A few days ago my fresh food supply was dwindling so I decided it was time to raid the freezer. Bing a thrifty person, I save all veggie leaves and stalks, also celery leaves and the end of the root, just slicing off the hard end bit. All this stuff, plus an onion, I threw into a soup pot, covered in water added herbs and left to simmer for an hour.
Meanwhile I stripped the bed and started a load of laundry. I then made coffee and sat for a while and my mind went back to my childhood, when I helped my grandma do similar things.
I was a child from a split family. My father came home from his war days in what was then, Burma, after being away for the six years of the war. I was a year old at the time so I guess he must have had leave in order for my creation. In 1947, when I was two years old, he left again as things were obviously not happy. My mum needed to work full time to support my eight year old brother and I, so I was packed off to live with my grandma. My brother was considered old enough to look after himself, so he stayed with my mom.
Growing up with my grandma was a great experience. She had had a hard life and had done almost anything to make ends meet. Having raised six children with an alcoholic husband, who drank away all his wages, she had learned to survive the best way she could. Grandma could open an empty cupboard and make a meal out of the contents, she had learned to cope and she excelled at it.
Every Tuesday and Thursday she would make meat and potato pies which she sold at the nearby leather mill. I remember walking down with gran, at lunchtime, while she pushed an old fashioned English pram, filled with hot pies. We stood at the mill gate while the men came and bought the hot pies, which took just a very short time then I would ride home in the pram.
Every Monday and Wednesday, come rain or shine, was laundry day. A couple of the rather wealthier neighbours dropped off their laundry on Mondays and grandma would drag the dolly tub across the back yard to the back door. She and I would carry pails of water from the kitchen to the tub and she would take the shirts, one at a time and scrub the collars on her rubbing board, with carbolic soap, then into the tub of bleachy water to soak. When all were submerged, out would come the poss stick. This was a sort of wooden broom handle with a wooden Frisbee type disk at one end. The disk would be “possed” up and down for several minutes to agitate the water and get the clothes clean.
Gran and I would then push the big wooden roller wringer to the edge of the tub and the shirts would be fed through the wringer and drop into another tub, filled with clean water into which some “blueing” had been added, to make the clothes look whiter. The wringing process was repeated and the shirts then hung on the outdoor lines. Sheets and towels then were washed in the same manner until everything was hanging on lines. If it was raining, the articles would have to be draped all over the home on various racks and rails, to dry by the fire. The tubs of water were then poured over the flagstones of the yard and scrubbed, with a hard broom to clean them. They were then trundles back to their resting place across the yard and gran and I had our mid morning snack.
Once gran was refreshed it was off to the butchers. In those days there was always sawdust on the shop floor and always some part of a poor cow hanging on hooks. The window display of freshly cut meats and sausages were not usually where gran got her meat supply. She bought something called scrag end, I’m not sure what it was but when she braised it and added all her herbs and veggies, it went into the pies for the next day. Gran always managed to get some free bits and pieces of miscellaneous leftovers, including bones, which she made into various meals for us.
It was then off to the green grocers where she purchased her veg. scorning expensive cauliflower for the freely given leaves, carrots and beets, which in those days always came with all greens attached, plus potatoes and onions. The main parts of the veg would go into the pies, the scrubbed peelings and the leaves would go into our weekly soup along with barley or some other grain.
Gran’s soup pot was never off the fire hob, she used to cook whatever she got free or really cheap, her favourite being a sheep’s head, which obscenely bobbed up and down as it simmered, this action caused the lid to rise and fall as though the poor beast was trying to escape the pot. Although gran nagged and cajoled I could not eat the soup, memories of the skull bothered me and the layer of grease on top of the bowl made my stomach churn. I did however love gran’s pea and ham soup, made with a bone left from the boiled ham, that the butcher sold by the slice. It was always a bit of a fluke to get to the butchers at the right time to claim the ham bone and frequent trips past the window would let gran know when the ham was getting to the end. No refrigeration in those days, just the marble slab to keep things cool, but we never got sick.
Monday evening gran would iron the laundry and wrap it in brown paper for pick up by her customers. My job was to take the iron from the fire, wipe it clean on an old rag and replace the cooled iron on the hob, to heat up again. I don’t know what time my gran got up but when she called me for breakfast the meat was cooked ready for the pies and the pastry was waiting to be rolled out.
On Wednesday, the washday plus butchers trip would be repeated with our own laundry and more pies to be made. To me it was an adventure but I would suspect that gran had a whole different view of things. I may be doing similar things to my grandma and she would approve of my thrifty ways but I wonder what she would make of my washer and dryer which leave the clean clothes so wrinkle free that my iron hardly ever comes out of hiding.
The good old days….Yeah right!!!