Vascular Dementia– slow, frustrating, watching capacities diminish but not quite believing what’s happening… So, my mother-in-law, who was a geriatric social worker, finds herself in the odd position of being in a care home, wishing to take steps a geriatric social worker would take, but being thwarted by Authority (such as it is in a care home) and her own brain fog.
This was an energetic and thoughtful woman, who gave me a tatty copy of a book she’d enjoyed that represents an old and mostly rural way of cooking in Britain: Farmhouse Fare, “Recipes from Country Housewives collected by The Farmers Weekly.” I often find copies of this book in charity shops, and I always buy it, to give to friends, because it’s such a treasure trove indeed. The edition she gave me is “the first impression of the enlarged (fourth) edition of Farmhouse Fare [and] was published in November 1946. The second impression appeared in 1947; the third impression in 1950. The fifth revised edition was first published in 1954, reprinted 1956 and 1958,” which dates the copy I have, in beautiful, stained disrepair. I also have a hardback copy from 1979 with a cheesy photographic cover. Clearly this is a collection that’s been loved. If you find this book, make it yours.
Last weekend, kids on holiday from school, we went to see my mother-in-law, and my husband popped by her recently sold house to talk with the new owners. They weren’t in, but he took some apples lying on the grass underneath the old apple tree that they had –I hate writing this– chopped down. Must have been a recent chop, because the apples on the ground were beginning to get red, these cookers (green) that in most summers never ripen. These were apples my mother-in-law had enjoyed all through her years in that home, making pies and chutneys and baby food for my babies! Yes of course new people can do what they want with their new property, but I can’t imagine not loving that tree, that fruitful dwarf apple, variety I-don’t-know. Wish I could ask Grace, but I don’t want to tell her what they’ve done; I think she’d find it very disturbing.
Somehow to deal with my own sense of injustice, I’m going to work through lots of the apple recipes in Farmhouse Fare. For the Apple Marigold above, I used the last apples we shall ever have from that beloved tree. My husband collected them in a plastic bag from that grass on that stormy October day.
I was interested in this Apple Marigold recipe for different reasons– because I’m “collecting” savoury apple recipes, because I love calendula flowers, because I’m interested in using herbs like thyme with apples (herbs in general with fruits in general), because it’s a chance to feel authentic with my enamelled baking dish, because it’s so simple a recipe but so personal, because it’s interesting to explore what British cooking is, English, Welsh, Scottish– and how within seasonal and economic limits “farm women” put together meals they felt proud of.
This recipe tasted wholesome and simple, basically, apples in an unsweetened custard, and the fruit quite discreet from that custard. I added a little salt which felt necessary. Of course could one fancify this, by infusing flavours, maybe even adding some pastry down below or on top of. I’d wished to be able to cut proper rings– for the visual effect– but that didn’t happen. To Mrs J Preston of Oxfordshire, thank you: I feel this is your recipe, the “marigold” petals and sage and thyme your original idea. Through the years, there’s a voice in this Marigold Apple, a small celebration of resourcefulness in the name of a quiet artistry.
Meanwhile: I made this today too, with some applesauce from apples that really needed doing. It’s in the oven now. Love the simplicity of three ingredients– and even refrained, against the wisdom of experience, from adding any salt or fat, though glugged in some sourdough starter in lieu of “yeast”. Not sure I let the dough sit long enough, but the oven is on for another purpose so wanted to get the baking done, in the the name of efficient energy use.