarsjkold quote which really sang to me… I sent it on to a friend who was celebrating her birthday… we’ve been consciously travelling the Way together since 1978….attending the same courses and gatherings, and attending conferences with visiting teachers like Dipak Chopra, Wayne Dyer etc etc. she loved it too…
      Much love, Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Totally with you, Valerie on the sorting of recipes 🙂
    I tried many times to get them organized, but in the end, I quit trying and never stopped collecting them.
    How lucky you are to live close enough to your daughter to enjoy lunch together! The scones sound yummy and I got the corrected version.
    The quote is certainly more relevant and important than ever in a world that too often sounds like a big echoing machine where everyone wants to be heard.


  11. Ha-ha, Evelyne… women are all the same aren’t they?
    Or women who love food and cooking anyway !!!
    I have a journey of two and a half hours to get to my daughter, but we manage every now and then, and e-mail is a wonderful thing… though she is so hopelessly busy that I rarely use the phone !!!
    If you liked the Hammarskjold quote you may like this which another blogger friend sent me:
    Dah Hammarskjold: “It is not we who seek the Way, but the Way which seeks us. That is why you are faithful to it, even while you stand waiting, so long as you are prepared, and act the moment you are confronted by its demands.


  12. Why is it so hard to let go of recipes? Even the Guardian cooking supplement – I toss out the rest of the paper for recycling with nary a care, but the pile of supplements with delicious-looking cakes and soups and salads on the front just grows and grows… And my granny’s cooking compendium, a century or so old and passed through my mother’s hands on to me – I fondly remember making vanilla custard filling for choux buns from it, and even though I’ll probably never do it again, and the book is in tatters, I can’t bring myself to discard it.

    My forebears were poor enough that getting family photos taken must have been an appalling expense. Every picture is like a signal to the future, a message of love, of ‘Look at the trouble we’ve taken, the sacrifices we’ve made so that you can be. Remember us, don’t waste what we’ve given you.’

    I feel appallingly sentimental, possibly a bit snivelly, thanks to your lovely post!


    • Dear Alex,
      Loved your comment… and I love the Guardian cookery columns when I can get my hands on them… still have some of the recipes in their old newsprint from back in the early sixties – sober, sensible and very useful ones, very unlike today’s sexy cookery columns !!!
      Your comment about your forbears was very moving… a message of love indeed… and thank you for your lovely words of appreciation…

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Well you’ve tapped into something here! I’m not a natural when it comes to cooking, but I have a recipe book with handwritten recipes in from schooldays home economics in the early 1970s. Tidy cursive writing slowly changes throughout, then stuck in handwritten recipes from my Mum in her handwriting. I update it now and again and anything I decide to try goes in there when I’ve loved it and the method is ‘sorted’. Pages are margerine stained here and there, as historical reminders of acutal use, and I’d never part with such a personal ‘artefact’. (You can’t get that feeling from the internet.) Great post, Valerie! (loving the Ovid quote too, I must look into him!)


  14. Hello Lynne,
    Isn’t it delicious… we are all sisters under the skin when it comes to food it seems !!!
    Loved the description of your well-thumbed and stained recipe book …
    Lovely to hear from you…


  15. No it’s not just you that feels that way Valerie – I think memories recorded only online are much less rich than being able to flick through physical mementoes and to see the handwriting of those who came before.


    • Hello Andrea, thank you for that… good to know that I’m not just a narrow minded blimp !
      It is interesting that others feel the same way about the impermanence and lack of satisfaction in those online records…almost like the difference between something hand-made and unique, compared with a mass produced machine made item….

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Angela

    Dear Valerie….oh dear can’t find ‘reply’ up on your last comment so heaven knows where this will appear! Oh we certainly would have much to dissect regarding the whole crowd surrounding Frances… me too, I have her biography….& was quite shocked to read that Ralph was ‘keen’ on Janetta….who’d have thought it!!


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