by Chris Cowland –
I was an only child, and my mother taught me how to cook from a very early age. We had a natural gas stove in our old 19th Century cottage in England, and by the age of five I was able to light it with matches; no pilot lights or electronic ignition in those days. There was a gas meter above the stove, and you had to stuff sixpenny bits into it to buy a few cubic feet of gas. Many an oven-baked meal was ruined because the oven had run out of gas 15 minutes into a roast cycle, as we sat watching TV in the living room. My father would always be blamed for this.
The one time that dad and I cooked a roast beef dinner was when mum was sick in bed with the flu. We ensured it was properly cooked, and the poor one-pound roast had shrunk to a grey cube about two inches by two inches by the time it was ready to carve.
Neither of us knew how to make gravy, but we vaguely remembered it involved flour and water, so we mixed some into a lumpy paste and put it to boil. The mashed potatoes were actually quite good, but when slathered with this goopy concoction they lost some of their appeal. Dad blamed mum’s subsequent vomiting on the influenza, but I always had my doubts … even at age six.
Fast forward 12 years, and there I was heading off to University in Durham, close to Newcastle, leaving home for the very first time. I quickly eschewed the concept of living in college eating boring food in the canteen, and rented a house in town with a couple of friends. Baked beans on toast was our staple diet, and many flatulence competitions were won and lost.
One evening I was left alone, and decided to make a culinary masterpiece. I bought two pounds of liver, some potatoes and onions, and decided to make a liver casserole in a Pyrex dish in the oven. Based on my mother’s teaching, I knew it would take a couple of hours to kill the germs, so I popped it into a 350°F oven and headed to the local pub, as my housemates had emptied all the beer in the fridge.
There is an expression – “one thing led to another” – and it was never so true as that evening. Someone announced a birthday party at their house just around the corner, we each grabbed a crate of beer, and off we went. I had been eying up a young lady all evening, and after my sixth pint of Newcastle Brown she had become irresistible.
I have no recollection of the rest of the evening, but I awoke at noon the following day cuddled up on the couch with someone who looked about my mother’s age. I surreptitiously slipped out of the house without waking her.
As I walked in the front door of my rental, I was hit in the face by the putrid stench of burnt liver, and quickly donned oven gloves and tossed the remains of the casserole out into the garden.
To be fair, the Pyrex dish was beyond rescue, but I think I eliminated any possibility of salmonella. Mum would have been proud.