From The Good Plain Cook

An extract: Chapter Five

It was her second go at rolling out. Mrs Steinberg had asked for a savoury tart, ‘a quiche — like the French eat, you know the sort of thing.’

Kitty did not know the sort of thing. She’d spent most of the morning looking for something like it in Silvester’s Sensible Cookery. Egg and bacon pie sounded nearly right, an open flan with a cheesy filling, although Mrs Steinberg had mentioned artichokes, not knowing, probably, that the season hadn’t yet begun. There were certainly no artichokes at the greengrocers’ in Petersfield, and if she’d have telephoned to ask if she could add them to the order, Mr Bailey would have laughed. Cabbages aplenty, Kitty, he would have said, but who ever heard of artichokes in April? What’s the matter with that American woman? Doesn’t she even know the seasons?

Kitty wondered if she did. She had yet to see her in stockings, even though it had been a cold spring until now, the air licking around your calves and shrinking your feet inside your shoes. And there had been only one occasion on which she’d seen her in a hat, a terrible woollen beret that covered half her face, when it had suddenly hailed a week ago. You could just see that great nose sticking out, like a fat coat hook.

The marble rolling pin was heavy and Kitty was careful to place it behind the sugar jar so it wouldn’t roll off the table and onto her foot. It was an awful rolling pin — flour slipped from its shiny surface, and now the pastry was sticking and tearing as she rolled. Mrs Steinberg had told her it had been Dora’s pride and joy, and was quite the best thing for pastry. Kitty wondered how Mrs Steinberg would know this. She’d never seen her so much as put the kettle on to boil, let alone roll out shortcrust.

She gathered up the pieces of dough and pressed them together. She’d roll out one more time, then she’d have to start again. The sun glared through the kitchen window and sweat was blooming along her top lip. It was typical that the first really warm day should come while she was making shortcrust. Everyone knew heat was bad for pastry, and Kitty’s hands were, for once, very warm.

She raised the rolling pin and smashed it down on the lump of pastry to get it going. It was easy, now, to flatten the greying wodge. She managed to roll it out into a ragged circle, almost thin enough, then a corner stuck on the pin and a flap ripped up, like a hangnail. Bugger. It would have to be patched up in the dish. She could force a lump of pastry into the hole and press it with her thumb. With a bit of egg it might stick.

Looking out of the window, she saw Mr Crane sitting on the step of his studio, rubbing his eye. He was handsome, with his slick of dark hair and strong chin, and younger than Mrs Steinberg, Kitty guessed, by at least five years. When Lou had caught a glimpse of him in town, she’d said he looked a bit like Robert Donat. It was a shame about his eye.

Can I have a biscuit?’

That child had a habit of sneaking up on you. You’d just be dusting the mantelpiece or scrubbing the rim of the lavatory, and there she’d be, asking for something. Now she was leaning on the stove, her chin tucked into her chest in the same way as her mother, sucking on a long strand of hair which looked like a wet worm hanging from her mouth.

‘Go on, then,’ said Kitty.