Sunday, January 13, 2013

P-p-p-pepper Steak

As a child I loved books of all varieties, really, and worked my way through the two-teacher school library by Year Five.

My "most-often borrowed" books were from the second shelf down, 3 bookshelves to the left of the corner - recipe books.  It had everything - history, culture and food.

I had tasted in my mind many dishes that I had no chance of ever getting the ingredients for.   Granite Glen - and the little town servicing it - in the 1980s had little in the shops that held anything more exotic than dried herbs and basic vegetables.  According to Mum, this was hugely superior to Granite Glen - and the little town servicing it - in the 1960s.

This spread to my investigation of Mum's collection of magazines and books on the "recipe shelf" in her cupboard.  Mum's mother used to shoo her children out of the kitchen as "there would be plenty of time for that when you have your own house to look after" - consequently, Mum was taught to cook (on a wood combustion stove) by Margaret Fulton and the rest of the ladies at the Women's Weekly test kitchen.   She kept every magazine and clipping that every gave her that culinary edge - and it was at my disposal because she wasn't going to do what her mother did.

I also discovered offers on the back of packages for "Free Recipe Books" - and I took full advantage of such offers and sent off stamped self-addressed envelopes EVERYWHERE.

When I was 11, mum was hit hard by Ross River Fever (or virus). Dad used to joke about Mum's boyfriend ("she's in bed with Ross") but the aches and pain she obviously had you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.  It wasn't every day, but most days you could tell she was trying hard just to get through.

There was an upside, though - Mum had to hand over cooking to me.  Muahahahaha.

I was her number one pest in the kitchen (trying to get permission to test the above recipes on my family) and my sister was at boarding school.  I broke her in gently, at first - consulted meal choices, best methods of preparation and, invariably, food substitutions (see abovementioned ingredients issue) - but I must admit that I might have taken advantage of the situation by working just a few of the ideas that had been planted into my head by the recipe collections I had trawled and amassed.

Looking back on it, it was truly a horrible year for Mum.  It seemed that when Mum wasn't laid flat out recuperating from another beating by Ross, she was travelling around Queensland ensuring that extended and close family were able to see specialists - the joy of being the family pharmacist therefore keeper of all information and advocacy medical - and putting relatives in/taking relatives out of various hospitals.

Add to that (and pertinent to this story), her firstborn not only went off to boarding school that year, but also seriously broke her arm, was misdiagnosed with appendicitis (and subsequent issues regarding the bits of the body that should have been diagnosed), got forklifted onto a plane (I will leave that there - someone else can tell that story) and had an infection develop in the badly set broken arm.

As a result, Mum and Dad decided to take her to see our personal Orthapedic specialist (Dad is the sort of guy who isn't accident prone, but when faced with an accident does it exceptionally well).

This meant that I was at home alone with my baby brother GB, then aged 7 1/2.  In those days, this was perfectly fine because we had a lot of chores to do when we got home from school, I could organise and cook a meal and Dad was expected home about when we were due to go to bed.

This ALSO meant that I got to look out a recipe that I had never before tried (and Mum was in no position to veto) - I chose Pepper Steak.

The recipe called for several tablespoons of cracked peppercorns - and yay, Mum did have peppercorns in her pantry and I knew how to use the mortar and pestle.

Given his age and lack of Pepper Steak experience, I decided to take it easy on my test subject and used only a quarter of the recommended corns.

I was so proud of my finished meal - there was a fancy potato bake, something green (I may have tizzied up reconstituted or frozen peas - fresh green things weren't plentiful in the day) and probably something orange (Dad always threw a few pumpkin seeds into the ashes of any fire burned up the paddock, and we weren't afraid of sweet potatoes) - supporting the main player, my Pepper Steak.

It was MAGNIFICENT with its crust of cracked peppercorns and a creamy sauce (with a bit more peppercorn activity) artfully poured with a decorative flourish.

GB wanted to try some straight away, but I was a good bossy big sister, and I insisted that we say Grace before eating just as we would have had Mum or Dad been home.

The allure, however, was just too wonderful for my dear little brother.  As I had banned him from trying a mouthful, he just leaned over and licked his steak...

Can you imagine the air of superiority I had when I mentioned that perhaps God didn't like him testing before eating either, and that burning sensation that he had was what smite was about?

GB was truly unimpressed with my attitude and the food on offer, and so we then held a battle that will remain unchronicled - let us just say that by the time Dad got home, his son had been a mute vegetarian for about 2 hours.

When Dad walked in, GB broke his silence with accusations that I had tried to kill him, while it was all I could do to rebut furiously and denigrate his tastebuds and lack of piety.

I remember quite clearly Dad shutting us up with a "Your Sister Could Lose Her Arm" - he was good at that, the capitalised sentence that quieted his offspring.

The funny thing is, Pepper Steak never did get another run under my watch out there.   And my sister didn't lose her arm.

What is your most vivid meal memory?


BB said...

Quite correct. Still here. I DO love stealing the attention, don't I? Lucky you are so capable (and able to keep our brother from his meat for an hour or so). Miraculous really!

Debby said...

I love the line...Dad is the sort of guy who isn't accident prone, but when faced with an accident does it exceptionally well.

I'd always heard about Amanda's bum knee, but never about her broken arm. It's the first time that I really thought about you all living so far out and having medical emergencies back in the day.

What was the emergency 'system'? Was there a local hospital that was the staging ground for more serious injuries? Or did you have a traveling doctor?

And how did BB bust her arm anyway?

jeanie said...

These days with UHF radio the communication part is a lot more simple than in the good old days.

However, now that there is a centralised Ambulance call centre, it can be slightly more complicated getting them to find you.

Generally the main plan is to get the patient in to town as soon as possible by whatever means.

♥.Trish.♥ Drumboys said...

Your poor MUM.

Reminds me of the time pre marriage - my MIL left us a dinner of chicken with peppercorns.
It was peppered with hundreds of hard black peppercorns instead of soft edible green peppercorns. We did our best to scrap away/off as many we could but it was definitely a FAIL.

Pearl said...

My father taught me how to make meatballs.

"Wash your hands," he said, "but don't take off your rings. Adds flavor."

He was a funny man. :-)