Cooking Up a Social History

The Journal (Newcastle, England), January 20, 2005 | Go to article overview

Cooking Up a Social History


Byline: By Jane Hall

Carol Cooke's new book weighs up Northern cookery and deals with a number of simmering questions, as Jane Hall finds out.

Ever mused on what to do with a mock kidney or thought about eating a calf's foot or pig's ear?

Ever lain awake wondering ... what is Bible tripe and do you have to be holy to eat it? Or how you spell panhaggelty and what are the essential ingredients? Or, there again, what effect the Second World War had on Friday's fish and chips?

Mother of two grown-up sons Carol Cooke, has. Which is why, at the age of 53 and following a lifetime of insomnia, she has written Old Wives' Tales: Sheep's head Broth, Sausages and Sago, to answer all those burning questions ( and many more besides.

It's part social history and part recipe book, with such delights as the sheep's head broth of the title, Brussels sprout soup (yes, really), Mock kidney soup (in which the main ingredient is not all it seems) and an intriguing version of an apple tart that uses bicarbonate of soda and muriatic acid in the pastry.

Carol takes readers back to the days before fads and diets when mother was always a good cook, men and women did a full day's work before breakfast and microwave meals were just pie in the sky. But we digress. Back to the gruesome-sounding sheep's head broth, a particular favourite of Carol's, if only for the corny cracker-style joke associated with it which still brings a smile to her face.

"A man walks into a butcher's shop and says to the woman behind the counter, `Have you got a sheep's head, pet'? and the woman replies, `No, it's just the way I part my hair'.

"Well, it always makes me laugh," Carol concludes with a chuckle.

Which is more than facing a decapitated sheep's head would do for most folk. Carol still recalls the time she first saw one on a butcher's slab: "I had nightmares and it hasn't got any better. The most appalling thing for me is the fact that the sheep's head is red, bony and still has teeth. Horror movie-makers should look no further. Sheep's head broth-making is more frightening than The Night of the Living Dead."

But sheep's head broth, and other dishes sounding equally unsavoury to our refined 21st Century palates, were once the staple diet. Carol's own mother, Lilian Bianchi from South Shields, recalls for her daughter's book the preparations for the dish:

"A very substantial meal was broth made with a lamb's head.

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