Recipes from an Old Farmhouse by Alison Uttley

At last, time for a book review.  After a preamble.

I love books.  I have always loved books. Right from the time when I was still small enough to crawl onto my mother’s knee and curl up there listening while she read.  Frequently, those stories would be the tales of Sam Pig by Alison Uttley.  There lots of them but I particularly remember this one:

We had this edition and my Mum read it with such joy.  The stories were ones she had enjoyed as a child and her delight was evident.  We also had the full range of Little Grey Rabbit stories.  Remember her?

When my Mum went back to work, she recorded herself reading these stories on a tape recorder for my little sister to listen to.  I don’t remember when it was she was not meant to be with us as her first job was in the school my sister attended, but it was very forward thinking of her.  The first audio books combined with a strategy to ease maternal separation anxiety – quite brilliant!

One of the strange things that has happened since my accident, is that I seem to have lost patience with fiction.  I am not sure if it is my eyesight or the bang on my head that is causing the problem.  Either way, my usual consumption of novels is way down.  What it has been replaced with is a voracious appetite for flitting through non-fiction texts, reading snippets and moving on.  Foraging and recipe books are featuring VERY large in this which brings me to my first book review.  At last.

It was important to mention my love for Sam Pit and Little Grey Rabbit because their author, Alison Uttley, also wrote Recipes from an Old Farmhouse.  I was browsing my second favourite second-hand bookshop with my Mum recently and we both squealed with delight when we saw it sitting on the shelf.

It really is a delightful read.  It is as much a memoir of a childhood at the turn of the twentieth century as it is a recipe book.  Containing unashamedly local fayre (such as Thor Cake) and customs (like Wakes Week), Mrs Uttley describes how she grew up experiencing ‘cooking as a time of happiness’ and that her mother ‘cooked without a cookery book’ on an enormous scale.  Living in a remote part of Derbyshire, the farm had to be as self-sufficient as possible so recipes using hedgerow ingredients are used.  The account of making Cowslip Wine is so evocative and quite delightful.  The penultimate chapter is a section on homemade medicines as the ‘doctor lived miles away and as there was no telephone it meant a drive to fetch him when he would probably be a dozen miles away in the hills.’  Even when he did attend he would not always make up the long track to the farm but instead ‘a bottle of medicine was left at one of the stone gateposts, on the wooded hillside, and there I ran to find the white parcel sealed with scarlet wax, neat and beautiful.’  So different from the NHS of today!  Perhaps it is little wonder that homemade remedies were relied upon.

Unlike my latest practice of skipping about several books, I read this, cover to cover, in one sitting.  For anyone interested in the countryside, in food, in an earlier way of life, or in just good writing in general, I thoroughly recommend it.

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