Posts Tagged ‘Molly Ellis’

Diabetes is in my family.

My mother, Molly–who’d be 96 today–died of a diabetes-related heart attack at 9 a.m. on December 2nd 1982, while dressing to go shopping. Perhaps a good way to go–but hard for the rest of us. She was 68.

She developed Type 1 diabetes in the early fifties–the result, we were told, of shock at the sudden death of her own mother at our home in north London. Molly was in her mid-thirties. Diabetes was in her family–her Uncle Harry had it.

Enough was known about the disease by then to allow her another thirty years of life–she would often cite  Drs. Banting and Best (http://nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/insulin/discovery-insulin.html ) as her saviours, for their ground breaking work on insulin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin).

When she was pregnant with my youngest brother Jack, the doctors at St. Thomas’ Hospital over the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, were uncertain whether to allow the pregnancy to continue. They went ahead–praise the Lord!–and Jack Ellis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Ellis_%28actor%29) thrives to this day!

She injected insulin twice a day for the rest of her life without any song and dance. I was in awe.

From time to time she would have what she called a”reaction“.

This usually happened as result of a low blood sugar level.

If she hadn’t got her insulin balance quite right–at a cocktail party perhaps (this was the fifties!), she’d start acting strangely, sometimes appearing to be the worse for drink. My father would delve into her handbag for the lump of sugar he knew was there and with some difficulty persuade her to swallow it.

At first it struck us ignorant kids as odd that a person whose body couldn’t absorb sugar normally would swallow some to save her from a coma or worse!

These “reactions” would occasionally occur in the middle of the night–a real danger. Miraculously my father always woke up in time to administer the sugar lump–though a couple of times I remember Ma being taken by ambulance to St. Thomas’ in a comatose state.

Witnessing first hand the damage diabetes could inflict, I needed no persuading to take it seriously when my diagnosis came a dozen years ago.

Ma set a great example. She was steadfast, brave and determined to enjoy life–despite her difficulties.


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This recipe–inspired by one we ate at our friends and neighbours Julie and Richard–reminds me of meals round the kitchen table at home in the fifties. It’s simple and inexpensive and would possibly stretch to a second meal–important factors for my mother, with a husband and  three children to feed and limited means.

Nevertheless she could be an adventurous cook. The dishes she tasted on the trips to Europe we enjoyed as a family with Dad’s concessionary rail tickets (he worked for the LMS–London Midland and Scotland), encouraged her to experiment in a modest way. Nothing very exotic about this–except its little kick from the chillies and the olives and peppers added at a later stage; comfort food really but none the worse for that.

She would would have celebrated her ninety sixth birthday this Saturday–so this is for her too.

Ma with a Morris dancer!--on 'is way to the 'obby 'oss festival perhaps..

100gm/4 oz  bacon/pancetta–diced small

3 sticks or a heart of celery– chopped small

1 medium onion–chopped small

1 clove of garlic–chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 free range chicken–cut into 8-10 pieces and washed and dried

1 sparse tablespoon flour–I use chickpea

125ml/4fl oz white wine

125ml/4fl oz of stock–I use organic vegetable stock cubes

8oz/250gms tinned tomatoes–chopped roughly

3/4 sprigs of rosemary

3 small fresh red chillies

1 red pepper–cut in thin strips

a handful of juicy black olives–stoned if you have the time

a handful of parsley–chopped

set the oven at 160c/320f

  • Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté  the onion, celery, bacon, and garlic gently for about 20 minutes allowing them to colour–concentrating the taste. Spoon the mixture into an oven-proof casserole.
  • Season the chicken pieces and heat another spoonful of oil in the frying pan.
  • Sauté them on a highish heat–turning them as they brown.
  • Transfer them to the casserole.
  • Tuck in the whole chillies and the rosemary sprigs and pour over the wine and the stock.
  • Sprinkle over the flour and add the wine and the stock.
  • Turn over the contents, cover the casserole and bring to a simmer on the stove.
  • Transfer it to the oven and cook for 30 minutes.
  • While this is in the oven, heat the third tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and gently sauté the strips of pepper.
  • Add these to the casserole with the olives after 30 minutes and cook, uncovered, for a further 15 minutes in the oven.
  • Sprinkle over the parsley and serve over brown basmati rice or quinoa

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This is my 50th post and it’s dedicated to my mother Molly [Weakford] Ellis–whose cooking on a small budget in the late forties and fifties was resourceful and inventive. From her I learned that it was worth spending a little time in the kitchen–not least because I got to lick the bowls!

The Ellis Family under the flowering cherry 1955

Her smoked mackerel paté has a fair amount of melted butter in it, but the oily mackerel is a healthy counter to it.

I like it best served on toasted rye bread.

She wrote the recipe out for me on the back of an envelope and miraculously I still have it.

Her flowing round hand is unmistakeable to me. Few of her written recipes survive, so I treasure this one.

It is very simple.

I made it this morning with the 8oz/250gms of mackerel bought last Saturday at the London Farmers’ market and reduced the other ingredient quantities accordingly….

(Tasting it for balance is a legitimate perk of the cook!)

The apple slices cut the richness of the paté.

Watch out though–it is more-ish!

Serve with lemon wedges.

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend–so “Thanks Ma!”

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