Ring Of Truth – Episode 06

CASSIE was to make pork pies today. A pea and bacon stew, and the turnip soup Ruby already had on the boil, and she’d also a dozen apples not yet past their best that she would make into apple turnovers, she decided.

Taking advantage of the first lapse in customers, she stepped outside to where Jem had nailed a board to the wall and took a stick of chalk from her pinner pocket.

It was Annie who had taught Cassie her letters, Annie herself having learned to read, write and add up whilst in service. This was just one of the many debts of gratitude she owed her aunt.

As she wrote up the day’s dishes on the board, she remembered to draw simple pictures alongside for those who had not had the same learning. These were simple drawings indeed, as she was the first to admit she was no artist!

Turning to go back into the shop, she nodded at Lew Brody, whose ham and beef shop stood across the street.

He acknowledged the girl with a cheery wave.

Lew sold pies and stews the same as Ma did, but in a city the size of London with so many hundreds of hungry mouths to feed, both businesses did very well and where there might have been rivalry there was none.

The only other eating establishment on Chiswell Street was the pastry cook’s shop two doors along from Lew’s, and there was little chance of Cassie’s pastries being overlooked in favour of theirs.

Stale pastry was a known and accepted staple in that shop, accepted because for some folk it was all they could afford and it was better than going without.

A constant sight on a stool outside the pastry shop was the wooden box containing even staler pastry that he sold off for a penny, in Cassie’s opinion expensive at half the price.

“Morning, Cassie!” Lew called. “Be over later, will you? Maybe I’ll save you some tasty scraps!”

“I will, Lew!” she called back, and he nodded at her as they both returned to their work.

It was thanks in part to Lew Brody that Cassie had meat for the soups and stews she made, and the pies that were so popular, as she called in at his shop at the close of each day and bought the off-cuts he’d not managed to sell.

The money she paid him more than tripled in the earnings Ma put into the pot by selling Cassie’s stews and soups at a penny a basin.

Only on a Sunday did Cassie not slave over the stockpot from dawn till dusk, for on a Sunday the range was lit for one purpose only – to cook the steady stream of meals brought to the cookshop by folk who’d no range of their own and trusted Ma and her girls to cook for them.

On a Sunday there were dozens of earthenware dishes piled with potatoes and perhaps another vegetable, if there was money for it. But mostly potatoes with a modest joint perched on top.

These meagre meals were a king’s feast to those who came back to collect them at the end of the day. Often it would be a child sent by his mother, falling over his own feet in his haste to get supper home before it went cold.

Ma charged folk nothing for cooking their meals for them.

“I’ll not offend them by asking for what they ain’t got,” she declared firmly.

Instead, she made her living, and in turn that of the girls, by selling everything Cassie made on the other six days of the week, and it wasn’t as if they were ever short of customers.

Ma had arrived as Cassie chalked up the day’s dishes on the board, and she was chopping parsley for the pea and bacon stew as Ruby continued boiling the soup and Cassie made a start on the pastry for her pork pies.

Ma was not afraid to get her hands dirty, though she tended to leave the intricate jobs to Cassie. And rightly so, after she’d trained her to do them.

She was a short, stout woman, Ma was, with a twinkle in her eye and freckled cheeks that dimpled when she smiled, which was often. She reminded Cassie of a little bird.

Folk liked and trusted Ma.

They were fond of Ruby, too, accepting her quiet presence and not trying to challenge or “jolly” her into talking to them.

Some even shifted themselves to permit her to move more freely amongst the benches as she cleared tables and swept up crumbs.

At the back of the shop was the scullery which was Ruby’s domain, where she washed and scrubbed and scoured, allowing very little help from a frustrated Cassie.

From the back end of the scullery a narrow flight of stairs led to the tiny room above the cookshop, where Ruby slept.

She was very territorial about “her” scullery, but then, she’d had nothing to her name when she arrived in London three years ago. So was it any wonder she clung fiercely to what was hers?


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!