Years back I spend some time in the UK. It was the year when the Dutch won the World soccer Cup or was it the Euro Cup? I was staying in London’s Sheppard Bush not far from the station. I took the train to the City several times. My fellow travellers were not the most boisterous and generally an icy silence prevailed. Life seemed grim or perhaps my fellow travellers were worried about losing their ‘privacy status’, a much beloved characteristic of so many that are brought up fearing what we might think of each other if we give in to spontaneity and exuberance.
During that stay, I took the train North-East to Yorkshire and stayed in Whitby with a very hospitable and jovial friend whom we had met earlier in Australia. She was a retired magistrate whose professional life in the past dealt with many cases of juvenile offenders steeped in petty crime. Petty crime was rampant at the time and she feared the worst for the future of England. Perhaps that was the reason for the silence on trains. Before going to Whitby I was told it was the only place in the world where kippers were still being smoked naturally. The first thing after arriving at Whitby I visited the kipper smoking factory. It coincided with a group of excitable Japanese tourists doing the same thing. They were taking close-up shots of each other holding up smoked kippers against the backdrop of the ruin of Whitby Abbey.
Smoke was embedded into me at birth. It was the first thing that greeted my tiny nostrils after my mother pushed me out. August 1940; Rotterdam was still smouldering but through sheer luck our street was spared from the nasty bombing raids. Over seventy years later, I am still here waxing about smoked kippers at Whitby. Life can be so wonderful.
It was some years after that auspicious but smoky birth that my parents introduced us kids to the hearty and nourishing delights of huge portions of pea soup with smoked sausage (rookworst). If ever I remember childhood foods it would have to be that dish. It was a simple dish. Mum would soak the peas overnight and boil them up with a couple of potatoes the next day. The smoked sausage, still steaming from having been brought to the boil, would triumphantly be put on the table by father; almost Moses like as if bringing us the Ten Commandments from a thunderous Mount Sinai. He would then ceremoniously cut the sausage in many portions and dear mum would make sure we all got an equal number of Rookworst pieces on our soup plates with the thick slurry of pea-soup ladled over it, drowning out the sausage pieces.
I distinctly remember the fart fests that all the boys, three or four of them, would engage in afterwards. I suppose the bedroom was the birthplace and possibly one of the first smoking facilities, now being rekindled in Whitby by my obstinate memories so many decades later.
Back now at Whitby kippers factory we bought a couple of kippers and I offered to make a pasta dish from them. After arriving back at my friend’s place I cut a brown onion, fried it up and added the fleshy kippers together with a bit of oil, some chili powder and pinch of sugar. Boiled the pasta, added the kipper sauce and bingo, a beautiful dish. She offered afterwards to take me out for ‘pudding’. Taking and going somewhere for ‘pudding’ in Yorkshire really means a visit to a café for a nice cup-o-tea and a piece of cake. It was lovely.
I remember it well.