With Easter now another distant memory in the 2019 calender and Christmas just around the corner, I don’t want to dwell to much about what the true meaning of Easter is, I mean obviously, number 1, it’s mostly about chocolate which was the demise of me at the weekend with the loss of a button (not chocolate) on my work trousers which has brought me to this weeks blog.
Easter is a festival and holiday, which some commemorate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and where a time of Lent is also followed. It is a time where most associate hot cross buns, decorating eggs, the Easter Bunny and chocolate like most commercialised times of year. I remember the first time being offered a hot cross bun as a child by my mother. I couldn’t wait to get this treat that evening as a snack. The word bun is one that even sounds exciting, so I began running away with a little imagination of what this bun would even look like. Would it be delivered in a frilly paper case? How big would this bun be? Would it resemble any of the variety of sticky buns from Donnie the bakers van? Could it be filled with a cream that is sweeter that the bun its self or perhaps filled with an actual whole glacé cherry compared to the misers who deem it sociably acceptable to use half a cherry? So many thoughts about this bun had passed with time that the time its self had now come for this treat. Now I can’t recall seeing these at any point in my little life up until that point in time, or perhaps it was just that they had never grabbed my attention, why would they with all the other luxuries that were at kid level to be tempted with and the continues bombardment of hassling Mam, to be led in the direction of sweet temptation.
I had never seen anything like them, little, almost perfectly round, with a sparkle from the sweet, slightly sticky glaze, a lovely caramel brown, baked finish on top and a very unusual design that had been baked into or onto the bun (which I found out years later in college. We didn’t have Greg Wallace on our screens going around factories showing how things are made and to Google it had never been heard off). My first bite had been finally taken out of this longingly anticipated baked delight and… I wanted to cry.
Not to sound like a spoiled ungrateful brat when there is so much starvation and suffering in the world, little were we aware of this then or perhaps sheltered from, with all of the creature comforts, and some, that we did have.
To me, the bun did not live up to my expectation of what I had envisioned a new bun to be. It had a strong spice taste to it, followed by the squelch from the dried fruit, a horrible bitter sweet bite to lemony, orange bits and if I’m brutally honest a tad dry from the lack of sweet cream that should usually comes with a sticky bun, just all the horribleness of new flavours that went onto the negative list. Now, leading up to where that memory would almost end for me, could have gone one of three ways. Perhaps the bun was thrown out the window for the dog to dispose off, was it flung into a fire in the living room where I can imagine the hissing noises from the dried fruit as the flames devoured the bun more joyfully than I did, or I swallowed my childish pride after the one bite of the long awaited supper bun and was honest enough to put my hands up and say, nope that’s not for me but obviously in more of a sheepish manner.
For me now, the thought of a hot cross bun is a taste sensation, of joy of wanting to learn, I remember making them in college, but not mastering. It was about this time at the age of 16 that I wanted to learn about the foods, not only what we made in college, but what we ate, and other foods of the world. It wasn’t enough for me to just turn up at college do what I had to do and leave, heck I didn’t know at that time if I actually wanted to pursue a career in what it was known as “hospitality”, for some reason that word just sounded like bottom level feeder, uninspiring and basically not knowing what a career really meant for me, I thought I was going to go into construction, it was after all, what I had seen my father do and even labour for him when I was younger, a job that I still to this day think that I would not just be ok at but also enjoy.
I had a meeting with my careers advisor one day up on Francis St. It was one of those moments that, you know when someone is talking to you and you have no clue about what they are saying, even when they ask you if you are following, you just say yes so you can get out of there as quickly as possible. That was me set to be left just a little more clueless about any career or future.
All I knew was I had a platform, for what, I didn’t know, if I was going to task I would do it to the best of my ability, if I was part of a team I wanted our team to be the best, not always easy when there are a host of growing egos and opinions in a new formed team, but failure was not an option. What I learned from that experience is who ever is offering the teaching, that only accounts for around 40% the other 60% has to come from within an individual to form the rest of the life lesson to yearn, broaden, seek, stimulate, thrive and accomplish.
Even though hot cross buns are available all year round, I like to stay true to the season. For me, the almost perfectly round buns, can not be pulled apart without getting slightly attached to the glaze, the perfect cross on the top , which is applied after proving (so now we know) and represents the crucification of Christ. The little, juicy bursts of the unacceptable dried fruit are more sweet bursts of delight, the mixed peel bringing a bitter sweet symphony of delight to the semi rich, cinnamon spice of warming delight that always rings of times to look forwards. The spices are said to represent the embalming of Christ after his death. With the bun cut in half and toasted, lashings of salted butter, proper butter not almost molecular plastic. I just hope that my guilt of turning my nose up at this supper snack many years ago, is justified with more respect and appreciation that comes with not just any bun, sticky or not, filled with cream or topped with glacé cherry. The hot cross bun, just simply delicious.
With not many options to nip to town being at sea I had to apply the good old time tested method of make do and mend. I can’t recall the last time I put a thread through the eye of a needle for myself, but I did on a number of occasions for Gran in her latter years. Her eye sight was still good and was very sound of mind, I remember her into her late nineties climbing up to take the curtains down and having to tell her to get down, but did she listen? There was always something to be mended in our household, from a lost button, I’m sure there is still the tin of hundreds of buttons in a drawer In some houses and to the time old tradition of old jeans being saved for the required patches to mend a tear in a newer pair, this happened quite often in our house and other homes, that was the norm for many young and old, now tares are deliberately designed into jeans and branded “the fashion”. Now I know I’m not the most fashionably up to date person but this is a design that I have never followed with the exception of using and old pair that have, by accident, through actual wear and tare have then been graded into the wear as scabbies for outside jobs pile.
Somewhere along the line we seemed to have lost this make do and mend attitude and have become very much a throw away society. I think my wife would disagree with me on this one with my just incase or it might come in handy piles. Now we have all gone through primary school and had what I remember it being called as sewing. Where we might have made some crappy cross stitch or a bookmark. For some reason I can’t remember much of sewing class in primary, hopefully this blog might jog some memories, but what I do recall is that in primary 7 we did make aprons which I think did have our names stitched onto the front, which we needed for going into secondary 1 for what would become known to us as home economics.
Now if I recall, when we had the chance to be ‘baking’ at home I can’t remember having any apron or ‘protective’ clothing (at that time none of that meant anything, but the significance of what an apron would mean was yet to come) We had the BBC come to the school to record a program called Car a’ mhuiltein. I’m not sure what the format was, but what I do remember is we all had to take an apron from home into school. We might have been doing foods of the world as a class project where I do recall our class having an array of foods from different parts of the world where we all or most got to try things, like peppers and different cheeses and I was not looking forward to this one bit, just a nightmare come true. So,I think this project was followed up shortly with the filming of Car a’ mhuiltein, with the presenter being Cathie Macdonald, which years later while filming Cocaire nan Cocairean for BBC ALBA, I just happened to mention that moment in time and yep, she did remember and that was all that was said on that.
Secondary 1 brought us as big if not the biggest moment that had we had so far come across in our lives, big school. Primed with our little knowledge of foods of the worlds, the little habitatiary skills that we gained through primary we were ready for home EC.
Some days we would sew and some days we would cook. The days we sewed we made things from pin cushions to pillow cases and cooked, things from rock buns to macaroni. But… The first day consisted of a smoothie and digestives (not home made digestives) where previous classes had toasties made with there shakes. Even still this was technically the first ‘professional’ kitchen to be in, but I know myself that I still was holding on to being a kid and just wanted to have a laugh, whatever I cooked didn’t really matter to me, I was still having fun.
We cooked some mind blowing things at that time. Fish and chips, shortbread, sponges, all good things for any 11/12 year old to learn, but , now I’ve only come to learn this over recent years, what they should also be teaching in schools is basic survival skills needed like brushing a floor, make a descent cup of tea or coffee, lighting a fire, unfortunately, might be coming a thing of the past.
Years later and I am still learning and very much driven by food or food related, I recall watching Delia Smith when I was still in primary and taking hand written notes of the recipes and when I was starting secondary I remember catching Raymond Blanc talking on G.M.T.V or what ever the morning show was known as then and I recall him talking about seasoning, and I think eggs also and the passion that he was showing through what he was saying and almost jumping up and down on that couch over something so basic made me think of how anyone could be as passionate about what they do. Even today I am very much still keen to know understand and question. I may not remember if I wore an apron when baking at home, or the apron that I took in for filming Car a’ mhuiltein all them years ago. I think what was also fantastic is the fact that my first apron was not just given to me or won, but like others in my primary seven class cut the material and stitched it together, which was the first item of protective clothing for our first ‘professional’ kitchen and to this day I can’t recall any other item of clothing being of such importance to me in my career and to finish with a quote from the great Marco Pierre White who said “we all wear blue aprons in my kitchen because we’re all commis, we’re all still learning.