My Grandad knew his onions! My earliest childhood memory is of going to his allotment in the small Cumbrian village of Haverigg as a 5 year old and being surrounded by peas, beans, leeks, ……. and onions. They were whoppers too, everything he grew, but especially the onions.
This was post-War England, and food rationing was still operating some 7 years after the end of WW2 particularly for bacon and other meat. In fact rationing wouldn’t end until 2 years later in 1954 and there were celebrations across the country on 4th July 1954 which you can read about here Rationing Ends
In those days almost everyone seemed to have an allotment or had turned their entire gardens into vegetable plots, no fancy shrubs, lawns or landscaping! Much too wasteful, and it prompts me to reflect somewhat on the narrow minded cretins in our country today who seem only to care about cheap air fares, the value of the £, and visa free travel across Europe. Now THAT is selfishness! They live in a bubble of instant gratification with no sense of accountability for how our country is run, or community, or the welfare of all.
But back to my grandads onions, an essential ingredient for so many recipes that fed the family especially via soups, stews and pasties. The pasty tradition came from my grandparents migration from Cornwall to Cumbria when iron ore mining created more employment than tin mining and my mother’s Cornish Pasty and variations are still cooked by us today. Likewise Cumberland Stew or Tatie Pot using any available meat plus lots of vegetables and slow cooked. Finally the infamous Pea & Ham soup made from long and slow cooked ham hock if we could get one, or if not from a pile of bacon bones costing only a few pennies from the local butcher. To this stock was added dried peas soaked overnight, leeks, carrots, swede and of course grandads onions.
I am now a third generation in my family making this soup, it’s my winter comfort food both from the making and the eating. It begins on “Day Zero” when the dried peas need to be soaked overnight together with a few lentils, and the ham hock, ham bones, or ham joint needs boiling for a couple of hours to create the stock. Then the next morning the meat is removed from the stock, excess fat skimmed from the liquid surface, and the peas washed several times in cold water.
The stock is now reheated with the washed peas added and brought to the simmer while the vegetables are prepared. Remember, it was always about home grown vegetables …… leeks, carrots, swede and …… grandads onions. I don’t have a vegetable plot these days but I DO only use locally grown vegetables, preferably organic and from a local market or farm shop.
When the vegetables are all chopped up small, 1cm cubes or slices, they are placed in the simmering stock with the peas and slowly simmered for 2-3 hours. You must remove the scum that forms on the surface and regularly top up with water. And that’s it, now ready for eating with some crusty bread and, according to your taste, lots of pepper and brown sauce.
But this post is not about a recipe alone, it’s about how we are all a product of our upbringing whether we are wealthy, comfortable or breadline poor. I have no hesitation in saying that Dr C and I are wealthy today, but we were brought up in very poor environments. One of us in post-War England and one of us in one of the poorest countries in the world, Nepal. Low wages, long working hours, rented housing, food shortages, were commonplace. But our values were based on frugality and no waste, respect for others, community, save a little for tomorrow, education, personal responsibility. Today, some 60 years later and retired, we still spend less than our income, we still cook and eat stews, soups and pasties. Our waste bin is almost empty each week before garbage collection, we are manic about only cooking what we need and using leftovers the next day, emptying the fridge of items before we reorder. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy fine wines, speciality teas from Nepal and Japan, luxury holidays and classy cars. But perspective is everything, and it’s the memory of “Grandad’s Onions” that helps us to value the important things in life.