My useful madani

Having just used my madani again I thought I would share a couple of posts I wrote about it:

2014 –

One of our students from our English conversation class, brought all us teachers a present from a trip home to Pakistan. I don’t know what this kitchen tool is called, and I have never seen on anywhere else but it is so useful!
For a while I didn’t use, it just sat in the wooden tub where all the spoons, whisks and stirrers are, but one day I was having problem with lumps… I can’t remember now whether they were lumps in custard or white sauce or cheese sauce, but I had lumps. I picked up this thingmy and put it into the sauce then rubbed the spindle between my hands as if I was trying to light a fire with a piece of wood. I rolled it vigorously then gave the sauce a stir… lump free! It was amazing, so easy, so quick, so effective.
I use it frequently now, especially with soups, or when I’m trying to thicken something and I want it to be smooth and lovely. I could imagine if you were making hot chocolate in the old-fashioned way, or a milk shake or smoothy type of drink, then this would be really handy. If ever you see one, definitely buy it… you’ll be amazed at how good it is, and it doesn’t use any power except muscle-power!

2017 –

Several years ago, a very kind Pakistani friend brought a gift back from her trip to see her family in Pakistan. She was one of the people in our social English group and she brought gifts for all of us leaders/teachers.
Our presents were something we had never seen before, but we thanked her warmly. It was a kitchen implement, rather attractive looking, with a long slender wooden handle and the head was wooden, about the size of a large orange cut in half, with segments removed. We were all a little puzzled, delighted, but puzzled… however when I got mine home I soon found out how to use it!
It is endlessly useful to

  • to make sure sauces don’t go lumpy or too thick/thin
  • to blend/whisk and stir/agitate soups/gravy while  cooking
  • to mash potatoes
  • to press things through a sieve, or to squeeze the juice/liquor for something e.g. vegetables for soup, fruit for desserts
  • to stir and break up stuff
  • to crush nuts, dry bread for breadcrumbs, get lumps out of sugar/flour/other dried goods
  • loads more things which I can’t just call to mind!

I have only just found out what it’s called, it’s a madani! Sometimes it is spelled mathani but it’s the same thing!

Isn’t this an attractive tool – and so useful! if you live near any Asian shops you might be able to get one! So easy to use, no electricity! I think it is only Available on Amazon India, but if you can access that, here is a link:

While you are on Amazon, you might want to have a look what else is available – and newly available is my novel Radwinter now in paperback!

A Glimpse Behind the Curtain (ii)

This the story of my great-grandmother, Lois, imagining her life in 1911…

If you had knocked on the door of 27 Kilburn Priory, some time in 1911, no doubt a neat and polite maid would have opened it and enquired your business. If you were a stranger then maybe she would have taken your card and withdrawn to find out if Mrs Walford was receiving. If you were a friend, or maybe a relative – Mrs Walford’s sister Sarah for example, then you would have been shown in and welcomed.

You would have been received into a comfortable home, with a piano, bookcases full of books, pictures and paintings on the wall. Your hostess would have been gentile and polite, warm and welcoming. However, if you were a new acquaintance, you might have detected a certain reserve; maybe she is wondering how much you know… or do you know… or maybe you know nothing.

Mrs Walford was born Lois Penney in 1853 in a pretty little village in Cambridgeshire. Her father was a basket maker in the days when baskets weren’t the small domestic items we use today, but often huge – like the plastic  and alloy  containers industry and logistics now use. No doubt her father worked on a small scale, but later his son, Lois’s brother had a factory in the Midlands. So, Lois came from an upwardly mobile family, typically Victorian with nine brothers and sisters, and a half-brother and sister.

Somehow Lois met a man further up the social scale, a man not just from a different class, not just born in another country on the other side of the world, but a man who was a Jew. His family were very wealthy and his cousins mixed with the highest people in society including royalty, musicians such as Rossini and Arthur Sullivan, industrialists and financiers, and writers such as Oscar Wilde. How did Lois and Louis meet? He had recently arrived from Tasmania where he had been born and brought up, he was eight years older than she and now worked in the City, dealing mainly in wool. So how did they meet?

In this story, set in 1911, it doesn’t really matter where or how Louis and Lois met and fell in love. There were many reasons why they couldn’t marry, mainly it is supposed, because he was Jewish and she was a Gentile. His family were very religious nd much respected in the synagogues they attended. Louis died tragically after they had been together for maybe seventeen years… been together because they weren’t married and  lived almost as man and wife with the five children, George, Horace, Ida, Edward and Nelson.

On his death she would have been destitute except for the charity of Louis’s mother and family… but a distant charity; the children when young went to visit their grandmother in her John Nash built house on Regent’s Park, or one of Louis’s brothers, and they would come home with money for Lois. She was no doubt set up in a house in Windermere Avenue in Willesden, and then in the  house in Kilburn Priory.

The children must have known that their parents did not marry; the children must have known that their mother was not Jewish – and it is probable that while their father was alive they were brought up with Jewish traditions too.  The two younger boys probably did not remember their father very well, although their were several paintings of him in the house. After Louis’s mother died, the children were all baptised into the Church of England – maybe Lois was religious, maybe she thought being Jewish was not an advantage for children without a father.

Which was the worse thing in respectable England in 1911 – being illegitimate or being Jewish? Certainly having five illegitimate children would have shocked and horrified Lois’s neighbours had they known. To them she would have seemed the most respectable of women, to be admired for her fine family she was bringing up alone, and brought up to be the epitome of well-mannered, courteous, successful and accomplished young people.

Behind the respectable curtain there must have been a secret shame, a defiant pride in having the courage to be with the man she loved, and a continual anxiety in case anyone discovered her secret. She must have worried for her daughter Ida, would she find a husband, who would look after and support her?

Lois must have been a strong and determined woman; in our family her name is a by-word for good manners and ‘proper’ behaviour  – ‘Grandma Walford wouldn’t like it!‘ In her photos she is unsmiling… but she must have been a very loving mother, as her children became in turn loving parents. I am proud that I was given her name.

Ida, her brother Horace and his fiancée, Lottie

The forest dark

Here’s another wonderful poem by the little known poet, Walter Turner. If you’re interested in genealogy, it’s quite interesting to look up censuses and see details of ‘famous’ people’s lives.

Walter came to England from Melbourne, Australia in 1907 and he appears in the 1911 census. He is living at 43, Hugh Street, near Hanover Square with his mother, now a widow, Alice May Turner. She is only forty years old, so she was eighteen when she gave birth to Walter. Her occupation is ‘musician – pianist’… I wonder if she remarried? Her name is so common, without any other information it’s impossible to find out. As well as Walter, a merchant’s clerk, they have a visitor, a thirty year old  actor named Emile Louis Meyrat from Port Augusta, also in Australia. He’s married, but his wife isn’t with him on the night of the census. Also residing in the house is Caroline Hassett Haase, an Australian actress aged twenty-six; she comes from Melbourne, so maybe she knew the Turners when they still lived there. Another ex-Melbourne resident is a young shipping clerk, William Beaumont H. Morris who is twenty-eight. What fun the young people might have had in Mrs Turner’s home, two actors, a musician and two young clerks… I’m sure they had splendid musical evenings!

The Caves of Auvergne

He carved the red deer and the bull
Upon the smooth cave rock,
Returned from war with belly full,
And scarred with many a knock,
He carved the red deer and the bull
Upon the smooth cave rock.

The stars flew by the cave’s wide door,
The clouds wild trumpets blew,
Trees rose in wild dreams from the floor,
Flowers with dream faces grew
Up to the sky, and softly hung
Golden and white and blue.

The woman ground her heap or corn,
Her heart a guarded fire;
The wind played in his trembling soul
Like a hand upon a lyre,
The wind drew faintly on the stone
Symbols of his desire:

The red deer of the forest dark,
Whose antlers cut the ky,
That vanishes into the mirk
And like a dream flits by,
And by an arrow slain at last
Is but the wind’s dark body.

The bull that stands in marshy lakes
As motionless and still
As a dark rock jutting from a plain
Without a tree or hill;
The bull that is the sign of life
Its sombre, phallic will.

And from the dead, white eyes of them
The wind springs up anew,
It blows upon the trembling heart,
And bull and deer renew
Their flitting life in the dim past
When the dead Hunter drew.

I sit beside him in the night,
And, fingering his red stone,
I chase through endless forests dark
Seeking that thing unknown,
That which is not red deer or bull,
But which by them was shown;

By those stiff shapes in which he drew
His soul’s exalted cry,
When flying down the forest dark
He slew and knew not why,
When he was filled with song, and strength
Flowed to him from the sky.

The wind blows from red deer and bull,
The clouds wild trumpets blare,
Trees rise in wild dreams from the earth,
Flowers with dream faces stare,
O Hunter, your own shadow stands
Within your forest lair!

Walter J. Turner 1884 – 1947

A true story of two sisters

It was nearly the end of term and the two youngest sisters were so excited – the summer holidays, the summer holidays! Audrey, the oldest of the three was quiet and silently bitter… this was the end of her wonderful time at Sharnbrook, the school in the next village. She had been so happy there, the teachers had liked and appreciated her, had made her feel clever and as a helper she’d had privileges the other children hadn’t. Now she had to leave, because of Father, all because of Father she had to leave Sharnbrook and go out to work…

Mother was calling Monica and Beryl to hurry, otherwise they would be late for church, and they couldn’t be late today of all days, it was their special  service for the end of term! The younger girls had been in the small garden, picking flowers to give to their favourite teacher, a lovely little tradition. They had their bunch ready, but Monica had suddenly had the idea to pick some big leaves to put round the flowers, to make them more attractive and posh,  she said and Beryl laughed.

“I’m giving my flowers to Miss Harper!” exclaimed Beryl as they wound a wisp of grass round the stems to hold them together.

“She’s going to have a whole six weeks without you nattering on about horses!” her sister replied and then they both pretended to gallop round the pump.

“Come along girls!” mother called.

“Yes, come along!” Audrey added bossily. “And Beryl, where’s your hat?”

The two little girls rushed round looking for the missing hat which for some reason was found in the vegetable garden. At last the four of them were ready; Father was working away, Alan was at his RAF camp, so with Edith, the little maid, they set off, to walk up Pavenham Road and then up Church Lane.

Soon Audrey and Beryl had left their mother and sister and were dancing along with their friends, all the girls together as the boys were playing chase and being silly. The topic among the school friends each with their posy, was who were they going to give their flowers to. Miss Harper was popular, she was young and enthusiastic, but Mrs Ball was a dear, so kind and always so helpful when someone didn’t understand something. Miss Jones was a favourite with some of the girls, those who were clever and likely to go on to the Grammar school…

“Will you girls stop this unbecoming noise! This is not the way to behave on the Sabbath!” Miss Poole called sharply. “Joan Wright blow your nose and wipe your face!”

Poor Joan, little and pale and with a little bunch of wilting buttercups in her dirty hand looked near to tears… the other girls might not always be kind to her, but mean Miss Poole picking on Joan, that just wasn’t fair! There were dark looks and scowls and handkerchiefs were pulled from sleeves and held out to the little girl.

Beryl pulled out her own hankie, took Joan by the hand and led her to one side, where she and Monica tidied the child up. She was in Monica’s class, but she looked much younger than eight. The sisters rearranged their own posies and added some flowers to Joan’s buttercups, then Beryl took her hand and the three girls went in through the church gates and up to St Peter’s.

“Hurry up!” snapped Miss Poole, “You’re going to be late, and Beryl let go of that child’s hand!”

As usual Miss Pool was dressed in sombre colours. Monica had seen Miss Harper, rather plump and seeming about to burst out of her summer dress, bright with poppies, and a red hat to match, and old Mrs Ball was wearing a pretty pink blouse with her usual black ankle-length skirt. She was carrying a parasol and was wearing a straw boater with some pink roses pinned to the ribbon.

“Monica Matthews! Will you hurry, late as usual, you’ll be late to your own funeral!”

The sisters stared open-mouthed at their teacher – shocked by the awful thing she had said. Come along Beryl, come along Joan,  Monica grabbed her sister’s hand and the three of them  hurried into church. Monica had seen Mother and Audrey coming up the path, she didn’t want them to hear anything mean and nasty like this.

The service was lovely; the vicar beamed and even put a few little jokes into the sermon. The hymns were all jolly and everyone sang their best. They bent their heads over their clasped hands as they knelt in prayer, many silent thoughts, hopes and wishes for the summer ahead and then the new class in September.

Old Mr Thrasher cranked up the organ and the vicar sprinted down the aisle with the choir in pursuit, and then the children squeezed past the adults and parents. They would be the first of the congregation out of the old church, and waiting for them in a row would be the teachers, waiting to say ‘goodbye’, ‘have a nice summer’, ‘don’t do anything silly’, ‘see you in September’ ‘goodbye girls, goodbye boys‘… And the children would hand their favourite teacher their posies… no doubt some of the boys’ flowers would have suffered a little, but the kind thoughts were there.

“I feel sick, Monica,” Joan whispered.

“I’m sure you’ll be fine, Joan, it’s hot in the church, you’ll be fine when you get outside… now who are you giving your flowers to?”

The other children were pressing past, but Monica wiped the little girl’s face again… perhaps she was sickening for something…

“Mrs Ball, she’s very nice, isn’t she, Mon?” Joan seemed a little cheered and followed Monica into the summer sunshine.

The teachers were surrounded by a mob of children, shouting good wishes and thrusting their flowers and some other little gifts at them. Suddenly Monica caught sight of Miss Poole, standing a little apart, as usual her mouth in a frown, her chin up disapprovingly. She stood alone, no child near her, no-one giving her flowers – and no wonder!

As Monica watched, Miss Poole turned away, and as she did, her head went down, and her mouth pursed and her lips seemed to tremble. She rubbed her cheek as if she had an itch… but maybe it was a tear.

Monica skirted the crowd and approached the tall thin teacher, standing with her back to everyone in her dark clothes, the navy straw hat tipped over her forehead as if to shade her expression.

“Miss Poole… I’m sorry I was late…” and Monica held out her posy, the dark green leaves had kept the flowers fresh and bright.

Miss Poole stared down at the dark haired child. Would the teacher make some bitter comment?

“Here is a posy for you, Miss Poole.”

Without a word the tall woman took the flowers, and slowly raised the posy to her face. She closed her eyes for a moment.

“Thank you Monica,” but Monica had gone to join her friends.

Only Beryl saw this… they hadn’t sung this hymn in church today but a refrain ran through Beryl’s mind…  Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be…


This is a true story of my mum, Monica and her sister Beryl. I have imagined the details of the teachers and other children; I don’t know who the nasty mean teacher was, but the kindness of Monica to this sad woman is truly inspirational. She was only a young girl, but her generosity in every sense shone throughout her life. I often think of her, and I often think of this little episode.

Pine-apple Ice-cream and orange jelly

These sound rather nice don’t they?

Pine-apple ice-cream— Slice one large pine-apple thin, and scatter one pound of sugar between the slices ; cover it, and let the fruit steep three hours ; then cut or chop fine in the syrup and strain through a sieve ; beat gradually into one quart of cream, and freeze rapidly. If you like, reserve a few slices of pine-apple unsugared, cut into squares, and stir through the cream when half frozen.

Orange jelly. — Grate the peel of five fine oranges and two lemons into a bowl; squeeze the juice of them into it; boil one pound of sugar in a quart of water, and, when quite boiling, pour it over two ounces of isinglass; stir until it is dissolved; add the juice to it, strain through coarse muslin, and let it stand until half cold; then pour gently into moulds which have been wet with cold water. Before turning out put the moulds into warm water; loosen the edges with a spoon.

These recipes are form a newspaper published in 1879, in New South Wales. What interests me is the tone of the recipe, really not dissimilar to recipes published in newspapers and magazines today. I guess if you asked most people when home cooks started making their own ice-cream they would guess a much more recent date, but here we are nearly a hundred and forty years go, home cooks making pineapple ice-cream. I’m sure they didn’t have home freezers, but maybe they bought ice – but how would that ice have been made? Did they have commercial freezer units and housewives bought ice from them? or did refrigerated ships sail south to Antarctica and collect ice from the frozen wastes? The idea of having chunks of pineapple stirred into the ice-cream also seems modern – and to our twenty-first century taste.

Jelly is still quite popular, but these days we buy packets of it to dissolve and then make up. In this old recipe they don’t use gelatin but isinglass… my dad who was a scientist in food research, researching collagen; he said someone could make their fortune if they discovered a substitute for isinglass – I don’t know if anyone has… it comes from fish, and this is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Isinglass is a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. It is a form of collagen used mainly for the clarification or fining of some beer and wine. It can also be cooked into a paste for specialised gluing purposes. Its origin is from the obsolete Dutch huizenblaas – huizen is a kind of sturgeon, and blaas is a bladder. Isinglass is no longer sourced from sturgeon. Although originally made exclusively from sturgeon, especially beluga, in 1795 an invention by William Murdoch facilitated a cheap substitute using cod. This was extensively used in Britain in place of Russian isinglass.

These days everything is so instant – if we don’t buy pre-made jelly, we have easy to make jelly; we would never juice fruit, pound loaf sugar into powder, strain anything through muslin, before pouring into moulds and waiting to set then turning out onto a plate – the moulds would have been decorative to make a fancy dessert.

I have no pictures of pine-apples, pineapples, or oranges, so er is an orange house as my featured image.

Justina’s original recipes

Tea and biscuits… make your own favourite brew to drink with these biscuits – the recipes are nearly 150 years old, but I’m sure they will taste nice! I am going to try the caraway biscuits, which despite being sweet might be nice with some strong Cheddar. I wonder who Justina was?

Justina’ sends the following original recipes, and hopes they will be liked : —

Ground Rice Biscuits

  • Take 1 lb. of ground rice, or, as it is sometimes called, rice flour
  • … and mix with it 6 oz. of fresh butter
  • … then add ½ lb. of sugar
  • … beat these well up with the hand
  • … then whisk two eggs –
  • – with a little milk and a pinch of soda
  • Add this to the ground rice, butter, and sugar –
  • – and work into a paste
  • Roll out, out into round cakes, and bake in a moderately quick oven.

Seed Biscuits

  • Take 1 lb. of common flour
  • … mix with it 6 oz. of butter and ½ lb. of sugar
  • … then work in about an ounce of caraway seeds and a pinch of soda
  • Beat up a couple of eggs in sufficient milk to make the above ingredients form a paste
  • Roll out, cut into round cakes, and bake in a rather fast oven

Better with butter

When I was a child at home, before the invention of ‘spreadable’ butter we had block butter and block margarine for cooking and baking – I guess because margarine was cheaper. When I left home as a student, butter was beyond our means as we lived on our grants so we always had margarine, although soon there were butter-style margarines about. (We were so fortunate then to have tuition fees paid and maintenance grants – but that’s a whole different topic to write about!)

I guess I got used to margarine, but ‘used to‘ is about it – it wasn’t just the flavour, but it was the texture, the mouth-feel as they say. There is just something slimy about margarine and these days there are some very good non-dairy spreads about, but they all have that greasy slimy feel on the tongue… which is strange because butter is just dairy fat so why it is different maybe only a chemist could tell you!

We have butter at home, although we do also have ‘softer’ butter too –  spreadable but made from 100% milk products. I bake with a margarine, like my mum did, but butter goes into mashed potato, onto vegetables and to fry some things, like mushrooms. We use olive oil too, lots and lots – possibly too much…

I can’t now remember what made me think of butter this morning, but I had the phrase ‘better with a bit of butter‘ in my head; on looking it up I found there was a rhyme about ‘Betty bought a bit of butter‘ or ‘Betty Botter bought a bit of butter‘. I’d never heard of it but found it came from a rhyme written by the American poet and writer Carolyn Wells  who was born in 1862 and lived to be eighty. Her rhyme was eventually included in the Mother Goose collection –

Betty Botta bought some butter;
“But,” she said, “this butter’s bitter!
If I put it in my batter
It will make my batter bitter.
But a bit o’ better butter
Will but make my batter better.”
Then she bought a bit o’ butter
Better than the bitter butter,
Made her bitter batter better.
So ’twas better Betty Botta
Bought a bit o’ better butter.

Someone called Sam Robertson wrote this version:

This is Sam Robertson’s version.

Betty Botta bought a bit of bitter butter and she put that bitter butter in her batter and it made her batter bitter so Betty Botta bought a bit of better butter and she put that bit of better butter in her bitter batter and it made her bitter batter better

But I guess many people will always think of this version: