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COLIN'S COOKERY COLUMN

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Recipe Number Fifteen April 2004

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It was a few weeks ago, on our day off, that Mrs R. and yours truly were sitting in the kitchen at home. Mrs R. was reading the local paper and apart from a few smiles and the occasional titter when she read a bit of news that she seemed to enjoy there wasn't a lot going on. I had just finished my third cup of coffee and thought it would be a perfect afternoon for a spot of pike fishing. There was no way that Mrs R. could have heard my excuse that would get me out of the house and down to the riverbank.

ď I think I will just take the dog for a walk. Itís a nice afternoon so I might just take a rod with me. The walk will do us both a bit of good. OK with you?Ē Mrs R. never even looked up from her newspaper. ďOK, don't be too long,Ē she replied.

It was only as I was loading the car with my fishing gear that she appeared at the window. The gist of what was said and what I made it out to be was that we don't have a dog; but by then it was too late. I had started the car and was heading down the drive of Rushmore Towers and towards a river that I fished many years ago as a lad. Once at the river bank I set up my rod armed with a nice sardine on the hooks, supported off the bottom by a good size pike float. The idea was to let this slowly trot down the river in the current, thus hoping that a hungry Mr or Mrs pike would at any time shoot out and grab my well presented bait.

Slowly I started walking along the river bank, and after a while having proudly walked a mile or so I found myself on a part of the river that made me stop and think. Just around the next bend in the river was where, fifty years odd years ago, I would have sat fishing on a Sunday afternoon come rain or shine with my dear old uncle Bill. If I remembered correctly we called that part of the river the pigsties.  Slowly I climbed over the gate that would allow me to fish the pigsties once again. They say that smells can trigger off memories of the past. This could not have been closer to the truth, as I slowly trotted the float down the river the sweet scent of the pigsties drifted across the fields. This was, after fifty years, the place that my childhood days were spent on a Sunday afternoon. Uncle Bill at one point had been a well known match fisherman and was a good teacher. Armed with what must have then been the best in fishing gear, a split cane rod, a handmade feather quill float and a cocoa tin of maggots, life on the river bank on a Sunday afternoon with uncle Bill was heaven for a young boy at the time. I was, in those few moments, transported back in time to my childhood, and the school holidays, my thoughts of my friends of the time and the tricks that we got up to. The summer of 1955 was a long hot summer, and the days seemed to last for ever, and time to head for home after a day out with the gang was only determined by the fact that you were starving. Roger known to many as dodger, Barry, Clive, Sam and yours truly were if fact the Black Hand Gang, the reason for being call this I will explain later, well known as a gang from North Lynn. Our patch was probably only a mile or so from our houses and included a farmerís corn field in which we had made a den of flattened corn (maybe we in the 1950ís were the start of crop rings) and once built we were only to be ousted when the farmer decided to cut the field thus leaving us without a daily meeting place. One of the things that seemed to be top of our list for young boys at the time was to do with fires and on one warm summerís day we decided to light a fire and see how long we could keep it alight. The fire was to be inspected on a daily basis, each member of the black hand gang was given the task of adding logs to the fire; but it was after day nine that Roger the dodger let the side down, and failed to do his duty. His excuse was that he had to go shopping with his mum. After we were evicted from the corn fields summer residence, the gang had a meeting and it was decided that my grandfatherís rabbit shed would be our new meeting place. This in my mind would be very risky as grand father made regular trips to feed his rabbits, and the thoughts of five boys and forty or so rabbits running wild around a small shed, must be doomed to failure.

There were always plenty of things to be doing and one of the things I remember was the gangís love for producing trolleys or go-karts. Each member was given instructions that any pram wheels that were going spare, must be obtained at all costs for the production of the finest trolley that the Black Hand could construct. Often when pram wheels became short in supply old discarded bike wheels would have to be used instead. So with the use of six inch nails, a few planks of reclaimed wood, and an old tea chest mounted on a frame plus a few yards of motherís linen line that we had pinched, which would be used to steer, we would test drive the mark two or it was often mark three; only for it to be scrapped and returned to the drawing board, after a high speed trial down a steep hill, for the reconstruction of the new trolley namely mark four.

Hedge walking was another thing that kept the gang amused. This entailed being lifted up into one of the eight foot hedges that ran around the north Lynn allotments and once all of us were aboard the hedge the idea was to walk along the middle with out falling out. It all seemed like good fun at the time, but as Clive found out to his embarrassment, this should never be attempted when you are wearing very short trousers. The Black Hand Gang I suppose got its name from its love of baking potatoes in the hot embers of many of the fires that we lit. Potatoes were gathered from grandfatherís potato store and placed in the hot fire. As young boys we had not got a clue regarding how long potatoes would take to cook, so the potatoes were removed and tested on a very regular basis, thus giving us the name of the Black Hand Gang as after a meal of half cooked potatoes the gangís hands were often noticed to be in a very black condition.

At that very point my memories of the warm summer of 1955 came to an abrupt end, the pike float slid out of sight and under the water; I in turn gave the rod a good hard strike and the pike was on. All thoughts of the Black Hand Gang were gone from my mind and I was back in the present time with only one thought of landing the fish. After ten minutes and a good fight the pike was brought slowly to the net, a good fish slightly over twenty pounds. Holding the fish in my arms, I thought a fish of this size and weight, could it be that this pike was alive in the days of the Black Hand Gang????

Grandmotherís Special Biscuits

I don't know that grandfather ever found out that we used his rabbit shed as a den. If he did, he never said a word: maybe because the Black Hand Gang had its uses. Chopping logs ready for the winter, and digging the vegetable plot over, these were just a few of the many things that five young boys would be more than willing to do, especially on Grandmotherís baking day. All the gang knew, including grandfather, that she had not perfected her recipe for rock cakes and we all agreed to give them a wide berth, but we all agreed that she did make great biscuits. I now make these for the restaurant, they are based on a Viennese biscuit recipe and we serve them in place of a wafer with ice cream.

MAKES ABOUT 20 BISCUITS:

Itís really easy to do: just take 2oz of icing sugar and 8oz of softened salted butter, please note the butter must be salted, and place in a blender. Cream this together until its light and fluffy, then add slowly 8oz of plain flour and blend well. Thatís the biscuit mix ready for you to pipe out on to a tray thatís being lined with non-stick baking paper. Pipe out the mixture in 2inch strips leaving plenty of room between each one as they will spread out a bit. They should be baked for 10 to 15 minutes, in an oven set at gas 4 or 350F. After say 10 minute, keep a eye on them as they have a habit of burning and turning a bit black, of course this was never a problem for the Black Hand Gang.
 
Colin Rushmore

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