(More) evidence that Fran's performance in the kitchen has been inconsistent

'What are you cooking for dinner?' my daughter asked on the phone one evening last week. 

'Mince,' I said. 

'Savoury mince?' she said. 

'Don't call it savoury mince,' I said. 'That makes it sound like something that you'd serve in an old people's home, or perhaps feed to a dog.'

Awkward pause, then she said, 'You called it savoury mince all through my childhood.' 

'I did?' 

I nearly asked, 'And was it? Savoury?' But I dared not, because when my husband and I look back we realise that we subjected our three children to a wide range of poor cuisine as they grew up. 

We overcooked meat, leaving roast chickens in the oven for hours until they'd have made credible weapons for hand to hand combat. 

We overcooked fish, wrapping it in foil and baking it for so long that all moistness fled for its life and the white fish turned grey as though in despair at what had happened to it. 

We overcooked vegetables so that every last vitamin ended up in the water that went down the sink. (The sewer rats near us in Hampton, West London were healthier than anywhere else in the country.)

The wife wanted us to move up North but I said not while the Hills were still around 

We also used far too many ingredients in a dish, over-complicating it. I would cook fried rice, for instance, and in it would go carrots, beans, onions, mushrooms, sweetcorn, peas, tomatoes, prawns, chicken, broccoli, a recent utility bill and a coaster or two. It ended up an indiscriminate mess and as I usually over-cooked the rice, it could all stick to your palate, stubborn as glue, so that you'd find a coaster still there the next morning when you yawned in the bathroom mirror. 

There was also the soup that my husband insisted on making which was quickly dubbed 'body part soup'. It was a version of his mother's clear chicken soup but his soup contained all the offal that used to come with chickens then. Liver, kidneys, hearts, perhaps eyeballs and testicles, bobbed on the surface of the soup like buoys at the coast. 

The cabbage we fed the children varied. On the days I cooked, it may have been boiled to perdition but it was at least nicely shredded. My husband, however, has never learned to shred cabbage and instead hacked at it randomly, resulting in a pile of desecrated half- and quarter-leaves. 'Have some FIELD!' one of the children said one day when serving it out and cabbage was field from then on. 

Most weeks we made a beef and cabbage stew. This was prepared in the pressure cooker. Indeed, we put so much pressure on that poor meat that, cowed and brow-beaten, it shrivelled to nothing and surrendered. What began as self-respecting chunks of stewing beef ended up shredded and a shadow of its former self: like All Bran but made of cow.


There's a strange twist to my story. All three of our children have, somehow, developed into great cooks in their own ways, perhaps determined never to feed their friends and family food that has been killed once and then murdered again several times. 

Our younger daughter loves baking - on a recent visit, she cooked us a Bakewell Tart: the type of cake that yells to you from inside the tin. Our son has excellent meat skills and we have learned from him the secrets of a good gravy that doesn't a) need carving or b) resemble pondweed. Our older daughter is also skilful in the kitchen and a roast dinner at hers stays in the memory.

But not for the reasons ours used to. 



  1. "Have some FIELD!" - I love it!! I think I will always remember this when chopping cabbage from now on! My family, too, got used to everything overdone, especially meat. I didn't want any of my meals to cause food poisoning. Even with a meat thermometer, I'd leave supper in the oven an extra half hour "just to make sure". Interesting how your children grew up to have different skill sets :D

    1. Me too! I was just keeping my children safe - honest!

  2. I remember similar overcooked meals, back in the day when everything had the life boiled out of it so no one got food poisoning or worms, it was all we knew and we ate it. When I later cooked for my own kids I discovered taste and texture in vegetables that I never knew existed, but we still overcooked the meat under Hubby's directions. If there was "juice" he declared it undercooked and eventually learned to put just his own portion back into the oven or give it a quick fry-up. My own children now are far better cooks and I have learned a thing or two from them.

    1. I know! Texture in a vegetable - who knew?!

  3. My colleague's son used to wail - oh ma, not HEDGE again!! (But I like broccoli)

  4. Anonymous1/7/22 09:07

    You've now put me off my tea, Fran. Thanks. Pam


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