Sylvie could make good meals out of very little and she could talk for hours about how she learned this from her mother.
The softer side of Sylvie would emerge at these times, and these talks with her was one of the things that seemed to lighten things, take the pressure off, if only for short time.
I always recall these times with a warm glow, the memories of them conjuring up a sense that it was a time of normality, everything was pleasant and I had a feeling of being loved and cared for.
It didn’t matter that the talks tended to happen when I’d been ordered to help with laborious task such as washing, cooking, gardening or cleaning. It helped lighten the load, made time pass quicker, and was a time when Sylvie would actually remain pleasant.
She would go into great detail about the wonderful meals her mother cooked for the family and how she had preserved fruit, made jams and stews and ensured they all well fed, despite not having much money.
Sylvie wasn’t an incredible cook but she taught me how to make good, wholesome meals and to make the most with the things you have. She could turn the cheapest cuts of meats into lovely tender and tasty meals and make delicious stews, bolstering them with lentils and pearl barley to make them more filling.
Meat was expensive and with so many of us in the house, portions of it needed to be small. However, our meals were always supplemented with extra vegetables, potatoes, bread or a Yorkshire pudding to make them more filling. Sometimes, she would make delicious rice puddings, egg custards and jam or treacle suet puddings, conjuring them up from things found in the fridge or larder.
Wasting food was something that could never be considered. The use of seasonal fruit and vegetables was the norm, as was the use of leftovers for another meal.
Ingrained within me is an inability to waste food and an ability to make good meals with whatever is available.
To this day I find it almost impossible to leave food on my plate and need to polish it off, however full I am. This was bought about by years of being forced to clear my plate, with Sylvie hovering over me with the threat of ‘You’ll bloody well sit there until you’ve finished it!” followed up with, “or I’ll paste the bleeding living daylights out of you,” or “You’ll eat it cold for your f*****g breakfast!”
I don’t recall any of these threats actually happening, most likely because having the certain knowledge that she would carry them through, none of us would ever dare to take the risk.