Tastes of the past

FOR years I promised myself I’d write a book about the kind of food we used to eat as children – and at last I’ve done it.

The book is called Dewsbury in Food and Photos and will be on the bookshelves in about three weeks.

It will also contain a large number of old photographs of Dewsbury kindly loaned to me by postcard collectors and readers of the Reporter.

The inspiration for the book was Theodora Fitzgibbons whose book A Taste of Ireland was given to me as a gift many years ago.

I remember thinking at the time, if a book could be written about the food of a country, surely one could be written about the food of a town.

Many recipes in my book come from a collection of old booklets produced by local women trying to raise funds for their churches.

They were sent to me many years ago when I was editing the Woman’s Page.

I also received recipes from other readers and from booklets produced by the local Women’s Institute and Townswomen’s Guild.

The dishes I remember most, however, are those my mother used to cook after returning from a hard day’s work in a local rag warehouse.

Thinking of those days has tugged at my heart strings more than once and revived memories of those we have loved and lost.

But this is not a recipe book in the usual sense - it covers much more than that and is in part a tribute to a generation of hard-working women.

These were women who raised families in difficult circumstances, sometimes poverty, sometimes war.

And in recalling the meals we ate as children we also remember the women who made them and how they nourished us in more ways than one.

I WAS born during the second world war when food was rationed and money scarce and I grew up watching my mother make meals that were cheap, quick and simple but always tasty.

We talk these days about having three good meals a day but I remember when we used to have four – breakfast, dinner, tea and supper.

I cannot remember obesity being a problem or fatty food being frowned upon and we certainly didn’t worry about getting our five-a-day.

There was no television and we didn’t eat our food off a tray on our knee, but instead sitting at the big kitchen table which was the focus of family life.

In our house the table cover was always on ready for the next meal with the sugar bowl and cream jug taking centre place.

Visitors were always popping in for a cup of tea and they were always offered a piece of ‘sweet cake’ as we used to call it.

Some of the cakes in my recipe book, particularly Feather Cake, will bring back happy memories for many people.

This was a simple cake to make but if you wanted to buy one today you wouldn’t be able to get one.

Cakes like these aren’t sold in confectioner’s shops because they aren’t fancy enough for today’s tastes.

There are also other old-fashioned buns and cakes you wouldn’t find on sale today, like courting cake, rock buns and thin cakes.

All these are included in my book, all with personal memories, and who knows, you just might start baking them again.

These cakes were simple to make and contained few ingredients and how our mothers managed to make them in coal ovens with no thermostats, I’ll never know.

Despite this, they could turn out some beautiful baking which they were always happy to share with others.

Rice puddings with thick brown crusts on top, rhubarb pies, jam pasty and custard pies, all these were regularly turned out on baking day.

People in Dewsbury were renowned for being big meat eaters and that is why there were butchers shops on every street corner.

But in our house the only meat I remember being cooked was the cheaper variety like shin beef and breast of mutton.

We didn’t have roast beef on Sundays but we sometimes had roast rabbit with sage and onion stuffing and thick onion gravy, which was equally delicious.

I remember the names of some of the food we used to eat, like savoury ducks, palony, chitterlings, elder and haslet, but I never knew which part of the animal they came from. I’m glad I didn’t.

Mother also served up things like pig’s cheek, sheep’s head and cow heel, all dishes which I probably enjoyed but which today I’d recoil from making let alone tasting.

But I have included them in my book because after all we did use to eat them and they are part of our social history.

The reason I was spurred on to write this book this year was to raise money for the Mayor’s Charity Appeal in aid of the Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice.

And seeing as Coun Eric Firth grew up in the same village as me, Springfield, I thought it would be appropriate to do it during his year of office.

I WAS determined to make the book as local as possible and so chose a publisher with a long connection with the town, David Exley, of Beamreach Printing, who was born in Thornhill.

David is the fourth generation of Exley’s to work for the Dewsbury Printer Joseph Ward (established in 1852), who printed most of the books published about Dewsbury.

Ward’s was located in Wellington Street, next to Dewsbury Railway Station, prior to moving to the new Industrial Estate at Shaw Cross, Dewsbury, in the 90s.

David now runs his own business specialising in printing books.

l The book, which is a limited edition, is priced at £10 (£12.99 postage and packing) and every penny raised from sales will go directly to the charity.

Although it is not yet on the book shelves, the book can be pre-ordered by e-mailing dewsburyinfoodsandphotos@gmail.com.

For further information visit www.dewsburyinfoodandphotos.btck.co.uk.

When the book is published it will be sold at various outlets including the Reporter office and Dewsbury Minster Church. More details will be published when the book goes on sale.