"Here I am, surrounded by a lifetime of stuff in the home that my hoarding parents built when I was three". Photo: Getty Images
Today’s column, brought to you by … Tupperware. I’m surrounded by the stuff. Antique, 1960s candy-floss-coloured American plastic. But that’s not all. Add to the list: a clutch of daggy coffee mugs; a ton of mismatched glassware; two ageing electric frypans; five crystal vases; several dozen wooden spoons; five stove-side containers (of assorted tongs, potato mashers, strainers, spatulas, egg lifters, salad servers, meat mallets); five full dinner services; a cupboard of CorningWare casserole dishes; a cupboard of saucepans; another of empty jars; five garlic presses; two ’50s ceramic hors d'oeuvre platters (one featuring a cheery mushroom/eggplant/asparagus design); a pantry-load of vintage sauces/canned goods/vinegars/rancid oils/dusty spices (a jar of horseradish, “best before 28 October 98”); several old Thermoses … and that’s just the kitchen.
Births and baptisms, engagements, weddings and milestone birthdays, divorces and death. In the rites-of-passage catalogue, we need to add one more: the emptying of the family home. That painful, emotional, piece-by-piece disassembly of a family’s life as parents age, downsize, check in — to nursing home or retirement village — or check out.
Births and baptisms, engagements, weddings and milestone birthdays, divorces and death. In the rites-of-passage catalogue, we need to add one more: the emptying of the family home.
And here I am, surrounded by a lifetime of stuff in the home that my hoarding parents built when I was three, enduring that rite of passage. The truth is, if I survive Easter, it will be a miracle of resurrectional proportions. My widowed mother and I are not always seeing eye-to-eye through this difficult process.
Friends who have been through it talk of skips and multiple trips to op-shops and the tip. But that’s not the way my feisty, frugal, thrifty, determined mother does things. My kingdom for a skip! No, she’s disassembling her house painstakingly, painfully, one Tupperware container at a time, barely permitting a thing to be discarded or donated (a house contents auction is her aim), and all I can do is watch and not-so-silently scream.
But sometimes I laugh: after narrowly averting burning the house down (which might have been a blessing-in-disguise) when the ancient toaster catches fire and fills the house with smoke; after discovering in the back of the pantry a can of Nestlé condensed milk so ravaged by time that corrosion has taken out its side and the milk has evaporated; after reaching into the back of the Tupperware cupboard and pulling out a sticky, yellowed lid with my mother’s firm school-teacher’s handwriting on masking tape on the top reading — “Brains 11/76.”
Mum, a free-spirited cook and eater, loved offal and she loved to use the freezer. I can picture that day more than 30 years ago ... a frazzled working mother always looking for domestic efficiencies, she would have cooked a set of lamb’s brains and frozen them in small batches. Most likely to cook fricasseed brains (basically brains in white sauce) down the track for her two small children.
Offal – or “variety meats”, that hilarious euphemism – was a regular on the table when I was a child. Mum would make pressed ox tongue, delicate little lambs’ tongues in a white sauce with parsley, fried liver, Italian-ish tripe in a tomato sauce with lots of garlic, braised kidneys and, the ultimate in comfort food, those lambs’ brains.
She didn’t shop at a specialty butcher – she didn’t need to, as offal was routinely available in supermarket meat sections then, and I remember pestering her to put it in the shopping cart. It only occurred to me recently that I haven’t seen any sort of offal in a supermarket for some years. When did it disappear? When did we become so scared of these animal parts? It’s a rare person who will enjoy offal if they haven’t grown up with it, but I can’t have been the only one to grow up with it, surely? Are there silent offal fans among you?
The fact that offal seems to be facing culinary extinction for anyone but the most committed of food lovers adds to its nostalgia quotient: it reminds me of my mother’s love, of her wearying, single-minded commitment to making sure that my brother and I ate the most nutritious food she could give us every day.
Sorting through Mum’s ample cookbook collection a couple of days ago, we turned up her decaying high school, home-science textbook, The Commonsense Cookery Book (with ads in the front for Camp-Berlei “Corrective” corsetry, Aunt Mary’s Cream of Tartar Baking Powder, Foster Clark’s Custard Powder, Globex Pure Beef Extract). “Everyone should have one in their house,” she said, tucking the book into my suitcase.
Under “B” for Brains: Brain and Nut Sandwiches; Brain Cakes; Brains and Bacon; Brains, Fricasseed; Brains, Scalloped. For old time’s sake, I might give the fricasseed ones a go but, as for the rest, I reckon they’ve got as much life in them as Mum’s sad old Tupperware.
Go on, I dare you, give one of these recipes a go:
· Parmesan crumbed lamb’s brains from Brigitte Hafner;
· Deep-fried brains a la Fergus Henderson;
· Stewed fried vegetables with lamb offal, Spanish style, from Saveur magazine.
Follow Stephanie Wood on Twitter: @StephanieAWood1