Cooking for me links me to my family. I come from a long line of cooks on my maternal side. Starting with my Great-Grandmother, who apparently worked in the Kitchens of one of the great London Hotels (Dorchester? Savoy etc? the detail has been lost) around 100 years ago. She was sent out to earn her living as a young woman along with her sisters due to reduced family circumstances. One of her sisters had to sing for her supper, quite literally... she ended up becoming an Opera singer at the Met in New York.
But back to my Great- Grandmother. After marrying my Great-Grandfather and post WW1 they moved to Australia where she used to supplement the family's income during the Depression by essentially working as a Caterer from home - she did a line in fancy hors d'oeuvres that she'd been taught in London and that she'd sell to local housewives hosting cocktail parties. She passed down her love of cooking through my maternal line - My Grandmother inherited her hand written recipe books and her wooden spoon and baking tins.
Unfortunately, there is a strong lack of sentimentality in that side of the family as well. My mother was very unhappy to discover that my Grandmother had thrown the recipe books out around 25 years ago, as she thought the recipes were dated and not things that we'd cook today. But my Grandmother was also an excellent cook, with her own collection of recipes, and my sisters and I have many fond memories of cooking with her. She was an accomplished baker, and would often have us bake cakes and little biscuits (cookies for US readers) with her.
One of my precious things is the recipe book that my Grandmother hand wrote for me when I first moved out of home with all my favourite recipes of hers in it. I love it for so many reasons... because it has her handwriting in it, which is such a lovely reminder of her.... because of the love that went into that little book with the time it took her to write it all down... and because it's a reminder of the love in the family that we all have for cooking, and of all the times we sat as a family and shared those meals together. Something that is in the past now.
My mother was also a very competent cook. She was renowned amongst my friends for turning out a cake or batch of biscuits almost every day for us to eat after school (we were so used to this that we regarded it as perfectly normal). She would happily entertain large crowds, more casually when older, but initially as a younger woman in the 80's there would be regular, fairly elaborate dinner parties with experimental recipes pulled from Vogue Entertaining and later Gourmet magazine using exotic ingredients.... like avocados (really... they were exotic in the early 80's in Adelaide) all sourced from Adelaide's Central Market.
My sisters and I have all inherited this family love of cooking, and this was definitely nurtured by Mum. When I lived in London, food was very expensive for a very poor student like me. I was living off mince meat as my only form of protein, and complained to Mum that I was sick of Bolognase. Rather than sending me money, as I'd hoped, Mum sent a ten page fax of recipes using mince that she'd copied out of Gourmet Traveller magazine, some of which I still use today. Later on when I was living in Melbourne, Mum used to write down new recipes she had discovered on the back of postcards that she'd mail to me. They'd always be a surprise as I wouldn't know she was sending them. They're now one of my treasured links to my Mum. Every time I cook one of her recipes, I look at the cards she sent me so long ago now, and see her handwriting and think of her.
I thought I'd share one of my Mum's old favourites. She was well known for her Chocolate Chip Biscuits - it was one of the first recipes I learnt, and one that I cook with my children all the time. The recipe has been requested by friends so often that it's definitely a tried and true recipe... Mum thought that originally it came from an old Women's Weekly Cookbook back in the 70's. Just mix together in the food processor and add the chocolate chips and nuts at the end. Watch your spacing on the baking tray - they tend to spread. The mixture also freezes well, I'll often only bake up half and roll the rest into a log shape to put in the freezer for another day.... otherwise they tend to disappear fairly quickly.
Chocolate Chip Biscuits
125 gm softened Butter
1/3 Cup soft brown sugar
1/2 Cup Caster Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cup Self Raising Flour
Generous quantity of dark Chocolate Chips and Walnuts
generous shake of Nutmeg and Cinnamon.
Mix together, then space generously heaped teaspoonfuls on the tray
Bake in a moderate 160 C oven for 10-15 minutes until golden. The ones pictured above spent a couple of extra minutes in the oven due to a few distractions....
Such as my helper. If you have one of those, you may end up with an extra egg in the mixture, or rather a lot of chocolate chips.... it's a forgiving recipe so will still work out!
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