The mother had been sweating in the kitchen for absolutely hours. She might have an Irish name, but she was half Indian. No silly, not a Red Indian, an Indian from India – where they make the curries. Mind, she doesn’t half tick us off when we call it ‘curry’. “That’s the English for you, making up a word for something to suit themselves…” But I digress.
It was Easter, and she’d decided she was going to do something a bit unusual for the gathering of the clans this year. We’d usually have one of those them there roast dinners, y’know, with all the trimmings. Me own personal favourite was beef, for then she’d do her most marvellous Yorkshires. We all go on at her to do Yorkshires with all roast meats, but she’s a stickler for tradition is the mother, which is why we’d all been surprised when she announced that this year, she was doing a Raan of Lamb.
OK, so we’d no idea what that meant, but it sounded exotic and decidedly unroast-like… but it turned out to be a roast, if with a twist. Quite a big twist to be sure, for there’d not be the usual roast trimmings. Not only no Yorkshires, but no roast potatoes either. Cue much complaining from the lads, but the mother, she stood firm, and Himself was having none of our complaining – so Raan of Lamb it was to be.
The night before there’d been a veritable hive of activity in the kitchen. Of course, she’d been cooking our dinner as usual, but she was also muttering about “double work” and “lazy feckers” meaning us, I s’pose. Busy chopping onions, and grinding spices – a whole load of spices – the kitchen was positively fragrant. The leg of lamb was huge, and if you’d not known better, your mouth would be watering at the thought of the roasties and homemade mint sauce – for the mother had quite the splendid herb garden, and the mint was starting to run rampant, as it’s wont to do. But the smell of those spices put paid to any thoughts of mint sauce.
When she finally came and sat down with us, I went to the fridge to grab us lads some beers – not daring to face her grumbling while she’d been still hard at work. Except there was nary a beer to be seen, for the entire centre of the fridge was filled with what I could only assume was the leg o’ lamb. It was in the biggest dish I’d ever seen and the fridge fair stunk of spices. Just as I’d been thinking about expressing my views on the subject, Himself appeared in the kitchen, giving me what I think is called an old fashioned look, excepting it was rapidly following with “Pub?” and a raised eyebrow. I was quick to nod and went to the hallway to get my coat, where I’d found my brothers also ready to go. “G’night m’darling” he called back to the mother, and we’d headed off into the night.
Unsurprisingly, we’d been back late that night, and us lads were up late in the morning. We found that same hive of activity in the kitchen, but it was mostly veg prep, for apparently the lamb was already in the oven. “Feck’s sake!” said I, for while it was a big leg, it was no turkey, but apparently it needed four hours. No full breakfast for us that morning, so we’d been forced into kidnapping the toaster, a big loaf of bread, a pat of butter and some jam. The mother allowed us to make ourselves mugs of tea before she shooed us firmly out of the kitchen.
I was forced to admit that the smells from the kitchen were quite something, and I was rapidly warming to the mother’s strange decision. As the aunts arrived, one after the other they exclaimed in surprise, hurrying into the kitchen to talk to their sister. A couple were out again pretty darn fast – it later transpired they’d been foolish enough to be less than complimentary about the proposed menu, so were lumbered with laying the table – usually a chore the lazy menfolk were tasked with.
Fortunately, Himself had picked up several bags of ice when he’d got up that morning, and there were a couple of tin tubs in the garden filled to the brim with ice, beers, soft drinks, and some white wine for the mother and her sisters. It seemed only right and proper that we menfolk dispense them, and we set about our task with vigour.
When we finally got to sitting down, the mother and her sisters came swooping from the kitchen bearing dishes. The lamb – obviously – bore pride of place, right at the head of the table in front of Himself, who always did the carving. He’d spent time earlier that morning sharpening his carving tools, and was soon making short work of the moist leg. It looked like any other leg of lamb, it was only the smell and the accompaniments which gave a clue as to the different gastronomic experience we were set for.
While Himself did the carving, the mother was holding court at the other end of the table about the cooking. She told proudly about the multiple stages – first, about rubbing salt and chilli powder into the leg and leaving it to absorb for half an hour. While that was happening, she’d set to grating a fair amount of garlic and ginger, then rubbed that all over the lamb for an overnight marinade. Just as I was thinking that must’ve been the time when I’d tried to get us lads a beer, I realised the mother wasn’t done with the tale of the cooking of the lamb – oh no – for in the morning, multiple spices – cumin, coriander, clove, cinnamon and cardamom, plus the less exotic additions of peppercorns and a bay leaf, were added to the water in that there huge dish she’d invested in for the cooking stage of this mega extravaganza. Over the course of the next four hours, she’d had to turn the leg over hourly and baste it. The final touch was an anointing of butter and masala before a quick grilling to crisp it up.
There was an outburst of appreciative noises and comments praising the mother for her willingness to carry out all this work, but she wasn’t done yet – oh no. Next came the accompaniments, which kept her busy for the four hours while the leg was roasting slowly in the oven. She rambled on a bit about spiced carrots, as well as the dish of savoy cabbage, broccoli and them cute little sugar snap peas, all of which she’d cooked in chilli and lime, but what made my ears perk up was what she’d done with the potatoes – I mean, c’mon, what Irishman doesn’t love a potato? She called them Gunpowder Potatoes, and even I could see they were something special. After boiling them small new potatoes, they’d been set to grilling till they were crispy and brown all over. Multi-tasking, as ever, the mother had managed some last minute spice roasting – cumin, coriander with the addition of fennel this time – all of which got mixed in with butter, chopped fresh coriander and green chilis. Halving the potatoes, they got well chucked about in the spicy butter, before the final flourish of salt and squeezed lime juice.
Now, we’re a noisy bunch – usually you’d have to fight for an opening in the conversation. But not this time. This time there was complete silence, as every member of the family shovelled as much of the mother’s glorious food into their mouths. Finally, Himself put down his eating irons and expressed what we’d all been thinking “This is a triumph m’darling, an absolute triumph!” And he was right. We’ll be talking about this meal for a long time to come, for sure.
With thanks to Dishoom for details on the dish my mother cooked for the family one memorable Easter many years ago.
© Debra Carey, 2021
“Steady! You’ll do yoursel’ a mis-cheef, eating like that.”
The stranger came up for air, relish and fragments of pickles caught in his already filthy beard. He grinned, teeth gleaming in the middle of a face tanned dark by the strong sun and fringed by curtains of drooping moustache.
“These may just be the best fries I’ve ever had!” Another handful went the way of half the burger and the two large cokes that had been drunk while waiting for the food. Chet looked at him dubiously from his seat at the diner counter. A regular, he came here for his lunch pretty much every day, but if there’d been another diner anywhere nearby, he’d have been over there like a shot.
“Have you actually eaten fries before, son?” Chet asked, barely managing to keep his surprise contained.
“Oh yeah – but I’ve not eaten in a while.”
“It shows” Chet said dryly. He took a sip of his coffee. “But in that case, best to take it slow. Won’t do your body no good to try and make up for it all at once.”
“That’s right”, said Joe, the owner of the diner. “My grandpappy, he landed on D-Day you know – “
“We know” chorused the handful of locals, in unison.
“Well after that, he was in the –“
“The group that liberated the death camps. We may have heard this story one or two hun’erd times before Joe, from your granpappy hi’self, as well as from your Pa.”
“Well” Joe humphed “He was and he did, and what he always said was that there were folks who died when they got their first solid meal, ‘cos their bodies couldn’t cope.”
The stranger grimaced. “Ok. I’ll slow down a bit. I’ll have another burger when you’re ready, and I’ll follow that up with…” He looked up at the board “…a slice of the pie o’ the day, and after that a stack of waffles and syrup. “
By the time the second burger arrived at the table the first had been completely demolished. Most people roundabouts would probably have left the limp lettuce, but even this had been devoured.
“You sure ‘bout that pie? And the waffles? You really got space for them?” Joe asked, concern etched into his face. “You ain’t gonna be sick or n’thin’?
“Your man may be right, I should pace myself, but yeah, I deffo have space for pie and waffles. I got dumped in the middle of nowhere and I haven’t eaten anything that you’d call food in a week. Mebbe I could borrow some scissors or summat and tidy up a bit whilst I let things settle?”
Joe eyed him suspiciously. “If’n you got dumped somewhere, you got the moolah to pay for all this?”
“Yeah, I can pay. Do you want me to settle up in advance?” The stranger pulled out his wallet. “Do you take card? I’d prefer to keep the cash for when I really need it.”
If the folks in the diner, had extra eyes, all of them would have pointed his way.
Joe disappeared out back and returned with some supplies. “Here you go. Scissors, my own razor, but I’ve put in a clean blade, and here are some spare clothes. Toss yours out and I’ll put them through the wash for ya.”
“That’s mighty decent. Thanking you. I might have cash, but life hasn’t been that easy of late, and I appreciate the kindness.” The stranger disappeared towards the washroom.
“Don’t clog up the sink!” Joe called after the retreating figure.
When he came out of the washroom, he looked real spruce, if a bit funny where he’d lost the beard and the tan met skin that had not seen the same intense sun. He sat back down and picked up where he’d left off, his fork digging deep into the slice of cherry pie, sweet-crust pastry crumbling into the filling as it spilled out on the plate. He watched for a few moments as the butter melted into the waffles and then poured amber syrup like condensed sunlight over them. Amazingly, these he ate too, polishing off the lot whilst he sipped a cup of coffee.
“And that’s all I know officer! He asked for a cup of coffee to take away, settled up, and then went left…Oh he did ask if this was the road to Amarillo, and Chet gave him some directions. I think he said something about trying to get bus.”
© David Jesson, 2021