Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cheese and Lentil Savory, in memoriam

My grandmother was born during World War I and had her first child during World War II. In England at the time there was food rationing, which believe it or not continued after the war ended: in 1946 bread rationing began, and in 1947 they started rationing potatoes. In 1949 my mother was born.

Feeding a family was tough in those days: how to make sure, under ration control, that one's children received proper nutrition? Parents were inventive, and my grandmother started cooking a recipe which has since become a tradition in my family: cheese and lentil savory.

8oz mature cheddar
8oz red lentils
1 large onion
3oz breadcrumbs
a little oil
boiling water

Chop the onion finely and sweat in the oil on a moderate heat. When the onion turns transparent add the lentils and stir well. Then add about half a pint of boiling water and turn down the heat to simmering level. Simmer with lid on. Every five minutes check and stir, ensuring no sticking on the bottom of the pan. Continue adding small quantities of hot water and stirring it in until the lentils are cooked (soft) and don't absorb more water. Take off the heat and stir in the grated cheese and the breadcrumbs, and some parsley if you have it. Put it into two greased dishes. Leave one to cool (freeze it for another time) and put the other in the oven at 200ºC/400ºF for 25 minutes or until going crunchy round the edges. Serve hot.

The secret was, of course, that lentils can keep dry and good forever in one's larder; you could get away with slightly moldy cheese; and the bread could be a little stale and nobody would notice. The perfect wartime recipe.

Every now and then I cook C&LS for Wendy and me---a gentrified version, admittedly, with moldless cheese from Whole Foods and fairly fresh bread. Last night was one of those nights, and this morning I woke up to learn that my grandmother had just died.

In memoriam, Helen Willis.

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