10 August: St Lawrence - Patron Saint of Cooks

'Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks'

Lin Yutang (1895-1976)

Until I was four years old I lived in Atwick on the East Yorkshire coast; down Church Lane next to St Lawrence’s Church. I go back to Atwick often to take flowers to my Dad who rests under the sycamore trees in the churchyard. What I did not know until recently, is that St Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks! That makes me feel even more connected to him. Legend says he was roasted alive on a gridiron, although my Penguin Dictionary of Saints says it is more likely he was beheaded. Nasty, whichever way he met his end.

All my earliest memories are of events that took place within a few hundred yards of St Lawrence, and there are family stories from here too. Near the church is ‘Alley Well’ (a corruption of Holy Well) - it’s a pond surrounded by irises and butter burr. Sometime in the 1890s my great grandfather Tom Smith, came back from market rather the worse for wear, and took a tumble from his horse into the pond. He couldn’t get out, so he shouted for one of his daughters, my Great Aunt Bella who was at home at Church Farm, about half a mile away. She heard him and came and hauled him out. It’s a story that says a lot about the peacefulness of the countryside before the internal combustion engine.

So here’s a recipe from Alice Burgess’s hand written cookery book. She was the cook at ‘The Hall’ when she was only eighteen, some fifty five years before she became my Grandmother. I wonder if she had the recipe from her mother Frances Hewson, or her mother Jane Smith or even her mother Mealiha Bridges. Anyway - it’s from one of them, and it’s for all of them. Look over your shoulder and think of all the women who came before you and cooked for their families - you wouldn’t be here without them.

Eggs in Cases

‘Grease some ramakin (sic) cases, put in each a piece of butter with a small pinch of parsley, some pepper and salt and cayenne. Break an egg into each case, add a teaspoonful of grated Parmesan Cheese and sprinkle with baked bread crumbs. Put the cases in the oven for about five minutes and serve.’

So I dug out my ramekin dishes, decided they were too big and used an egg coddling pot bought from a charity shop instead. I got the best, biggest, freshest eggs I could. The parsley was from the garden and I toasted some bread crumbs in a frying pan first. I also made some toast soldiers to dunk. Then I did as I was told. Wonderful - simple, comforting, delicious. Thank you Grandma.

'Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,

Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;

Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile

The short and simple annals of the Poor.'

From ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ by Thomas Gray


Gerry Snape said...

What a joy...farming family stories, saints, food and poetry. ...and the old recipes!Wonderful.

Emmalene said...

Wonderful post Liz- thanks for giving us a little family history..how interesting. And happy St Lawrence day to all you cooks out there...