Plum pudding and plonk

My mother was a caterer.

She worked from home with the help of my step-father (heavy lifting duties and general run-about) and daughter number three, aged 10 years (me, baker of pavlovas). She provided good honest food for friends’ and relatives’ weddings.

Mum called herself a plain cook.

As young children, my two sisters and I knew we were on a winner. We were grateful as she proudly sent us off to school insisting that a cooked breakfast would set us up for the day.

She was right.

Just for the record the breakfast consisted of lamb chops and home-made mint sauce and roast potatoes or sausages with chips and eggs and some vegetables.

Leading up to our family Christmas dinner Mum seemed to grow taller and appeared somewhat majestic. When she donned her apron and pinned back her hair we knew she meant business.

The decided Menu:

Roast lamb (in fashion back in ‘those days’ with home-made mint sauce and gravy.

Freshly dug or picked garden vegetables – peas/carrots/cabbage/parsnip/pumpkin and sweet mouth-watering new potatoes. They were the pride and joy of my step-father’s toil forked up fifteen minutes before going in the pot, accompanied by several stalks of mint leaves.

Strawberries and Pavlova/Plum pudding with Custard and Brandy Sauce Chocolates.

Mum had finally perfected the making and cooking of plum puddings after several failed attempts. She figured they were not fruity enough, too doughy, too dry, undercooked or overcooked.

As kids we didn’t give a toss about the taste or how they were cooked. We were only interested in how many coins were in the puddings and how much loot we would get.

My stepfather decided to throw a back yard booze up for the neighbours.

We helped him erect a huge tent on the quarter acre. He rummaged around the Cellar and found a stash of Black and White Whiskey bottles and several flagons of beer.

He was happy.

Mum was not – ‘I just want peace and quiet and only family around’.

Eventually with a sniff and a stiff upper lip Mum got on with the preparation and started cooking.

The plum pudding mix was put into large fruit tins (caterer’s size). The tins were put into a jam pan filled with water.

Mum explained in great detail that it was essential the plum puddings had to be kept boiling continuously for 3½ hours. Don’t quote me on this as I was ten-years-old and details such as this were half-heartedly listened to). Remember the coins!

On the quarter-acre the neighbourhood was in full swing. Some of the jokes being passed around were on the raw side and Mum was looking increasingly hot and irritable.

To pave the way for avoiding a tongue lashing later, my step-father, already staggering and red faced, decided it a good idea to give my mother a stiff drink. She would often enjoy a Pimms or a Sherry. She gulped it down as if this brownish liquid would ease her mood, give her the strength to get this bloody dinner on the table and help the neighbours and their snotty kids disappear.

My sisters and I were in and out of the house, sneaking back to the tent, slyly sampling the beer, eavesdropping, trying to remember the ‘off’ jokes and cleverly avoiding a cuff on the ear if caught!

Feeling a bit sorry for Mum slaving away in the kitchen, I procured (don’t ask how) a cigarette for her and went inside to cheer her up.

I found her flat on her back, her lovely floral dress, petticoat and apron above her knees. She was half laughing, half moaning about her bloody plum puddings going off the boil.

The poor woman was completely legless.

I called for witnesses and we gathered around her. We laughed, how cruel we were, how unfeeling. My mother drunk and not in her usual element. My step-father in his.

Our neighbours laughing, of course boozed, completely useless but friendly and not without some understanding of the situation. It was wonderful.

We laid our mother on her bed.

My sisters and I put the dinner together without Mum’s home-made mint sauce and gravy. We hacked up the roast lamb. The vegetables were soggy and unappetising.  We couldn’t get the half-cooked plum puddings out of the tins and we didn’t give a thought to custard and brandy sauce. We managed to chop up the strawberries and forgot to top the pavlova with cream. We couldn’t find the chocolates.

No special touches.

My mother was snoring loudly in the bedroom.

She was a caterer. She said she was a plain cook.

We all missed her that day 60 years ago – the day she had perfected her plum puddings.

The day we saw her in a new light, albeit skew whiff on the floor. She was hard working and generous and showed her love through food. To my sisters and I she was the very best cook in the world, drunk or sober.

Thanks Mum, plain cook and caterer!!

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