One of her favourite free papers is the Waitrose Supermarket's Living newspaper available at their checkouts. She generally scours the articles in the current issue after the shopping has been put away and we sit down at the kitchen table with a celebratory cup of tea.
"This reminds me of your Mam, " she said.
"It's all about bicarbonate of soda!"
She needed to make no further explanation because I knew exactly what she meant. My late mother had great faith in bicarbonate of soda. The article Judith was referring to was in the 24 January issue of Living and described a new book entitled The Miracle of bicarbonate of Soda by Dr Penny Stanway. I haven't read the book myself and this isn't meant to be any kind of review, but I must say the book looks pretty interesting and offers 144 pages of tips on how to use this baking ingredient for a wide variety of health, beauty and domestic uses.
For most of my adult life I must admit that I viewed my mother's faith and devotion to "Bicarb" as one of her amusing peculiarities. If she didn't have any milk or flour or even money in the house, she would view this with characteristic phlegm, a minor irritation easily resolved whenever she felt like popping out to the shops or bank. On the other hand, to run out of "Bicarb" was by no means a situation that could under any circumstances be taken lightly - immediate action was required! Over her lifetime of eighty-eight years, and I'm making a conservative estimate here, I suspect she consumed her own body weight in it. She had no time for anything edible and green unless it had been tenderised with half a teaspoon of B o S (this meant boiling until the poor vegetable was way beyond the point of bearing any physical resemblence to its original form). The best cure for heartburn according to Mam was a good dose of "Bicarb"; any burns received in the line of duty of cooking were immediately run under cold water and then powdered well with, yes, you guessed it! It was in her view also highly efficacious for relieving sunburn. She even suggested inhaling small amounts mixed in water for clearing catarrh and sinuses (I was amazed to discover that bicarbonate of soda has indeed been used in commercially prepared nasal decongestants!)
Nahcolite as it is apparently called in its natural form is a component of natron which was used by the ancient Egyptians as a kind of soap, as well as being an important ingredient in the process of mummification (which we all know the Egyptians were into in quite a big way!). I did a little bit of research for this blog into bicarbonate of soda and goodness me the stuff is truly miraculous. It has literally hundreds of uses, cooking, cleaning, medical - the stuff can even be used to smother a small fire because when it gets hot it releases carbon dioxide.
So there you have it, you should have learnt two things from reading this blog: bicarbonate of soda is a pretty amazing thing, and always pay attention to what your Mam says!
Lastly, speaking as someone who has always had problems with gluten, just imagine how leaden an onion bhaji would turn out without you know what? Tell you what, I'm checking the kitchen cupboard straight away!