Thursday, 23 April 2020

How but in custom and in ceremony?

"... may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all's accustomed, ceremonious;
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?"

These lines, from Yeats' A Prayer for my Daughter have been playing on my mind these days.

The lockdown has banished two customs or ceremonies, two major sources of peace, rhythm and reverence in my personal life - wine at sundown, and solitary walks outdoors.

However, in all other respects, my daily life is far less affected than I would have thought it would be, even considering that I am in a new town, in a new house, with a comparatively new beloved and a blank future.

It has taken time to discover that my life path is in no way diverted by circumstances, however unwelcome or painful or just plain irritating these may be. The main reason for this is because I am still the same.

I grew up on home-cooked food. Just like her mother, my mother made everything from scratch. I have largely continued this custom. We never went out (my father considered it "money down the drain") and we never ate 'junk'.

The Second World War's consequences ingrained a 'waste not want not' practice of daily living into my grandparents, who transferred it to my parents, who transferred it to me.

It's nothing special, really. Millions of women, people all over the globe, will turn soft and spotty bananas into banana loaf, if given half a chance. I find that some grated lemon rind and ground cardamom seeds add a lovely fresh mystery to ordinary banana bread. My wrist works to the sound of the wooden pestle grinding and clacking against the mortar.

The original recipe I use comes from a primary school friend, a loyal soul I am still in contact with. I think of her when I use it. I think of the various people in my life who have purred while eating this bread.

One extra thing I learned - was it from my mother again? - is that if you beat the egg whites stiff first, in a separate bowl, and then add them to the dough at the very end, the mixture is given an extra dose of airiness, which persists into the final, baked bread. I thus follow this habit with much of my baking. It means there is an extra bowl to clean, but it's worth it.



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