What Sweetness Touched Your Tongue?


2018061720180623 (R4)

The poet Alison Brackenbury came across a black oilskin notebook that had belonged to her grandmother, Dorothy Eliza Barnes. Dot, born in 1894, was'in service', a cook to an Edwardian family. Later she married a Lincolnshire shepherd, moving from one remote cottage to another. Her role, her life, was to sustain her family - and feed men. The notebook is full of her recipes, for 'Aunt Margaret's Pudding', 'Flamberries Pudding' (what are flamberries is a mystery) and other steamed delights, but also vinegars, elderberry syrup (to cure colds), pork pie filling, wines, even embrocation.

Brackenbury was inspired to to write a sequence of poems in response to the recipes. In this programme we hear the poems and The Kitchen Cabinet's food historian, Dr Annie Gray, cooks, following the recipes. They are very evocative of Dot's era and her life. Helped by notes in the family Bible, family reminiscence and her own memories of her grandmother, Brackenbury uncovers a life that was full, marked by losses, long and fascinating. In the 1930s hungry itinerants came to the farm, looking for work, and Dot fed them. The birth of her fourth child almost killed her, and neighbours cooked and washed for her family, for weeks. Her husband was devoted to his work, 'married to the sheep'. Dot kept cooking to the end, dying with her shelves well stocked. She once remarked to her grand-daughter that what they said about the summer before the Great War was true, it was unusually beautiful, it could not last.

'What Sweetness Touched Your Tongue' is a culinary biography, a radio sketch of an era - in verse. A century on Alison Brackenbury, Dot's granddaughter, imaginatively establishes a relationship with her, through her recipes and the poems they evoke.

Producer: Julian May.