Lorraine Berry and The Bad Cook Blues


Berry recalls the joy and misery of not cooking at Talking Writing.

We were not what you’d call a gourmet family. We were English peasants, and I grew up on a diet of minced meat; meat pie; pie and chips; fish and chips; sole boiled in milk; bubble and squeak; mashed potatoes; boiled potatoes; roasted potatoes; baked beans; the occasional piece of steak-like meat that had been cooked in the oven until it was unrecognizable; eggs, chips, and beans; bloody awful vegetables that could only be eaten if they were mashed into whatever the potato side dish was that night; egg butties; tomato soup; and, if my mum was feeling especially vicious, either corned beef or SPAM on a sandwich.

The only things that made up for the usually bland fare were my mother’s desserts. Almond tarts. Jam tarts. Trifle. Dundee Cakes. Cakes upon cakes. Chocolate. More chocolate. Custard. Treacle pudding.
Each night was a battle to see if my brothers and I could clear enough space on our plates to qualify for dessert. If not, the rest of the night would be hell. Too hungry to sleep, we’d dream of cereal in the morning. We’d desperately try to predict when brussels sprouts, minced meat, and boiled potatoes would grace our table again and whether that left us enough time to get invited to someone else’s house for dinner.
I never learned to cook.
First, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to replicate the food that had been on our table when I was growing up. (Although, ironically, I occasionally get hankerings for meat pie, Cornish pasties, and chips—lots of chips.) I also had this lofty idea that when I grew up, I wouldn’t have to cook, because I would be a successful woman with a job outside the house. I didn’t know who would do the cooking—a housekeeper, I suppose—but I was determined that it wasn’t going to be me.
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