I’m Jen Duncan. My love of food and cooking began as a child. I was brought up in a home where my Dad tended the vegetable plot and my Mum looked after the home and did the cooking (except at Christmas but that’s another story).
I used to follow my Dad around the garden, probably getting in his way, chattering away to him and watching as he dug, raked, riddled and planted out. Now I grow my own fruit and veg. There is nothing I enjoy more than going into my garden and picking an apple from the tree and biting into it, that first bite takes me straight back to my childhood sitting in the apple tree reading a book and helping myself to an apple. I have many happy memories of my Mum sending my sisters and I out to the garden to pick some peas, or beans or fruit depending on what she was cooking. I have to say that, in my humble opinion, there is nothing better than sitting in a garden with the sun on your back, podding peas that you have just picked.
I remember watching and, as I grew older, helping my mum as she baked cakes and made pies or casseroles. There was always something tasty to eat for dinner or tea and none of it was shop-bought, apart from the bread, I’m not sure why she never made bread. She really enjoyed experimenting and trying new recipes, a joy that she passed onto my sisters and me. She made curries and bolognaise (her way) long before they became mainstream family meals. You have to understand that in those days you could not get the ingredients as easily as we can today. Things that we take for granted today such as, peppers, courgettes and aubergines, were just not available then. So the curry and bolognaise that I grew up with was very different from the dishes that we cook today. I have to say though, that sometimes there is nothing better than “My Mums” curry on cold winters evening.
We also did not have the kitchen gadgets that we have today. I remember beating egg whites by hand to soft peak or even stiff peak depending on what Mum was making, and we whipped the double cream to go on top of a trifle at Christmas. I can promise you it took ages and you needed a good strong arm! Mum blanched almonds by putting them into a bowl and pouring boiling water onto them and then we girls would pop the nuts out of their skins. Fruit also had to be washed before Whitworth’s came up with spin washed fruit.
When hand mixers came out, my Mum was one of the first to get one! I think this is where my love of gadgets started and I am always on the look out for new ones, much to my family’s great amusement.
I was about 10 when Mum taught me how to make pastry and how to make a chocolate fudge cake. And, apart from two lessons at school (I changed schools at 15 and had never had a cookery lesson before so I decided I’d prefer to do Art) those were the only cookery lessons that I had.
Over the years I have built on those basic skills and now have a very wide cookery repertoire (including bread making). And like my Mum I have enjoyed and still enjoy experimenting with recipes. The family joke is that I cannot just follow a recipe, I have to add or take out ingredients depending on whether or not I like them. Well, what’s the point of cooking something if you are not going to like it!
About 25 years ago I was asked by a friend, who regularly enjoyed the fruits of my labours, to set up a cookery column for MKTV’s Your Channel. I was apprehensive because, as I have already mentioned, I had no formal cookery training and I tended not to to write down recipes because I had them all in my head. Anyway, I decided to give it a go and “Jenny’s Cookery Club” was born. The plan was that I would write a few recipes down and the viewers would submit theirs. I did that for quite a few years and only ever received one recipe. That was for “Tripe Parcels”.
When I moved to the North East my producer suggested that I should try to get into mainstream broadcasting, but how do you do that? One day I was gazing out of the window while I was doing the washing and realised that I would never be “discovered” at my kitchen sink. I would have to do something to make it happen. So, I grabbed the yellow pages and did the most sensible thing, I rang the local radio (because of course when you are a cook you really don’t want people to see what you’re doing, do you?). Amazingly BBC Radio Newcastle decided to give me a go and the rest is history. I worked for many happy years both at Radio Newcastle and Radio Cleveland.
As a result of my cookery slots on the radio, I was approached by the local education authority to give cookery classes in their adult education programme, and so I ended up teaching cookery all over the North East of England. I really enjoyed those years and they gave me many great memories and opportunities.
I am now returning to my cooking roots by setting up this website. I do hope you will enjoy trying my recipes and that you will share some of your experiments with us all.