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A jug

"As cooks, we hang on to some implements for vast periods of time ... What starts out as a mere functional tool, through time becomes something quite important." Nick Baines - The Guardian

Today is the day of the local wine/book group Christmas party, and as has now become traditional my contribution to the feast will be baklava. It's easy, impressive, delicious and feeds a crowd. Besides they always ask for it.

Part of the process of making baklava, and, actually the most enjoyable part, is pouring the cool syrup over the hot baklava. There's lots of bubbling and hissing. For this I use the jug shown here - I photographed it with its matching gravy boat and the bubbling syrup.

They are the only two pieces left from a partial dinner set that was given to David and I when we got married. It wasn't quite a complete set, and it wasn't new - it was a cast off. Although I have to say it saved us for quite a while. Why was it a cast off and not a brand new gifted set? Well we had a very tiny wedding. We only invited the immediate members of our family - parents and siblings. We had decided that although we would have also liked to invite our close friends, we realised that if we did this we would probably offend all the relatives. And if we invited all the relatives, the numbers would be large, expectation of the full wedding experience would be high and costs would rocket. Since neither we, my parents, nor David's mother had lots of money we baulked at the idea and decided to opt for the tiny version. But I think all the same we offended some of the relatives and there was no wedding list at Habitat, or a table for gifts at the reception.

For there was no reception. Well not quite true. David's brother hosted drinks at his tiny flat for the wedding guests. The flat was lavishly decorated with pink roses, the petals of which I have saved all these years. They sit by my bed in a soapstone box bought for me by David on one of his business trips. The drinks and conversation flowe with much hilarity and joy - and then David and I went off for dinner at Quo Vadis, a little worse for wear drink wise, and the rest of the family went out for dinner elsewhere.

But as usual I digress. Back to wedding gifts. I still have three - truth to tell I don't remember having many more - other than a bed - long gone, from my parents. My aunt Freda gave me a set of Crown Corning Stainless steel/aluminium saucepans which were much more stylish than any today and which are still perfectly good and as clean as the day I had them. Well done Freda. And still in use in our Guest house/granny flat. My aunt Nora gave me a wooden salad bowl and servers. In the end we had to cut it down in size - it was a deep and narrow one - because I religiously wiped it out with paper towels rather than washing it, and over time it became so saturated with oil that it cracked. Our 'best' stainless steel cutlery set is also still in use occasionally although not everyday because it has pointed ends to the handles which have a tendency to slip through the cutlery basket in the dishwasher. To tell the truth - we may have bought this ourselves but with my mother's help on a discount because she worked at John Lewis at the time. Or maybe it was a gift from David's mother - I don't remember.

But back to the jug. I use this jug just once a year these days - for the baklava. Although in years gone by I used it for the Christmas gravy. And yes I know I also had a gravy boat but that was never big enough and so the jug was pressed into service too. For the sauce for kebabs as well - also too much for the gravy boat. However, I have now bought a capacious plain white Maxwell and Williams one and so my blue jug has become redundant. Indeed I don't really need it for the baklava but it does the job so well and I cling to it for nostalgic reasons. I tried to take a picture of me pouring the syrup over the baklava, but didn't quite make it. Almost!

It is not a really high class jug, but it is from a long established Staffordshire pottery - Ridgway - established back in 1792, It was a family firm that split into several different companies, and was eventually bought by Royal Doulton - well part of it anyway. My jug has chips on the base and a fairly bad chip at the base of the handle, which worries me every time I pick it up. I always fear that the handle will break - particularly when it is full.

The design is called Conway and I gather you could also get it in a rather dull green. And we did have elements of the whole set - there may be a teapot somewhere - possibly in the Gatehouse - our guest house/granny flat. But most of it was given away a long time ago.

Jugs like this do not seem to exist these days. It is described as a milk/custard jug I see. Perhaps we don't have milk in jugs any more, or if we do they are a different shape - taller and thinner. As for custard, I'm not sure people eat custard with their puddings any more. I know you can buy custard, so obviously it still exists, but I suspect more as an ingredient than as something you douse your apple tart with. So why do I hang on to it?

Well because of its memories. It and the dinner set were given to us by David's Aunt Sheila - not a blood aunt - the wife of his mother's brother. Sheila was a good friend to David's mother and one year, a few months before the birth of our first child they came for a long visit. A couple of months perhaps. I still remember sitting down to our first meal together and Sheila saying very firmly - "I like my food dry dear". Which meant no French casseroles stews and daubes, no Indian curries, no stews of any kind. We were secretly appalled, and when they eventually went home I remember eating curry almost every day for a week or so. Sheila was a very dominant woman, although kind at heart. And she did pitch in. It was one of our drought years and she and Bobby (David's mother) spent ages watering our garden with buckets of water. No hoses were allowed. I also remember her taking charge of my most difficult lady guest at a business party I threw at home once. An interesting lady. Here we are - me looking appalling in a dreadful dress, with Sheila in the middle and David's mother on the right. Awkwardly posing with a tree in our garden.

This has been a real ramble. Apologies. It was just that getting out that very old-fashioned jug brought back those memories, and see, it has contributed to making new ones, and establishing new traditions like the Wild Cherry Drive Christmas baklava. So I really can't throw it out quite yet. Perhaps if that handle does one day break off it will go.

I have several items like this lurking in rarely opened drawers. I really should declutter, but can't quite make myself do it. Why I can't throw out this jug is a bit of a mystery. As I said, it reminds me of Aunt Sheila - not an easy person. I was rather daunted by her, and although my memories of my wedding are very happy and warm, nevertheless I am also a bit sorry that we seem to have upset so many people over it all.

But look it all turned out very well in the end, the jug still has uses every now and then, and the baklava will be very popular.


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