Food on a Fiver: “Potty” by Clarissa Dickson Wright

I am poor. Very poor. I am a first year student at St. Andrew’s University and my wallet is so empty there are echoes in it. I have three siblings, my parents have very little money. I do work in a restaurant on a Saturday evening helping in the kitchen, which is greatly beneficial as we get a hot meal before the customers arrive, and we do get to take home the tips and also some of the left overs.

During my childhood, the windows of our little kitchen where my mother cooked were always steamy. There she still is, always baking, roasting, poaching, basting. She hardly ever takes her apron off. The compost bucket is always full, and, being the youngest, it is my job to carry the bucket to the allotment that my grandparents have at the edge of our village. There they grow every type of vegetable and soft fruit imaginable. In the summer we even have tomatoes, radishes, chilli peppers and basil as well as raspberries, red currants and strawberries.

I grew up eating well, although simply, and as I signed the paperwork to start my first year at University, my mother said she would buy me some cookbooks so that I could look after myself when I left home. As I sat on the train waving goodbye to my family for the first time, I had a heavy rucksack on my lap. In it there were several cookbooks, found in charity shops mainly. I did not get a chance to use them very much the first term, as I was so busy finding my way, finding my feet and finding some friends.

At the beginning of my second term, my godmother sent me this book “Potty” by Clarissa Dickson Wright, and I have used it ever since. In the communal kitchen of my residence hall I have a cupboard all to myself with my ingredients, my few pots and pans, wooden spoon, sharp knife and chopping board, all from home. Every day I have been cooking from this book. The other students who share my kitchen call me “Potty”, now, and I am so popular as my meals are legendary.

I would recommend this book for anyone going to University. Its premise is that you only have one pot, and very little money (that’s me!). The book is divided into Soup, Eggs, Poultry, Fish, Meat, Vegetarian and Puddings. It quite literally is only about dishes that can be put together using only one vessel, whatever that vessel may be. A girl in my course has a proper red tagine pot and she has lent it to me. Another student has a Dutch oven pot, and we have also used that.

My favourite meals so far have been:

1. The Provencal fish stew- there was a packet of frozen prawns at the restaurant which was past the sell by date, so they gave it to me. It was fine. We all lived to tell the tale and this stew is absolutely delicious.

2. The Italian mussel stew – mussels are really cheap and you will suddenly have lots of friends if you make this dish.

3. Lentils with Merguez sausages – I just bought normal spicy butcher’s sausages from the market stall, and lentils are great for feeding a crowd on very little money.

In the summer term I am really looking forward to making the tomatoes stuffed with couscous and the omelette Stephanie. I have never seen Clarissa Dickson Wright on the television, but she is very good at writing. She tells you a little story about the recipe first, telling you where it has come from and how she uses it. She is a Lord Rctor of Aberdeen University and so I think she knows a lot about impoverished students like me. I sometimes leave my casserole or stew pot in the oven at the bottom, on at about 140 degrees, I go to my lecture and then I come back. I take the pot out of the oven and leave it on the side. While I do my work, the pot cools down. Then we all eat the contents. We get very funny looks from the cleaners.

“Potty. Clarissa’s One Pot Cookbook” by Clarissa Dickson Wright is published by Hodder and Stoughton with photography by Howard Shooter

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