I keep forgetting to buy mustard when I go shopping. Gosh, that’s interesting, I hear you gasp. Well it is actually. I love mustard and the stronger it is, the better. Give me a great big dollop on my Sunday roast or liberally smeared across both slices of a ham and tomato sandwich and I’m crying – not with tears of joy, but out in pain, as the fiery little blighter shoots up my nose at a fair rate of knots and almost blows my ears off every time I consume it. I would go so far as to say that a good English mustard ranks quite highly in my list of all time favourite condiments – but that’s another post for another day.
Yesterday then, I was slapping a couple of bits of ham between two slices of bread for a quick snack and realised yet again that I’d forgotten to buy the mustard (you’d think with being such a big fan, I’d manage to remember it wouldn’t you but no). Suddenly though, I had a flash of inspiration! I recalled that somewhere, tucked away in the darkest depths of my store cupboard, along with half a packet of easy-use yeast (it wasn’t) and a bag of plain couscous requiring a minor miracle in the way of flavour and texture, was a small tin of mustard powder purchased some ago for Molly to use in a pizza recipe at school. Woohoo!
I whipped the lid off in gleeful anticipation, had a quick sniff (not recommended), stuck my spoon in and started to mix the powder with a little water to create a smooth, yellow paste.
At which point, something grabbed hold of my nostalgia genes, gave them a hefty tug, yanked me back in time some thirty plus years and plonked me down at the dining table round my Nan and Grandad’s house, where I used to spend quite a lot of time as a youngster.
My Nan and Grandad were lucky enough to survive the War and understandably they never forgot the horrors of it. But they also took some of the good things away from those dark times, such as make do and mend, grow your own vegetables, always cook from scratch…. and mustard powder in a tin. Oh how this little tin of yellow loveliness became a favourite when we went round there for tea. Nan had a small brown earthenware pot which had a lid with a gap where a tiny serving spoon rested, that she would serve the mixture in. She wouldn’t touch this nasal burning substance she’d created as she couldn’t stand anything with any flavour but my Grandad was rather partial to it in his day. We’d spread it on slices of cold bacon from a joint that Nan had boiled up for hours on end, accompanied by jacket potatoes, earthy home-grown beetroot, pickled onions that Grandad had peeled and packed into jars, preserving them in tangy vinegar and on special occasions Nan would make a ‘Pear Elaine’ for pudding. This consisted of a packet of chocolate angel delight poured over tinned pear halves arranged in a ceramic flan dish, blobs of double cream dotted all over the top and topped with glace cherry halves.
It was delicious but I was never convinced about it’s origin so I googled it a while back and realised it was actually called Pear Helene (I can’t get those little accents on the e’s!) – a recipe that involves poaching pears, making a chocolate sauce and serving with vanilla ice cream. Hmmm, I’m sticking with my Nan’s interpretation thanks.
The last few years with my Nan weren’t great. She was demanding, cantankerous, sometimes quite spiteful and suffered with ill health – we got impatient and frustrated with her at times. She also greatly missed my Grandad when he passed away, she loved him with a passion and he was her whole reason for being. So I guess she was allowed to be a bit of a pain (not what I said at the time I might add but what a difference being without them makes).
Which really is why I’ve been waffling on about a daft little tin today. I suppose it’s symbolic. It’s my own mini-memory box stuffed full of happier times. Sometimes we forget about these moments when we’re dealing with the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Sometimes we just need a ham and mustard sandwich (or vegetarian equivalent!) to remind us of the things that really matter.