The Martyrdom of St Lawrence
Tintoretto - Christ Church, Oxford
Yesterday was St Laurence’s Day, not a feast day with which I am particularly familiar; apparently he was a Spanish deacon supposedly martyred at Rome in the year 258 by being roasted on a grid-iron. This grisly fate promptly qualified him to become the special patron of confectioners, bakers, and cooks. Obviously. Stands to reason.
I came to cooking late in life. Before I met, and threw in my lot with Beloved, cooking was something confined to tin opening, defrosting and maybe frying in a pan. There was little time to produce elaborate meals, even had I known how to. The kids were home two hours before me and my shouts of “kids, I’m home” were drowned in a great rustle of biscuit wrappers hastily being brushed under the beds as I shut the front door behind me. I always found them at weekends, when I did the cleaning, but couldn’t very well complain. They were old enough by then to make themselves a sandwich, but when do kids do the sensible thing? Most of the time I felt guilty for leaving them home alone to earn our living and couldn’t get up enough steam to make our evenings miserable by wasting time arguing with them. Yes, yes, I know; say what you like, such was life in those days. And, no, neither of them has robbed a bank or become an axe murderer. Yet.
My mother taught me how to make stews by default. It wasn't that I ever paid any attention at the time or that she made a point of explaining what she was doing, but somehow, in spite of our mutual lack of interest in handing over the few secrets of her culinary expertise to the next generation, I picked up the odd pointer here and there which stuck. I suppose being in the room in which cooking is done, automatically leaves an impression on the bystander, particularly when the process is repeated time after time during childhood. Mum wasn’t a bad cook, just not an inventive or adventurous one. She knew her dozen or two recipes, the food she produced was good and tasty, and my dad loved it. Which is really all that matters.
Markham (1568-1637) in The English Huswife has it, that “the cook must be cleanly in both body and garments. She must have a quick eye, a curious nose, a perfect taste, and a ready ear; and she must not be butter-fingered, sweet-toothed, nor faint-hearted. For the first will let everything fall, the second will consume what it should increase, and the last will lose time with too much niceness.
Note how even then it was the male who told the female how to execute her duties. And not a word about showing her how it’s done.
The title question is a Beloved special: the chips were coming to the end of their time in the oven and this was his way of gently reminding me not to forget them.