Monday, 29 May 2017

Lemon (surprise) pudding

As I have probably come to the end of the photographs I have to illustrate my posts on textiles in my childhood I am starting another strand: cooking.  I am a keen cook and food obviously played an important role in my early life as I did not have any trouble remembering incidents that I could write about.  I may have more difficulty in finding photos to illustrate them, however.  I have my mother's hand-written recipe books to remind me of some things we ate and in some cases I plan just to put a link to the internet or even, where there are many recipes to tell readers to Google them.

Lemon Pudding

My first memory of cooking is of making lemon pudding in Havelock North. I must have been about three because we moved to Hastings in October 1948.  Here is a photo which I think was taken at the time we lived there.  I thought I had a more recent one taken in 2008 but now realise I did not take one, probably because the light was wrong when I walked there from the village.  The house was much improved and it was no longer in the country. I know my mother did not enjoy living here.  She was a city girl and this house was up an unsealed road and almost a mile from the 'village' that was Havelock North.  There was only one neighbour: a middle-aged couple who lived across the road.  In this photo you can see the side of the sitting room with its two small windows, one on each side of the fireplace.  Then there is an 'extension'.  The window on the left is the dining room and I assume the one on the right in the kitchen.  I did not realise we had tank water but it makes sense and I do remember my mother saying we had a septic tank (I think).  

Like most very early memories this one is short and may have been altered by remembering it during my adult life.  It is dark so must be winter.  I am standing on a stool or a chair at the kitchen table and ‘helping’ my mother to make a lemon pudding for my father’s ‘tea’.  Tea in New Zealand English was a word generally used to describe the evening meal.  At the time my father worked in Napier which is about fifteen miles away, so he was out all day.   My sister who is eighteen months younger than me, does not feature in this memory so I expect she had already been put to bed.  I know it was a privilege to be allowed to help like this.  In this memory I am banging the grater to get the lemon rind off.  You also had to scrape at the grooves on the grater to get enough zest.  I can dimly remember my mother adding things to the mixture: I think an egg.   Certainly the recipe my mother used only had one egg although I have always used two.

We ate this pudding often so my other memories of making it may be from other occasions.  I remember that it was cooked in an oval Pyrex glass dish which was then stood in a roasting dish half filled with water.  I now realise that was a form of bain marie.  My parents received a lot of Pyrex items as wedding presents in 1943.  A ship had arrived in Wellington with a load of Pyrex and there was very little else available because of the War.  In those days presents were delivered to the home of the bride and her parents in the days leading up to the wedding (only a fortnight in my parents’ case as when my father announced he was about to be sent overseas his mother immediately said ‘Why don’t you get married then?’)  My parents had been engaged for some time. The presents were then displayed for the guests to admire and I guess people must have gone to the house specially to do this.  I can certainly remember these visits as a child.  Apparently another guest then arrived at the house with another piece of Pyrex.  When he saw the pile of Pyrex items he immediately said he would get something else and took the item away.  The replacement was a set of bellows for the fire.  In the days when the only form of heating we had was an open fire, these bellows were very well used.  But lemon pudding was always cooked in the oval pie dish.

Other things I remember about lemon pudding as we called it, were that there was a lemony juice under the sponge.  I was going to put a link to a recipe on-line but there are so many that I think you should just Google it.  It seems the more accurate name for this pudding is Lemon Surprise Pudding.  Also the quantities of ingredients differ from one cookery writer to another.  Some have as many as four eggs!  I think the version my mother made was probably frugal because, although I do not remember rationing, there was some in New Zealand.  Also lemons were truly seasonal and only available in the winter.  They were grown in the far north of New Zealand so it was not like the British and bananas in the forties.  And of course we used salted butter because there was no other kind and as far as I know no margarine.   Food in New Zealand at this time was definitely superior to that in Europe.

Friday, 12 May 2017

A 1970s wedding

I think this is the last post on the theme of my childhood textiles as I have run out of photos to use.  We were married in 1972 and did  it 'on the smell of an oily rag' as they say.  So making the wedding dress and the bridesmaids' dresses was essential.  This was the decade in which lots of people abandoned the whole idea of a white wedding and did things as cheaply as possible.  All so different from the last few years.

In our case my parents sent money to pay for the parts of the wedding the bride's parents generally paid for.  They never knew that this money also had to pay for my husband's suit and even the wedding ring.  The reception was in a local pub which kept the cost down and we used a friend as photographer and another friend as chauffeur.  There were fewer than forty guests but by getting married in London we avoided having to invite lots of relatives and members of the older generation.

When it came to the dresses, I remembered that en route to Europe four years earlier I had bought a white sari in Singapore.  White because I had become very sun-tanned from living n Australia for eighteen months.  This sari had sat in a polythene bag as I had no idea what I wanted to use it for and would not have worn it as a proper sari.  Now I had a use for it.  It was extremely fine silk with a narrow border in gold right along one long edge and a much wider border in gold across one end.  The first task was to design a dress.  At the time I more or less lived in long dresses so I began by buying some Laura Ashley cotton fabric, choosing a pattern and making a 'mock-up' which I could wear to work.  I got a lot of wear out of that dress but I do not have any photos of it.

I decided to use the heavily embroidered end as the bodice and to cut off some of the narrow border to make a collar.  The dress was to have long sleeves with cuffs made from more of the narrow border and was vaguely Empire in style.  There were plenty of patterns to choose from in the pattern books.

The second task was to find a sewing machine on which to stitch it.  Here I failed.  I borrowed a Bernina from our landlady but the silk was so fine that I abandoned the idea of machine sewing it at all and made the whole thing by hand.  This meant stitching the under-layer which was made of taffeta.  I even did French seams because the fabric was so fine.  How to sew French seams

I had always dreaded the idea of wearing a veil so I was very happy when I realised this was not compulsory!  Instead I bought a white straw hat from Libertys.

I added a narrow gold velvet ribbon around the crown.  As I remember it, it was a typical spring day: showers, cold, so I borrowed my sister's vest as my 'something borrowed' and quite windy. I nearly lost control of the hat at times, especially when we were taking photos outside the church.

When it came to the bridesmaids, one of them wanted to wear purple but this was a colour that no-one in our family ever wore so I put my foot down!  I think they made their own dresses which were Liberty lawn in shades of yellow with olive green sashes.  I was also determined to have good flowers so we went to the poshest florist in Wimbledon.  As you can see from the photo, I carried yellow roses  and the bridesmaids had daisies (cheaper).   Some leftovers of the bridesmaids' dress fabric appeared in the first quilt I made for our bed.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Formal wear in the sixties

New Zealand in the 1960s was rather behind Europe in many ways, including fashion.  As teenagers we often tried to emulate our mothers and the posher the occasion the truer this was.  We still made most of our clothes, though.  I think the fact that it was a society where you could wear cotton dresses much of the time was a help, especially when you could add ‘puffy’ petticoats to make the skirts stick out. These were made of something very stiff – I am not sure what.  Another difference between NZ and Europe was that new fashions still took some time to reach our end of the world.  This made it easier for us because the dressmaking patterns were as up-to-date as the ready-made clothes.  I remember being surprised when I arrived in England to find that it was not always possible to find patterns for the latest styles in the shops.  The photo below illustrates the cotton dresses and was taken in 1954.

The choice of fabric available was very great and it became something of a ritual to go Friday night shopping (the shops were all closed on Saturday but stayed open till 9pm on Fridays) and choose patterns, fabric and haberdashery for garments that you them made up over the weekend. I have friends who talk about making a dress on Saturday to wear on Saturday evening.  Other garments that were central to our style included white button to the neck cardigans and short white gloves that we wore to church and when going to town.  Jewellery was important but cheap and I can remember lots of necklaces made from ‘knitted’ plastic or 'poppit' plastic beads as you can see in the photo below.  You can also see the effect of the 'puffy petticoar' on my dress and the white gloves!  It all sounds very strange today.

When we left school we started going to formal ‘balls’.  These were really a relic of our parents’ generation but I can remember attending balls put on by the old pupils' associations of schools, by employers for their staff and by sports clubs.  I expect some of them hoped to raise funds for the organisation.  The most important ball for some of us in our first year out of school was the debutante ball.  This was based on the British season in which young ladies dressed all in white were presented at Buckingham Palace.  The practice had already died out in England but in New Zealand it was much less formal and the balls were still being held.  Far fewer people became debutantes.  However, people like my mother who had been ‘debs’ still kept up the tradition so a number of us were dressed in white, paraded in front of some important dignitary and taught to curtsy.  It all sounds very strange now and I have to say that in my year at school fewer than twenty of us took part.

We were debs at our old school and were presented to the bishop because it was a church school.  The local newspaper used to carry group photographs and it was common to have your photograph taken by a studio photographer.  Your parents then framed it and put it on a suitable surface in the living room.  I guess the whole thing was an ancestor or today's school-leaving prom although there was much less conspicuous consumption associated with it.  Despite these slightly arcane practices we still made our own dresses.  I was very proud of mine because in sewing it I mastered some new advanced dressmaking skills and was allowed to sew expensive fabric. 

My dress was made of heavy white satin.  I am not sure but think it was made to a Vogue Design.  Vogue patterns were the poshest because there were several ranges including Vogue Paris Originals (the most difficult to sew) and Vogue Couturier.  I think my dress design may have been one of this second group although I also have a feeling that the neckline was chosen by putting an upturned dinner plate on the fabric and drawing round it so maybe it was cobbled together from various sources.  What I do remember is that the dress had a dropped waistline with piping around it where the bodice joined the skirt.  This meant learning how to make piping from cord that came from the haberdashery department and bias cut strips of the dress fabric. You covered the cord, tacking the satin in place and then machined it very carefully between the bodice and the skirt.

My dress also had satin flowers on the skirt.  My mother had a couple of friends who were extremely skilled dressmakers and I seem to remember it was one of those who taught me how to make the flowers.  They were then attached to the skirt when the dress was nearly finished.  Here is the studio photograph of me in my ‘deb’ dress, all made by me!  The photograph was taken at someone else’s house.

To complete our outfits we wore long white leather gloves and white shoes and carried posies which were made by professional florists. And there was jewellery of course. I am wearing a Victorian pendant that had been a present to my grandmother when she was a bridesmaid. I remember my shoes because they had ‘baby Louis’ heels.  Most people wore stilettos which were just coming onto the market but I was tall and preferred something that did not make me as tall as the boys I would be dancing with.  I remember buying these shoes one Friday night in the market town near where we were picking tobacco as a holiday job!  What a contrast between the day job and the evening outfit!
The dresses were expected to last for a second season but you had to disguise them so they did not seem like a ‘deb dress’.  I made an overblouse in deep red guipure lace.  Unfortunately I do not have a photograph.  Nor do I have a photo of the dress I wore to balls in my third year as a student.  Of course you only went to a few balls and there were many less formal kinds of dance, although I do not think we would have recognised the word 'disco'.