In the summer, the Cockneys used to travel from the East End of London to Kent, “the Garden of England”, to pick hops for the brewing industry. This was their summer holiday, in the days before disposable income and cheap flights. My father recalled serving them beer out of a trough, mug after mug after mug in quick succession. He grew up in rural Kent, surrounded by fields and allotments. People grew, picked, pickled, bottled, stored, and could only have been spurred on in this by World War 2 and the food rationing that followed, lasting years after the War itself had ended. When my paternal grandmother died, a comfortably well-off upper working-class woman at that point, with a well-maintained terraced house and a smart new car, the walk-in larder of the house was full of tins, most of them out-of-date. Even with the post-war plenty she kept a surplus safely on-hand, until it became beyond her ability to manage the stored supplies.
I have bits and pieces of her kitchen still, inherited after she died. I was going to university, having not lived independently before, and so it seemed a shame to get rid of the spare plates and pans, when I could get good use out of them. Twenty years later some of them have survived; two good metal saucepans, apparently indestructible despite my slow learning-curve as a cook. Some items of cutlery. Some plates and bowls with a sailing yacht motif (my grandfather was in the Navy and loved to sail). And a small white china dish, which my parents suggested I take as it “would be good to cook one-person dishes in”.
Two bleedin’ decades I have lugged this bloody dish around the country, and I finally cooked something today for which it was perfect, because I have limited fridge/freezer space so didn’t want to cook more than I could eat tonight, and as I wasn’t sure I could get the dish right (aubergines!!), I didn’t want to cook excess food that I might just end up filing directly into the bin.
This is sufficient for one person – scale up as necessary, and when it comes to putting the ingredients together to bake in the oven, layer as you would a lasagne etc.
Half an aubergine, sliced thinly
One small tin of plum or chopped tomatoes
One garlic clove, chopped
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
Handful of parmesan or vegan fakeasan
1 egg, beaten
salt and black pepper
Drop the aubergine slices into a colander, and salt. Leave for 30 minutes, then rinse well.
In a wok or shallow pan, mix the tomatoes, puree, garlic and some olive oil and heat quickly for a few minutes, covered. Then lower the heat, remove the lid and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
Pour some olive oil in a frying pan, then fry the aubergine slices until browned. Aubergine is an Oil Monster so place the cooked pieces on some kitchen towel, to drain off excess oil.
In a baking pan or dish, layer as follows; aubergine, tomato mixture, basil, parmesan/fakeasan, salt and pepper, aubergine, tomato mixture etc etc.
At the final layer, pour on the egg, then sprinkle parmesan/fakesan on top.
Bake in the oven at 200C for 20 minutes, until bubbling and browned.