Sunday, 27 August 2017 11:51

My Gran's Jam Sandwiches

We were given the instruction to write a piece for The Guardian's 'We Like To Eat' feature. So I have done this piece about my gran's jam sandwiches. Feedback appreciated. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

We Like To Eat: My Gran's Jam Sandwiches

2 slices of white bread (per person)
Strawberry jam (Preferably homemade)

Butter one side of each slice of white bread. Spread one buttered side with strawberry jam. Place other buttered side face-down onto jam to create sandwich. Cut into squares and serve with either tea or orange squash.

When I think of my gran's house, my overwhelming feeling is one of happiness. She lived with my grandad (who we called Granf) in an end-of-terrace council house in Bower Hinton, Somerset. It was a place where even my dad seemed to relax - spinning me around as we danced to old Rock n Roll 45s on my gran's multi-stack record player.

Granf, though, was a serious man who took no messing. He liked nothing better than to smoke his pipe, watch the horses on the telly, and fuss over his fat Jack Russell terrier, Sindy, who he would often feed his cups of tea to from his saucer.

By contrast, my gran was a jolly woman, quite mischievous, with white curly hair and "plump" (I once made the mistake of asking her why she was so fat, to which she immediately replied, "I'm not fat. I'm plump". Lesson learned). On many levels, she was the embodiment of Terry Pratchett's Nanny Ogg - except my gran's cooking was far less 'experimental', sticking to the traditional meat and two veg variety.
The exception was Sunday teatime which, unlike every other meal which we had to sit at the table to eat, we could eat on our laps. Sunday tea at my gran's house consisted of sandwiches made with the leftover meat from the Sunday roast (and, sometimes, also tinned ham), jam sandwiches, homemade buns, and either a homemade jam sponge or boiled fruitcake. This was all served with cups of tea for the grown-ups and tupperware beakers of orange squash for us kids. 

When I became a grown-up myself, I often tried to recreate my gran's strawberry jam sandwiches but could never get it quite right. As she had died of Cancer, she was no longer around to ask. So this lead to some experimenting in the kitchen. Thinking it was the jam, I piled it higher and higher trying to recapture the jamminess of them. It never worked. Then, one day, I had a brainwave - instead of buttering just the one slice, I buttered both slices. Eureka! I had managed to recreate my gran's jam sandwiches. It wasn't the jam, after all. It was the butter!

Published in Aug-Oct-2017
Tuesday, 20 June 2017 18:03

Susan's Iced Tea

*Dear Reader: Please note that this recipe is meant to accompany my article called, "Eating at Bea's."  I'm not much of a cook, but the Guardian's "We like to eat" section usually includes a recipe of some sort.

Susan's Iced Tea (As Made by her Mother Doris)

Get a pot as big as you can find (a gallon or more should suffice).
Fill the pot up about 3/4 full with water.
Put the pot on the stove and bring water to a rolling boil.  (This will require you to turn the stove (hob) up to high, whichever way your particular stovetop works).
When the water starts boiling, turn the stove back off.
Throw in 8-10 tea bags, according to how strong you like your tea.
Let the tea get to the strength you want. Weaker tea is generally caramel coloured. Really strong tea is the colour of tar.
Slowly stir in sugar. Generally, start with a 5 lb bag, then sweeten to taste.
Make sure the sugar is dissolved. There's nothing worse than sweet tea with sugar that has sunk to the bottom.
Helpful hint: When you reach the sweetness of maple syrup, you've reached sweet tea perfection!
Now, pour it in a really big jug, or several jugs depending on the size of pot you used.
When the tea is ice cold, pour it into a Mason jar or other drinking vessel, whichever kind you prefer.
Tip for folks not from the American Deep South: Real ice tea has LOTS of ice in it.  There's a reason we call it ice tea (or iced tea as they say in the UK).
Now, lie back, and enjoy your diabetic coma.

Please note: Southerners like to embellish and exaggerate, so please don't report me to the sugar police. Frankly, I can't afford another fine and am too busy to do the jail time. 

Published in May-July-2017
Monday, 29 May 2017 18:43

Eating at Bea's

Steam billows up as the lazy Susan spins about like a merry-go-round on steroids. Elbows and hands go flying trying to get the crispiest piece of fried chicken or first portion of fresh cornbread.  The musky marinade of the pulled pork BBQ mingles with the peach perfume of the cobbler.  Conversation rarely comes into it.  This is serious business. We are eating at Bea’s.

Daddy always took the “All You Can Eat,” as a personal commandment sent down from above. Biscuits with white gravy, green beans cooked all day with ham hock, fried chicken so crispy it crackled like cornflakes when you bit into it, as warm juice dribbled down your chin. Sweet corn, fried squash, fried okra, banana pudding, pulled pork BBQ, and peach cobbler. Mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, fries, onion rings.  It was a sweet Southern symphony of food. Food that was bad for the heart but good for the soul.  Regardless of occasion, Bea’s was the place we celebrated.  Never a demonstrative family, our family loved each other with food, and Bea’s was an orgy of family love which always ended in the sweet agony of heartburn and the vow to “Never again…”

We’d impatiently wait in line to go in and pay $5 a head to stuff ourselves into oblivion.  Stocked with diner chairs with red vinyl-covered backs and seats that squeaked and squealed when your sweaty back and backside hit them, heavy pale green plastic dishes like they use in a school cafeteria, plastic flowers and a Coca Cola clock as décor, and black and white tiled floor probably there since opening in 1950.  It was Southern fine dining at its best. 

I’m filled with complex emotions remembering these times at our favourite Southern restaurant.  We rarely went places with my Dad, as he worked constantly.  I’m sad as I lost my dad when I was 20 and he was 52.  I was just getting to know him as an intelligent, thoughtful human being who worked so hard for a retirement that never came.  The food was gorgeous, but it’s the time spent with my dad that I miss the most. 

Years later, trying to get to the bottom of my intense craving for fried chicken, I remembered these afternoons eating at Bea’s Roundtable in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Fried chicken equalled love in my mind.  It reminded me of my love for my dad and his love for me.  I was encouraged to find something sans calories that reminded of my dad.  I loaded my iPod with Big Band tunes by the likes of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, two of my dad’s favourites, thus helping to end my addiction to fried chicken.  Addiction aside, a trip to Bea’s is still required when I return home to Northwest Georgia.  It’s a family tradition.
Published in May-July-2017
Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:23

My Father: Proud of his Marine Blues

Dressed to the nines in crisply ironed Marine Blues, my 21 year-old daddy dons the same butter wouldn't melt grin I’d meet 12 years later.  Born near the dawn of the Great Depression in the American Deep South, he quickly learned he had to work hard and pinch a penny till it squealed if he was going to escape poverty.  Perhaps his deep respect for the Marines, coupled with the need to provide a comfortable, secure life for his young family, OR Fletcher, Jr resorted to extraordinary measures to gain entry to the US Marine Corps.

Blind in his left eye due to a childhood accident, Daddy memorised the eye chart in order to pass this part of the physical.  He went on to achieve an excellent score on his marksmanship test, so must have thought for a time that his visual deficit would remain a secret. Riddled with flaws like anyone else, my father made mistakes and even broke my heart a few times.  Despite the imperfections, I rarely questioned my father’s love nor doubted he would move Heaven and Earth to provide for his family.

One day during target practice, another soldier's rifle butted my dad on the left side of his head. The military doctor sadly informed him that he was now permanently blind in his left eye, and would be issued an honorary medical discharge.  Each time I recall this era in my father’s life, I can’t help but beam with the same cheeky grin my daddy displays in the photo.  I'm sure he was devastated to be discharged from the Marines, but at the same time I'm sure he was busting a gut to tell the distraught doctor that he'd actually been blind in that eye since he was poked in the eye with a window screen at the age of five.  After his military escapade, my dad went on to be an insurance salesman, cross country truck driver, owner and operator of a service station (garage which also sold petrol) and technician in a sewage filter plant. 

Unfortunately this 6'2" Southern gentleman with a deep drawl as slow and thick as molasses on a cold winter morning, would die in his sleep of a heart attack at the age of 52.  I was 20 at the time and just a few months earlier had helped Daddy prepare for his chemistry exam at the filter plant.  Only last year, I found out he scored 100% on the test.  As I was just getting to know my father on an adult level, I feel a bit cheated that we lost him so soon.  I'd begun to recognise my father's keen intelligence, and that he could have gone on to achieve an advanced degree and high paying job if he'd had the same opportunities I did.

I’m now 54, so have already lived 2 years longer than my dad.  I wonder sometimes if he'd known he was going to die at such a young age, would he have taken a bit more time off.  Most of his life, he worked 6 days a week, often for 12 hours a day.

To anyone else, this is a photo of an ordinary US Marine, but to me, Daddy is one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met.  I'm filled with pride and sadness when I look at the photo of this young man with his whole life ahead of him.  I still miss him every single day.  Happy Father's Day to my dad.  I'm so fortunate to be your daughter.
Published in May-July-2017