The Cliffys, 2nd place

Robin Fitzherbert’s My Childhood Kitchen was a big hit with the judges for our inaugural Cliffy Awards, a short story writing competition in honour of the Diary’s founder, Cliff Green (pictured). We hope you enjoy it ~ the Diary team.

MY CHILDHOOD KITCHEN – by Robin Fitzherbert

It was blue and cream, all wood with a wooden plate rack on the wall over the sink. In the corner of the kitchen was a large brick fireplace where the old slow combustion stove used to be. Mum had removed the old stove because Grandpa nearly burned the house down a few times. He’d leave the furnace door open to get more heat, but being deaf he didn’t hear logs falling out onto the wooden floor, where they would smoulder for hours.

A new GE electric stove was installed under the window facing the side fence. It wasn’t the best place for a stove, but it was the only place available. The curtain near the stove was always charred along the bottom where Mum had been a bit careless with the cooking.

In winter, Mum did most of the cooking in a pressure cooker and the ceiling above the stove was splattered with stains as the pressure cooker exploded with regular ferocity. I was scared of the pressure cooker and when Mum was using it I tried not to go into the kitchen until the noise and spluttering died down. It occurred to me, many years later that Mum didn’t really understand quite how pressure cookers worked. I have never owned one as I’m still scared of them.

The other kitchen window faced up the front path and I loved this window because you could sit and watch the world go by. Our road was the main road and all cars, buses and delivery trucks in and out of Warrandyte going to and from the city passed by our house. My Grandpa bought this house specifically because the bus stopped just outside. As we didn’t have a car until 1955, it was necessary to have public transport handy.

Bill McCulloch was our postman and he rode a large white horse called Silver to deliver the mail. Sometimes he rode down the driveway and down the steps to the front porch before he blew his whistle. As this gigantic white horse loomed ever closer I hid under the blue laminex table, just in case he had a mind to bring the great thing into the house. Fear and fascination gripped me in equal measure.

Our laminex table was the hub of our kitchen. Everything was done on this table from preparing meals, dining, mincing left over cold roast meat, cutting sewing patterns, dressing wounds, playing cards, doing homework and anything else you could think of. Grandpa had bought the latest chrome chairs that didn’t actually have legs. The chrome was bent into an “S” shape and the chairs were very bouncy. My brother and I loved to rock back and forth on them, even though we weren’t supposed to. We spent many hours sitting at this table as we were not allowed to leave until our meal was finished – every last over pressure-cooked morsel.

The windows were hung with curtains that were thick enough to keep in the warmth in winter and the heat out in summer. The material had a cream background with a blue jug pattern and they were hung on big blue curtain rings over a wooden rod.

Mum and her friend Kath would sit on hot summer days, with curtains drawn against the heat, playing cards while I played on the floor. Through gaps at the edges of the curtains shafts of sunlight would strike the walls or the fridge and I marveled at the patterns they made. It was the most peaceful of times.

On the other wall at right angles to the stove was the sink with some bench space on either side. One bench was charred and black with a crater in the centre where the kettle had burned out more than once. High above the sink were built-in cupboards. They were so high they could only be reached (apart from the first shelf) by climbing on a chair and then onto the bench. My brother and I became mountain goats and no matter how much Mum tried to hide goodies in the top shelves, we always found them.

My brother had a real sweet tooth and maintains to this day that he was sweet deprived as a child. He would eat packets of jelly crystals. I don’t know why Mum bought them, as she never made any jelly. She didn’t approve of such “junk” food. They were probably for “just in case”. That was Mum’s usual reason for having anything that she considered out of the ordinary.

The Christmas when I was nearly 11, Mum bought a new fridge. This was not just an ordinary fridge. This fridge came with a Christmas hamper. A few weeks before Christmas the fridge arrived, and with it a large cardboard box, marked “Christmas Hamper”. What jubilation.

My brother and I gathered around Mum as she opened the box. She pulled out a tinned ham, a Christmas cake, biscuits, bottles of wine, lollies, soft drinks, toys and so much more that I cannot remember. But the thing I remember the most was the Christmas pudding in the blue earthenware bowl, which I still have – just the bowl, not the pudding.

Christmas puddings were fraught with angst in our house. Mum was a fair to good cook, but she couldn’t make Christmas pudding to save her life. It was the fault of that stupid bloody pressure cooker. The last Christmas pudding Mum ever attempted came out literally, hard as a rock. My brother was mortified because it was stuffed to the gunnels with threepences and sixpences.

However my brother came up with a creative solution that is now folklore in our family. The pudding was placed in the chook pen and he spent the next week sitting with the chooks, watching and waiting for the next coin to be revealed as the chooks diligently pecked away at it. My brother has always had patience when it comes to money.

Mum was pleased too as she never liked to waste good food.