Salt and Salts
I was fourteen when I housekept in the holidays for my Uncle Henry at ‘Cheverton’. This holiday helped me develop my cooking skills. He shared my grandmother’s habits and rituals, so I attempted to do the right thing. For instance, when I cooked pineapple meringue tart it was considered far too extravagant. With my wings clipped, I no longer tried to cook the extravagant; I’d complete the most obvious chores and then read. ‘Jamaica Inn’, was one of the novels I found on the bookshelf, followed by ‘Rebecca’. To cover my lack of interest in cleaning, I’d arrange flowers to make the house look more homely.
Outside we’d pick up the frozen newborn lambs that had been rejected and bring them back to the house to put them in the Aga warming oven till they thawed. They had to be bottle fed, and then we’d take them back and smear them with mess from another dead lamb, to give the right scent, so that an unsuspecting but accommodating ewe, who had lost her own lamb, would take one or two on as her own. I loved feeding the lambs.
Henry invited an old friend over for dinner. I put the leg of lamb in early to make sure it would be cooked. Henry had warned me that if it cooked too long it would shrink. It was nerve-racking guessing how long to cook things. Mint sauce made, gravy made, and potatoes crispy – it all looked perfect until we tasted it. The salted beans had not been rinsed enough. Not only were they salty but the gravy was also contaminated. I felt so disappointed. The men laughed and drank their way through dinner, as I squirmed, knowing it tasted briny.
Taking morning tea to the shearers the next morning didn’t improve my status. There were jars in the cupboard, all white. I’d hurriedly taken the unlabelled Epsom salts jar instead of the sugar for the shearers to put in their tea.
Henry’s bachelor neighbour, Mr. Brown, had never seen the sea. Henry decided one day to take him to see the ocean at the Bluff at Devonport. When he arrived, Mr. Brown was silent. Henry said,
‘Well, what do you think’?
Mr. Brown drawled, ‘It covers a lot of land.’