Washing up

"until you turn them on, a dishwasher is just a cupboard you hide the mess in, it’s still a very handy cupboard." Jay Rayner


The inspiration for this post comes from an article in The Guardian newsletter written by this man - Jay Rayner - The Guardian and The Observer's restaurant critic and also food columnist. This article was about a battle fought in "the war of long marriage", over washing up as you cook, something he came to late - well later - in life. It's an amusing article if you have the time to spare to read it.


"Now, in my grey-bearded years, I have changed. I’m not just tidying as I go. I’m mopping and wiping and washing as I go. I am attempting to erase any record of any cooking having taken place, while actually cooking." Jay Rayner


Washing up as war - or at least a battle - is indeed a thing. In all manner of ways. Like hanging washing on the line. But I won't go into that one. Where to begin though? With the long marriage war - no battle - over washing up in our house or with a longer history of washing up in my entire life? Yes let's start at the beginning.


I was a post war child and we lived in a typical semi-detached suburban British house, with a separate kitchen at the back of the house. Not separate from the house - just separate from the dining room - well the room where we ate and did a whole lot of other things too. In the kitchen was a large stone pantry; a stand-alone gas stove with an eye-level grill; some battered metal - aluminium? - pots and pans hanging on the wall or perched on shelves; a tiny fridge - what we would now call a bar fridge and a laminated work bench. Almost as large as the pantry and next to it was the ceramic sink. This picture is the nearest to ours that I could find, but this one is rather more glamorous and new looking. Ours was old and a little bit chipped. I don't remember a draining board but there must have been one, because children were not always to hand to dry the dishes. There was, of course no dishwasher. But we children did help with the drying up and putting away tasks. We may even have washed up occasionally. The sink was very large, but I'm pretty sure that the dishes were actually washed in a bowl that was placed in the sink - to save on the hot water probably.


I do remember as a Brownie (the younger version of Guides) learning how to wash up. Start with the cleanest items - like glasses and gradually work through to the dirtiest ones. By which time the water would have been pretty dirty. And my mother would have taught me how to stack the dishes on the draining board as shown in the picture above. I don't remember a neat and tidy draining rack as shown here. However, as a rather young wife, I'm sure I would have had one. I even remember a somewhat inadequate one like that one at some point in my life. I have a rather better stainless steel one now.


So marriage. My lovely mother-in-law, as she proudly said, had trained David well. He was pretty domestic and has always been cleaner than I - which therefore means very, very clean, because I'm pretty clean myself. Tidy he is not though. However, he had obviously been taught that those who cooked never washed up and has stuck to that throughout our long marriage. When he was there of course, as late homecomings from work sometimes prevented this as the children had to be fed before he arrived home on occasions. But yes, I have been lucky in my man.

Well not always I suppose. There have been battles and also an evolution in how the washing up has been managed.


Back in the early days of our marriage, before children, when we lived in our tiny flats and our first home, we would entertain our friends fairly frequently. This led to late nights, some drinking, and a lot of dirty dishes. When everyone had gone home, we were very tired and so almost always left the dishes out overnight. I think we were quite good at leaving the dirtiest pots and pans to soak but that would have been it. Terrible to wake up to in the morning of course, but nevertheless it was a habit that didn't break for several years. The washing up exercise was a partnership though. He washed, I dried and put away. This pattern of behaviour also meant that I insisted on a separate kitchen in our first house so that I could hide the dirty dishes from the view of our guests.


Our second kitchen, however, had a kitchen open to a family room, although we were still able to hide the debris from our dinner guests because we had a separate 'formal' dining room. But now there were children - very small children who demanded attention in the morning, and there were increasingly semi-important business dinners at home. Business associates needed to be impressed and dirty dishes are not impressive. So the notion of a dishwasher was raised.


At first I was resistant. Now I am not quite sure why but David insisted and we have had a dishwasher ever since. Perhaps the thing that really won me over was what a brilliant job dishwashers do on glasses. Maybe not your Waterford crystal but we don't have any of them, and our wedding Orrefors glasses had long ago been broken. Now we just bought cheap ones. I did once buy two Riedel glasses for David though and was marginally appalled at the checkout, when I jokingly said that I guessed you didn't put these in the dishwasher. No he said - 'Really you should steam them"! Needless to say they don't get used very often and are very carefully hand-washed.


For virtually all of the working years, I managed the dishwasher and so I would scrape off the worst of the remains and load the dirty dishes. The pots and pans, unless ceramic or glass would be washed by hand. And when we had dinner parties I would stack the dishwasher as we went.


Then came retirement and the battle began, because David took over. Maybe it's old age or maybe it's just the length of the war, but we all seem to get ever more pedantic about the small stuff (and the big stuff sometimes too), don't we?. So now for our normal everyday washing up, David virtually washes the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. I will say no more, other than to note, that the battle/war spills over to fights with the younger generation too. Suffice to say they are very scornful of this practice (as am I - but I have more or less given up) - also of our use of microfibre cloths for washing up and cleaning surfaces, although I'm not quite sure what they would use instead. A battle I would like to avoid. And having just spent ten days with them on holiday in Port Douglas I have to say there would be battles on how to stack the dishwasher too.


Which reminds me that stacking the dishwasher when our children were young was one job that earnt pocket money. $1.00 a load I seem to remember. There are more stories there, but I will leave them to the family to chortle over.


But back to Jay Rayner's original tale of washing up as you go. I do this. I also try to use as few pots and pans and dishes as possible. I'm now not sure whether I have always done this, because I don't like mess. Although as I look around me at the moment as I type I see that my desk space is increasingly untidy - although untidy in an organised way. There are piles of sorted things rather than everything just scattered randomly everywhere. My kitchen is somewhat better I think.


And when cooking I try not to have too much of this sort of thing. I think my main secret weapon here is a sink filled with hot soapy water, so that items can be placed there when finished with, and then quickly washed and placed in the drying rack when a moment in the cooking process presents itself. The vegetable rubbish is dealt with by having the inside 'compost' bin in front of me as I cook. It's a metal bin from Aldi into which items for the compost bin can be placed. All praise to Aldi for this one. Ingredients from the store cupboard and fridge are also returned to their rightful place as soon as possible after use. And then when the cooking process is complete the dishes in and beside the sink are washed - and hey presto - cooking done and a clean kitchen.


"The fact is that uncontainable cooking messes are your workings in the margin; a symbol of what it took to pull it off. If you put plates of great food on the table for everyone to hoover up it’s always received gratefully, despite the explosion of greasy bowls and the tumbles of spice jars and vegetable peelings left across the work surfaces behind you. But how much better, how very much cooler and more elegant if your marvellous creations arrive and there’s no sign whatsoever of anything having happened to create them." Jay Rayner

The only problem is when we have guests to eat and David tries to take this a step further by washing up each course as we go - not just using the dishwasher to hide the mess. I have learned, mostly, to live with this over the years - surrender on my part. Some battles you just can't win.


Mostly though he's a hero in the kitchen. Thank you Bobby (his mother).

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