Mum died ten years ago this year, and when it happened I was simply not prepared for the huge gap that it would leave in our lives. For years after she died I would stick a cake or a loaf in the oven on a Saturday afternoon (my traditional time for baking) and head straight for the phone to speak to her, to tell her what I was cooking and catch up on family news. Each time this happened I would find myself feeling her loss so keenly and longing to speak with her as the smell of baking surrounded me.
For me food and cooking is intrinsically linked to my mother. From my earliest memories of standing on a chair in the kitchen watching her trim an apple pie, press out scones or make a quick beef stew, I was the daughter who was most fascinated by the alchemy of cooking. What I loved about my mother’s approach to food was that although she was a great traditional home cook, thrifty, practical, skilled, she was also always willing to embrace and try something new. So along with the stews, and pies and baking, she was making curries in the 1960s, spicy stir fries in the 70s and rolling her own pasta in the early 80s. There would always be some interesting new ingredient turning up in the larder and she would cut recipes out of papers and magazines, study them, stick them on the fridge and read them aloud as she tried out new ingredients and techniques.
However, my recipe for Mothers’ day is not based on my Mum’s forays into more adventurous cuisines, but one of the simplest recipes that for her grandchildren, children and brothers is instantly recognisable as Sadie’s soup, Granny’s soup or Mum’s Soup. It makes it even more special that this recipe was passed down to her by her beloved Step-Mother Essie, who was a professional cook before she married my Grandfather. I have the large black enamel pot still that belonged to Essie. I don’t often use it to cook now, but it takes pride of place on the kitchen shelf above my cooker.
This is my Mum’s Lentil Soup. When I was a vegetarian for a while in my twenties Mum cooked this for us a lot. Only years later telling me that she had always used the ham water or chicken stock in order to preserve my health! The day after she died I decided to make this as we had a lot of people arriving in the house. It was the only time it ever went wrong – it was inedible. Luckily my Mum’s neighbours popped round with two platters of home-made vegetable pakoras and a lamb curry to save the day. To this day I have no idea why this simplest of soups did not work that day, but perhaps I was so numb with early grief that I was unable to cook with the ingredient that mattered most ….love.
Sadie Lavelle’s Lentil Soup
You will need:
- 2 onions
- 2 large sticks of celery
- 2 large carrots
- 1 large potato peeled
- A large handful of red lentils – give them a rinse them under cold water in a sieve.
- 3 large bay leaves
- 1 litre of stock, which can be vegetable, chicken or indeed “ham water”.
- A tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil
- Salt and white pepper
- A large saucepan
Roughly chop all the vegetables. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the vegetables and bay leaves. Lightly fry for about 5 minutes. Add the lentils, stir well and then add the stock. Bring to a rapid boil and let the soup boil hard for 10 minutes. At this point remove any foamy impurities from the surface with a spoon. Now reduce to a simmer for about 25 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and use a handheld processor to blitz the soup to a “not too smooth” consistency. Season to taste, but I do recommend a good pinch of white pepper for this soup.
Serve with lots of bread, butter, chatter round the table and some very happy memories.
Thanks Mum. Still feeding the family 10 years on x